Let Nas Down” narrates the story of J. Cole meeting his hero Nas while on tour and learning the elder artist was a fan. Later, after the Fayetteville rapper released “Work Out,” the first single from his debut album, he heard through the grape vine that Nas was disappointed in the song’s overtly commercial overtones. J. Cole recorded “Let Nas Down,” a track dedicated to admitting his own sadness at disappointing one of his heroes. It’s a compelling move precisely because of its swaglessness. Cole makes himself vulnerable in a context that rappers rarely do. He admits that someone else knew best.
Nas reveals some insecurities of his own, including the roots of his frustration with younger artists: “They took my co-sign but ain’t let me EP they tapes,” before giving J. Cole his blessing.
“I’m playing Born Sinner loud, so you live, rock the crowd/
Like wow you made…Nas proud.”
For an artist who often raps like the whole world is watching him, waiting for him to slip up or to redeem an entire genre, the performance was especially small, in the best way. The song’s lush but uncomplicated beat and Nas’s smoky, focused voice lend the it an intimacy I was surprised to hear on Hot 97 as I drove up Manhattan’s West Side Highway.