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Standing In Rap's Dungeon: A First Time Witness To Nas' Greatness

Going to ATX for the Queens kingpin.

Rob Hansen // REVOLT

From the stage, the cold lines "Yo when the gat's reveal, you cats get peeled and that's the deal/Fuck a bitch ass that switch fast niggas that lack the real" blasted out of the house speakers. These are the opening bars of Kool G Rap’s verse on Mobb Deep’s "The Realest," a gem from their 1999 album Murda Muzik. Queens was definitely in the building.

Within that building, I stood backstage with co-workers, who have done this a thousand times over, waiting for rappers to make their grand appearance. And here I was holding my position so I wouldn't be ejected from the area. I'm still playing the rookie. Camera in hand, I snap as many photos as possible. I wasn't in awe of the beings in my presence, as I was there in a working capacity. But there was a surreal feeling that overcame me when I realize I was in the same space as DJ Khaled and Wyclef. And the blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment came in the form of Nardwuar leaning against a wall in a Joe Shmoe stance, though in all his galore.

After a few shots, some of which didn't turn out so well, I found myself in the press pit as DJ Khaled circled the stage with the rapping Fugee. Soon enough, the Trill OG himself, Bun B took the stage for a roundabout of his Houston grooves. Following Bun, 2 Chainz made an appearance and somewhere in the set Khaled let out his iconic "another one," which led Chainz to perform "I'm Different." Pretty good lineup, right?

Following Chainz's takeover, DJ Khaled talked his ish with his chest puffed and with the same charisma you'll find in a Snapchat post.

"They don't want me to bring out Nas!" Khaled told a roaring crowd.

I waited patiently, observing everything through either my viewfinder or the camera's monitor. I finally let my eyes enjoy the show but only so briefly. I missed some of Khaled's remaining monologue, though it's all praise toward the MC that blessed us with Illmatic.

Then a familiar beat rang aloud and the audience cheered. Khaled's own excitement showed and he did his best to get the crowd moving, even if sweat was winning the battle for his forehead. The opening lyric-less bars of the song was none other than "N.Y. State of Mind."

Nas cruised onto the stage with a cup of, what I presumed was Hennessy and the audience cheerred. He greeted Khaled with a simple dap, and before he disappeared Khaled handed Nas the mic. DJ Green Lantern was posted on the 1's and 2's as Nas ripped into his DJ Premier-produced banger: "Straight out the dungeons of rap"...

He kept the momentum going with his classic cuts "Made You Look" and "The World Is Yours."

Extra P joins Nas on stage at SXSW 2016
Extra P joins Nas on stage at SXSW 2016

Not before long, audience members were treated to a performance from Large Professor. The crowd gives Nas' longtime friend and former Main Source MC a lukewarm response, but Pro smashed his time with the precision only a legend can handle. Before he made his way off the stage he stated "To the top, to the top! Rapper Nas on top. Scenes we gon’ rock it. Queens represent," and just as Pro walks away, Nas remarked "Buy the album when he drop it!" Ha.

Following the exit of Large Professor, Nas made his way to young female attendee. The always-wise Nas informed the woman that she looked "young as shit" and that he is serving up a history lesson. "My name is Nas. And that’s my man, cool ass Large Professor." The generated sound from the audience was a mixture of cheering and laughter.

After a visit by Brooklyn’s own Talib Kweli, Nas put on for Mass Appeal by bringing out label signee Dave East. The Harlem spitter, surrounded by legends, including Just Blaze, Cipha Sounds, and even Boosie Badazz (who has a spot on the upper level) took the stage in sagging pants, a graphic t-shirt with Set It Off emblazoned onto the front, sunglasses and a cap pulled down low… in his clutches a bottle of champagne, and of course a mic.

After a truly bizarre moment in time I can't recall, a co-worker informed me that the show is over. We were late to the party and spent no more than an hour and a half at the venue. We made our way backstage and reunite with the rest of the crew, who were nowhere to be found. Peering down the stretch of hallway approximately one hundred people occupied, you could sense the mental exhaustion and high levels of physical energy at odds with another, whether it was the MC's making their exit or the girls looking to follow them.

Good times.

Working and attending Live at the BBQ was most certainly a highlight of my time in Austin, as a fan. The tricks and the trades of this business are an entity in itself, and though I was there for a purpose other than loving hip-hop, I still had the chance to appreciate some of the music I've come to know and identify with live and up close. Not many people can say the same.

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