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Monday, April 5, 2010

Yaron Deskalo Liberia Journal: Nas

So part of the excitement about returning from a shoot - as you may recall - is looking through the footage.
The not-so exciting part? Transcribing interviews. It's not any easier when the interview subjects are a bit tough to understand: listen, scroll back, type, scroll back, listen again.  It's a process that takes about three times as long as it should.  That being said, nothing prepares you for the right soundbytes by actually hearing them say it, listening to their inflection, and watching their body language.
Still, after two full days, I've only gotten through four tapes.  It's going to be a long week.
So that discussion is exactly why I've neglected to update you on the meeting last Friday.
If you've had any chance to watch the trailer that Brian Liburd (our webmaster) posted on the blog last week, you likely heard a familiar voice. Or at least a familiar voice, if you like my type of music.
The song - over a section we cut on the brutality of the Liberian civil wars - was called 'Shoot 'em up'. The artist: Nas.
When I thought about somebody who could lend his voice to this piece, Nas was one of the first that came to mind.  Beyond the fact that he cut a remix with Statik Selektah called "Blood Diamonds are Forever" about the civil wars in West Africa that created a need for an amputee soccer league, Nas has the voice that bolsters the piece's credibility.  For those of you who listen to his music, it carries a rich blend of rhyme, storytelling, and flow, with more than just a hint of grittiness. Not that you need his credentials, but it's why he's regularly considered one of the best MCs and his first album, Illmatic, is often cited as one of the greatest hip hop albums.
So after discussions with Nas' manager a couple conference calls and emails, I put together the four-minute trailer and asked if those guys wanted to see it.  They would be in New York Friday. Good. I'll be there.
At the Standard Hotel, in New York's Meatpacking District, I pulled my laptop out, and in my 'makeshift office' in the hotel's restaurant, Nas joined me as we watched the trailer.  He knew what he was getting into (we'd spoken on the phone before I went to Liberia).  But this was a way for him to see what I'd shot, and most importantly, how I'd use his music in the piece.
From all indications, it seemed like he loved the direction.  He was particularly struck by the images we used from the civil war to his music. He told me 'Shoot 'em up' was the right music cut for that part of the piece, which was music to my ears since I couldn't agree more.
So the next step? Transcribe. But after that, I'll write the script and start putting together the piece.  Nas' manager suggests the best way for Nas to not only lend his music to this piece, but also voice the piece would be to have him up in Bristol, CT at ESPN and spend a day working on the piece.  More music to my ears.
I've told people time and again that my vision for this piece - more than anything - is to transport people to Liberia for the 12 or so minutes of this piece.  It's likely that no more than a handful of people who watch my piece in this country have ever visited Liberia, and another handful who ever will.  So my task, in telling you the story of the amputee soccer team through the eyes of one of its players is to have you experience what Liberia is like.  How desperate is it?  How much does this team mean to the country and represent change?  And most importantly, how does Liberia's past influence its present and plant seeds for what they say is a hopeful future?
Nas will help take us there. If there's one thing about his music - even though I grew up on Dre and Snoop - it's his ability for him to sound honest through his music.  He's more poet than rapper. And that's a compliment. That's why I hope his voice can help translate that message and answer those questions.
Oh yeah, and it doesn't hurt to have a multi-platinum selling artist lending his music.

-YD