Olu Dara: Like Father Like Son

Olu Dara is the father of one of Hip-Hop’s brightest stars, Nas. Dara obviously passed some good genes and wisdom to his son, who has seen the heights of the rap industry. Dara himself is an accomplished trumpet player and member of the Mississippi Music Hall of Fame. Nas fans will recall his airy trumpet, […]

Olu Dara is the

father of one of Hip-Hop’s brightest stars, Nas. Dara obviously passed some

good genes and wisdom to his son, who has seen the heights of the rap industry.

Dara himself is

an accomplished trumpet player and member of the Mississippi Music Hall of Fame.

Nas fans will recall his airy trumpet, as he was featured on his son’s classic

debut, Illmatic.

In this candid

interview, Dara talks about his son’s Nas and Jungle, growing up in Queensbridge

and oh yeah – a Thanksgiving chat with his son about what would become one of

the legendary battles of Hip-Hop.


How did the song “Bridging the Gap” with you and your son Nas come

about? Your thoughts on it

Olu Dara: When

I think about it, I remember when Nas and his brother were younger, 5 or 6 years

old. We use to always play around the house with instruments. I use to play

on a two-string guitar and they use to always be doing their stuff. They then

started to listen to hip-hop; the community was really a hip-hop embryonic neighborhood

so it was fascinating for me to be there. We use to always mess around in the

house with their thing and my blues and it started then, but I didn’t

think of it like that. Then some years ago when Nas started recording he said

“one day daddy we are going to do something together,” and that

was many years ago.


VH1 honored the founders of Hip-Hop. Can you speak on how it was to be apart

of such a big event?

OD: Everybody was

calling me “pops,” I think I was “pops.” I think that’s

what they were doing. I guess you can say – I’ve been hopping around.

I am very hip in my life so if you turn it around, I’m a hip-hopper myself.

I felt that it was something that I must of dreamt about. Just being around

the innovators, it was something that would always be in the back of my mind

before they were even born. When I was in Africa, I would see people with music

in the background telling a story. About what happened that day. So to me it’s

just a new day. It’s the same thing. Just with different clothes and in

a new area.


What are your thoughts on Nas’ career? He’s one of the greats, but

there’s been a lot of controversy.

OD: It never surprised

me. He came from a family of visual artists and dancers – he does both,

musicians, poets, educators, so you know I felt like – it was the same thing

we used to do when we were messing around. When the song started I didn’t

know when to come in or anything – I didn’t know where I was supposed

to come in to I started improvising it just flowed. The controversy I don’t

know anything about that. It was the day before Thanksgiving and Nas told me

that this guy [Jay-Z] is talking about me and the family. I was like ‘what

guy?’ He said ‘Jay-Z.’ I said ‘isn’t he a very

wealthy rapper?’ He said ‘yeah, he’s well off. I said ‘you

don’t have nearly as much money that he has but you need to play the game.

Adversity brings opportunity.’ Knowing how some people are, I felt that

Jay-Z wasn’t as mature enough or had issues – it’s just human

nature because Nas isn’t a mean person. Nas hates controversy. I remember

when Illmatic came out and they were taking pictures of him, I remember him

saying “I wish people could hear Illmatic but don’t know what I

look like.”


I’m sure that it’s stressful to not be able to walk down the street


OD: I’ll

tell you. He misses the opportunity he wanted to be free. But he gained be by

being able to help other people. But he never had the opportunity.


When Nas battled Jay, were you like “Yeah that’s my boy?”

OD: I’m just

glad it wasn’t heavy. Not physically, I mean with words. I didn’t

want him to hurt his feelings because the man has a mother, – whom I later heard

chastised him [for the track Super Ugly].


There’s been a lot said about Tupac’s background – his mother

being a Black Panther. Now Nas also has a revolutionary spirit. Is that a part

of your family’s history as well, or is it something that he grew into

by himself?

OD: It was just

a family thing. We were always go-getters as far as my community was concerned.

In Mississippi where I was growing up, there was a lot of what you would call

terrorism in my neighborhood. We had to really be strong, to survive the segregation

in those days. So I grew up in a community where it was tight. I grew up where

we had our own doctors, our own pharmacies we owned everything. We grew up in

a community where you knew all the teachers, nobody was starving. There wasn’t

any division between us because we were surviving in the old way. Nas grew up

in the integration so to speak. I saw him and his brother experiencing something

that I didn’t have to experience. Neither my father nor his father had

experienced it either. So now he had white teachers who weren’t in his

favor. I had to deal with getting money to feed the family – his Mother

and me were separated at the time, but I didn’t want the system to get

the best of him.


Nas and Jungle are from what I know are brothers. They look very different.

OD: They look entirely

different because of the way the family looks. You don’t know who you’re

going to look like. Same Father and Mother


Are you close with Jungle too?

OD: Yep. Very close.

They are two different entities. And that’s what you would find in siblings.

You’re not supposed to make twins al the time they have a very different

life too. They’re only a year and six months apart and they live an entire

different life. It depends on how you see the world. What kind experiences you



How do you feel about Hip-Hop and music in general?

OD: Well I think

music is like this. I look at it like how I looked at it when I lived on the

farm growing up. I used to hear sounds and animals. We had no radio or TV, only

running water. I grew up listening to the sounds of nature and man gets his

sound from nature.


What are your views on the election?

OD: As a matter

of fact I grew up away from voting. When I grew up, we where trying to get voting

and when I always thought to myself “Why are we voting, we don’t

even have any machines!” Who’s counting the votes? I could understand

local voting in the communities because I could look and see these people, I

even know some of these people. But the concept – I may be different from

other people, but the concept seems too big for me. I don’t have any control

over it and don’t know what it means. People throw ballots in a hat and

somebody counts it and says oh this guy has the most. So I look at it like this:

People in power do and the masses go and exercise the right. It’s as simple

as that.