It seemed like a reasonable question to ask. Nas has been filling notebooks with vivid scribbling about his native Q-borough for as long as he's been rapping, even paying tribute to the sprawling New York county over the frenetic strings of last year's "A Queens Story." So when we asked the last time he'd been on the subway, we thought it was ... harmless enough.
The "Bye Baby" MC, who years ago traded the dimly lit Colosseum Mall for Saks in Beverly Hills, was explaining to MTV News why he's still able to conjure up scenes like those "gold-teeth" jewelers in the busy Jamaica Avenue shopping center. In fact, the 39-year-old is so synonymous with the city that the folks behind Hennessy's Wild Rabbit campaign had named their signature Nas drink 'the Big Apple' on the night we caught up with him to celebrate their new partnership at a Times Square hotel last week.
"My upbringing, it is what it is: New York City, it's the Big Apple, it's Queens, it's the subway, it's all of that," he said. "Those are the moments that are part of the fiber in me, that's my DNA. And those are the things that I always go back to. When I look at how far I've come, I think about where I've come from, and those things will never leave me."
Esco's explanation sparked flashbacks to Brooklyn boy Jay-Z's recent joy ride on a Barclays-bound R train. Suddenly, the image of Nas blessing our elbow-to-elbow morning commute didn't seem so far-fetched. "Word?" he responded when we mentioned Hov's headline-making stunt. "That's cool! That's what I'm saying, the subway, that's where we're from."
"On my album, there's a song called 'Loco-Motive,' and I talk about the subway times in my life," he continued. "I love the subway; it's forever."
But forever, though? It's no secret that platinum records typically give way to chauffeured cars, and straphangers aren't holding their breath for another Shawn Carter sighting, so when was the last time Nas actually hopped on the subway, we wondered?
A brief hush fell over the suite as Nas, elegant in a black silk suit and heavy knit scarf, tried to suppress an embarrassed smile. "Man," he said, nervously rubbing the bridge of his nose, "I ain't been on the subway in maybe 17, 18 years, you know? He let out a sigh: "Wow."
Quick mental subtraction meant Nas had last swiped a MetroCard in the New York City subway system, in 1995, '96; the fare was still $1.50, not $2.25, and tokens weren't souvenirs tourists could buy at the Transit Museum.
Still, the lyrical leviathan wasn't about to cede too much track. "You wouldn't even know how much a MetroCard cost," we teased, to which he proudly challenged, "I got subway stories I could write a movie on!"
With that, we decided Nas wins.