He sauntered into the studio with a phone in one hand and a backpack in the other, right on time for his Power 100 cover shoot.
Immediately, everyone on set fell silent.
The EBONY team is rarely starstruck at this point. But Nas, after all, is one of the God MCs, a GOAT, a rhyme spitter who occupies that rarified air alongside Biggie, Jay Z, Black Thought, Jay Electronica and Ghostface Killah.
The rapper-turned-brand ambassador and tech titan broke the spell by acknowledging and speaking to each of us, but the greeting was in a voice so soft you had to strain to hear the Queensbridge accent that has captivated crowds since Illmatic.
His list of demands as one of our four special Power 100 cover stars?
It pretty much boiled down to a cup of tea.
And rather than dictating a custom play-list to some harried assistant, the man born Nasir Jones simply asked us to play jazz and didn’t make any edits as Entertainment/Culture Director Britni Danielle unfurled a sonic selection including the Robert Glasper Trio, Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane. When asked about the reason for this chosen genre, he smiled and responded, “I just want all y’all to be cool, calm and relaxed.”
Some might say power is making folks scramble, demanding deference or asking that the red Skittles be segregated from the green ones. But I would argue that Nas, through his quiet, understated excellence and clear compassion for those around him, models what being powerful is truly about. In the era of Black Lives Matter, it’s not necessarily about what you can do for yourself; it’s how you translate your abilities, gifts and platforms into empowering others.
Word to Colin Kaepernick.
That type of selfless spirit and community impact is what helped us select the honorees for our annual EBONY Power 100 issue, the time of year we take stock of an awe-inspiring group of Black people. We shine a light on folks in categories including the titans of industry known as Corporate Crowns; the spiritual leaders in Elevate; bold history makers aka First in Line; and the proud Black male change agents of Manifest. We also underscore the importance of The Players, entertainment executives who leverage their skills to share our stories.
Exhibit A: Ava DuVernay, making history as the first African-American female director to helm a big-budget film. Through her ARRAY distribution network, she might be single-handedly reversing the curse of #OscarsSoWhite.
Consider John Legend, multiplatinum-selling crooner-turned-Hollywood heavyweight. The Ohio native could tell any story he desires, but he lends his producing prowess to the breakout hit Underground, which not only teaches vital lessons about the atrocities of American enslavement, but also delivers touching performances, nail-biting action and blesses us with the talents of Aldis Hodge, Jurnee Smollet-Bell and Alano Miller.
Now let’s talk about Simone Biles, aka the GOAT as it comes to gymnastics. This compact yet amazingly agile and powerful young lady is a role model for everyone in addition to being a positive example for anyone who ever had a dream and the temerity, focus and discipline to make it come true. Meeting this endearing, energetic force of nature at a shoot we swiftly cobbled together between stops on the 2016 Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions was one of the most uplifting moments I’ve experienced as a journalist.
This issue is teeming with that kind of inspiration, and I don’t want to delay for another minute your enjoyment of seeing who made the list and why. Surgeon general-style warning: You will definitely be nodding your head in complete agreement, perhaps to a dizzying degree.
So sit back, relax and prepare to have your heart fill up with the kind of joy we feel when members of our collective family are doing the damn thing. Me, I think I’ll go curate yet another Nas playlist and relive the moment when I stood shoulder to shoulder with power personified.
Click here to check out our list of 2016 honorees, see future achievers, cast your vote for the People’s Choice Award and much more at our Power 100 microsite.