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Building his brand: Rapper Nas ventures into filmmaking

Rapper and actor Nas, born Nasir Jones, says he’s looking to make a mark in film like he has done in music. (Scott Gries / Associated Press)
Rapper and actor Nas, born Nasir Jones, says he’s looking to make a mark in film like he has done in music. (Scott Gries / Associated Press)
By Jonathan Landrum Jr. Associated Press

ATLANTA – Nas, one of music’s most revered lyricists and story tellers, is taking his talents into filmmaking.

The rapper has traded performing onstage to work behind-the-scenes as an executive producer on projects including Netflix’s “The Get Down” and IFC Films’ “The Land,” which opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday. Nas said he’s looking to make a mark in film like he has done in music.

“I’m right on track of what I’m supposed to be doing in my life,” the 42-year-old said in an interview this week. “It’s been my dream to work in films. I share a love for films as much as I feel it for music. This is my calling.”

“The Land,” which stars R&B singer Erykah Badu, focuses on four teenagers who have aspirations of becoming professional skateboarders and hopes to escape the streets of Cleveland. But their plans are derailed when they get caught in a drug dispute with a local queen pin.

Nas found and placed songs for the film’s 14-song soundtrack, which features Kanye West and Pusha T. It’s the first soundtrack released under Nas’ indie label, Mass Appeal Records.

“It gave us a little idea of what is cut out for us for future projects,” he said. “We got wings behind our back, so we’re just flying with it. We’re looking to do more in the future.”

On “The Get Down,” Nas wrote all the lyrics including poems and battle raps that will appear in the 13-episode series, co-created by Baz Luhrmann. The show, which premieres Aug. 12, delves into the birth of hip-hop in New York in the 1970s and rap icon Grandmaster Flash is also an associate producer on the project.

Luhrmann said Nas played an integral part of the filmmaking process.

“He completely dedicated himself to getting it done,” said Luhrmann, who also directed “Moulin Rouge!” and “The Great Gatsby.”

“He wrote rhymes for every act. It’s his voice. He is an executive producer, and it’s not just a title. He helped me with bringing a lot of creative ideas to the table. He was a go-to guy,” Luhrmann continued. “I would call him at 2 a.m. in the morning for his opinion. So, he’s been great like that.”

It’s not the first time Nas has ventured into film: He had roles in the 1998 movie “Belly” and “Black Nativity” in 2013.

But these days, Nas is continuing to learn the different aspects of filmmaking so he can one day create his own movie. He wants to get more involved as a screenwriter and director.

Luhrmann believes Nas has the potential to do just that.

“His raps are very well-written narratives, and filmmaking is storytelling,” Luhrmann said. “If Nas would make a film, it would be something to see.”

“The Get Down: Original Soundtrack from the Netflix Original Series” will also be available Aug. 12 via Sony’s RCA Records and Luhrmann’s label, House of Iona. Nas executive produced the soundtrack, which features the Grammy-nominated rapper as well as Miguel, Christina Aguilera, Zayn, Leon Bridges and others.

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