Arts & Entertainment, Music

Telling Your Life Story Through Music


Lesson time 08:57 min

Nas takes you through a case study of how he wrote “N.Y. State of Mind,” one of his most iconic songs, and breaks down the importance of details and why describing the way an experience made you feel is the key to writing powerful lyrics.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Case Study: “N.Y. State of Mind” · Creating Memorable Scenes and Characters


[MUSIC PLAYING] - We like to know we're not alone, so, when you write, you can write your honest feelings. And that tends to get through to a lot of people. Straight to the heart. That's what we need. That's what we like. It's time, nigga? Yeah, it's time, man. All right, nigga, begin. Yeah, straight out the fucking dungeons of rap where fake niggas don't make it back. I don't know how to start this shit, yo. Rappers I monkey flip them with the funky rhythm I be kicking. Musician inflicting composition. When I was writing, "N.Y. State of Mind," it was just raw expression of what I had to think about in that situation, living in Queensbridge projects. Trying to not get caught in the traps, but not knowing what was lying ahead for me. It takes you exactly to the place where I was at when I wrote it. When I'm creating characters and creating scenes, you create a universe. You create a world that somebody can enjoy listening to. It brings you to a time period that I was coming up in where things were life or death situations. Trying to make something of yourself in this great city of opportunity. The Big Apple, the Rotten Apple, whatever you want to look at it, however, where you see it, it's New York. It was super important that I gave you that. No cut. No chaser. Straight to the vein, and that's the way it's supposed to be done. Especially on a song called "New York State of Mind." My state of mind was, let the people inside my mind. It's black. It's like black rats trapped. Plus the Island packed. That's what I hear in all the stories where my people come back. Black. I'm living with the nights of jet-black. Fiends fight to get crack. I just max. I dream. I can sit back and lamp like Capone with drug scripts sewn. The system was designed to keep us like animals. The black rats trapped, the worst lowest level, trapped with the cares that you would have for pests. And you have no cares, and the Island is packed, short for Rikers Island. That's what I'm hearing in all the stories when my people come back from Rikers Island. I want to have the drug strip, the corner, I want to have it sewn up like Capone. Or the legal luxury life, but, either way, it's going to have to be luxurious. But, illegal or illegal, I'm going to get there. Or the legal luxury life. Rings flooded with stones, homes, I got so many rhymes, I don't think I'm too sane. Life is parallel to hell, but I must maintain and be prosperous. Though we look dangerous, cops can just arrest us, blaming us. We're held like hostages. It's only right that I was born to use mics. So I'm allowing you to get inside to the darkest moments of my thinking and me comparing myself to a pest in a trap or a hamster on the wheel in a way. But at the same time, "I got so many rhymes, I don't think I'm too sane." I'm basically telling you where I'm at. Life is parallel to hell, but I must maintain to be prosperous. So I'm trying to get t...

About the Instructor

From the landmark album "Illmatic" in 1994 to the Grammy-winning "King’s Disease," Nas has been exposing truth through rhymes and vivid street poetry for more than 25 years. Now he’s sharing his journey, the evolution of Hip-Hop, and a brand-new song with you. Hip-Hop, lyricism, flow—learn how to tap into the power of your own voice and turn your experiences into music with one of rap’s all-time greatest artists.

Featured Masterclass Instructor


Grammy-winning rapper Nas shares his journey through the evolution of Hip-Hop, breaks down some of his biggest hits, and writes a brand-new song.

Explore the Class
Sign Up