An Evening With Nas Means Caribbean Food and Heavy Beats

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A report by Joanna Nikas for the New York Times.

Nas tried on a pair of Nike Air Max 1s at Stadium Goods, a high-end sneaker shop in Lower Manhattan.

“Mr. Jones!” a salesman said as he dapped the rapper from Queens, whose given name is Nasir Jones.

“I’m a Nike head,” Nas said. “These were big in the crack era.”

He bought the shoes and stepped outside with his friend and business associate, the restaurateur John Seymour.

“Let’s go to Pearl’s for some Caribbean food,” Mr. Seymour said. “That’s the scene.”

As they moved across the Williamsburg Bridge in a black S.U.V., Nas leaned out the window and shouted, “I’m back in New York, and it feels so good!”

The rapper, who has been living in Los Angeles since 1999, was back in his home city not only to complete the recording of his long-awaited next album, but to stay — at least for now.The S.U.V. rolled down North Eighth Street in Williamsburg and came to a stop at Pearl’s Bake & Shark. Nas and Mr. Seymour got out of the car. Even from the sidewalk you could hear soca music playing. Inside, the walls were painted pink, yellow and green, adorned with vintage boomboxes and a photo by Jonathan Mannion of the reggae singer Buju Banton.

The owner of Pearl’s is Mr. Seymour’s wife, Fallon Seymour, who is from Trinidad. She sat at the table with her husband, who bit into a shark sandwich, and Nas, who dug into oxtail stew.

“What is the first thing you cooked for this guy?” Nas asked.

“I did a picnic in Trinidad, and I made fish stew, dumplings, pumpkin fritters,” she said. “He used to be very picky with what he eats. I think I helped him.”

Back when Nas was writing and recording the 1994 hip-hop masterpiece “Illmatic,” and other albums the Manhattan-born Mr. Seymour was working as a doorman, bartender and electrician. With his wife, he opened his first restaurant, a burger shop called Pop’s, 11 years ago. In 2012, he opened the first location of Sweet Chick, in which Nas also has a stake. The three restaurants are within a couple of blocks of one another. Nas and Mr. Seymour also recently paired up on a pop-up restaurant based on an idea the rapper Tupac Shakur had sketched in prison.

“Tupac, he’s the only artist to do what he’s done, to record as many songs in that amount of time at that age, songs with meaning and messages to impact the world, but also ideas for movies and restaurants,” Nas said.

He took a sip of his drink.

“Oh, yeah, now it’s a night out,” he said. “Got some food in me, now I’m feeling like I’m back home.”

When they were through with dinner, Nas, Mr. Seymour and Ms. Seymour headed back over the bridge, toward the Mass Appeal Media Group headquarters in Lower Manhattan, where Nas would consider various beats for songs in progress.

“Are you guys ready for me to drop these tracks?” Mr. Seymour said as he entered the 9,000-square-foot work space, which has a recording studio and an editing suite. “Trapper John in the building!”

Once Nas got settled, Peter Bittenbender, the chief executive of Mass Appeal and a producer, played various rhythm tracks. “Tell me the ones you like, and I’ll mark them,” he said.

“Oh, I like this one,” Nas said of a deep heavy beat.

“Just wait until when Trapper John gets on it!” Mr. Seymour said, jokingly.

“These days people are just excited to hear new,” Nas said. “Trapper John could be the real thing.”

“Nas, don’t encourage him, please,” Ms. Seymour said, laughing.

Then she asked a question that has been on many people’s minds: “So, are you done with the album?”

“Two weeks,” replied Nas, whose last album, “Life Is Good,” came out in 2012. “I always say I’m two weeks away from finishing.”

There is much to be talked about from what he has seen, he added. “You don’t really hear about that anymore,” he said, “and it’s missing, and that’s what I’m doing and keeping it current.”

His tone suggested awareness of how a new Nas album would be received in a cultural landscape where artists like Lil Uzi Vert, who was born the year “Illmatic” was released, are on the rise, and fans of 1990s hip-hop are aging out of the clubs. But Nas wasn’t about to let it get him down.

“It’s like Frank Sinatra,” he said. “I listen to him because he speaks to me. Frank’s thing is just speak about life, and it resonates with everyone. When I’m in here, I’m conscious of that.”

Another beat played, and Nas nodded his head.

“Oh, this is a knockout,” he said.

“This is dope,” Mr. Seymour added.

“We coming this summer, baby!” Nas yelled. “It’s going to be a hot summer up here, man!”



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