Let Nas Down

Album: Born Sinner (2013)
  • This track finds Cole recounting his struggles to come up with a good single to lead his debut album, Cole World: The Sideline Story. He eventually came up with "Work Out" only to be crushed when he found out that one of his idols, Nas, didn't like the song. Cole recounted during a private listening session in NYC, how when he presented his label boss, Jay-Z, with single options like "Who Dat" "Blow Up" and "Can't Get Enough" none were deemed suitable. "The next six months of my life was literally hell, which is what this album is about," he explained. "Going through hell, tryna make it to heaven, going through depression, trying to make it to happiness. The next six months of my life, I was making some of the worst, most uninspired music of my life."

    Finally, "Work Out" happened, which Cole acknowledged was a commercial radio record, but he was still surprised by the negative reaction. "It was the worst response I've ever gotten on any song I've ever put out. It was a terrible response," he revealed. "When I made that song, it was a triumph."

    But the real dagger blow was when producer No I.D. relayed to him Nas' disappointment in "Work Out." He recalled the producer saying: "I was in the studio with Nas and we was talking about you and he was like, 'Yo, why did he do that? Why did he put out that song? Don't he know he's the one? He ain't gotta do that.'"

    Cole went on the defense. "I was hurt. I was like, 'damn, why he gon' say that? They ain't gon' box me in, like they box him in," he admitted. "I'm getting defensive, but really, I'm just hurt as a fan. I idolize that dude; I had his raps written on the wall."

    Despite all the criticism, the song proved to be a success, peaking at #13 on the Hot 100. "Eventually 'Work Out' became a monster record," Cole stated. "It wouldn't leave radio, it was a smash, and I'm grateful for that song. But at the time, it was hurtful. I really vented on that song."
  • So what does Nas think of this song? In an interview with BET, Cole revealed that Nas got to listen to the cut less than a week after it was recorded in 2012 when they both flying on the same plane. According to Cole, Nas listened to the track, enjoyed it, and put his seal of approval on it.
  • The bluesy heavy beat samples Fela Kuti's "Gentleman," which was the title track of the Nigerian multi-instrumentalist musician's 1973 album.
  • Cole's associate Ibrahim "IB" Hamad remembered the recording of the tune to Vibe magazine: "Cole never mentioned to anyone that he wrote this song or that he was thinking about writing this song," he recalled. "He came to the studio one day, didn't say a single word and just went in the booth and took it one time straight through. It was incredible because all the moments he was talking about in this song, I clearly remember them and he painted those emotions in the song instead of speaking out on it. This was a year and a half after it felt like everyone turned their back on him after 'Work Out' came out. He was holding this in for so long so letting this out was a release and the whole room felt that moment that night."
  • Cole explained to the Hartford, Connecticut radio station Hot 93.7 how big of an influence Nas was on him at a young age, and how the Queens rapper's disapproval of Cole's work was the influence behind the track. "I explain it in the song. I got defensive," he said. "I am a huge Nas fan, I hung his raps all over my wall–there were only a few rappers that made it to my wall. There was Nas, Eminem, Canibus, and Tupac. Maybe sometimes I would put DMX, sometimes Jay-Z would get a verse, but those are the only artists that made it to my wall."

    Cole added, "I felt like [Nas] didn't know the reason why I put the song out. I wrote ["Let Nas Down"] a year and some change after it happened and I didn't tell anybody that I wrote this song until now... It stuck with me for that long."
  • Nas jumped on the song's remix with his own autobiographical verse in which he recounts his own rise as a young prodigy. He also states that rather than letting him down, he considers Cole to be one of the best hopes of the Carolina rapper's generation.


Be the first to comment...

Sending Out An SOS - Distress Signals In SongsSong Writing

Songs where something goes horribly wrong (literally or metaphorically), and help is needed right away.

Jack Tempchin - "Peaceful Easy Feeling"They're Playing My Song

When a waitress wouldn't take him home, Jack wrote what would become one of the Eagles most enduring hits.

The Real Nick DrakeSong Writing

The head of Drake's estate shares his insights on the late folk singer's life and music.

Jello BiafraSongwriter Interviews

The former Dead Kennedys frontman on the past, present and future of the band, what music makes us "pliant and stupid," and what he learned from Alice Cooper.

Billy Steinberg - "Like A Virgin"They're Playing My Song

The first of Billy's five #1 hits was the song that propelled Madonna to stardom. You'd think that would get you a backstage pass, wouldn't you?

Penny Ford of Snap!Songwriter Interviews

The original voice of Snap!, this story is filled with angry drag queens, video impersonators and Chaka Khan.