Detroit State of Mind: Nas performs ‘Illmatic’ with DSO

Nas did not let the crowd down at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall Tuesday night. The 13-time Grammy Award Nominee collaborated with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO), as a culmination of the Detroit Pistons’ Black History Month festivities. The Queensbridge native and one of the most influential and talented MCs to ever grace a mic, performed his 1994 debut album Illmatic with a classical treatment, celebrating the 25th anniversary of one of the greatest hip hop albums of all-time.

He performed a similar concert a few years ago with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center for the album’s 20th anniversary.

Proceeds from the event benefited programs that stem from the Detroit Pistons’ partnership with the DSO and the annual Sphinx Competition, which provides new opportunities to young African-American and Latino string players and the communities and audiences they serve.

“I’m not a rap aficionado, but he was an outstanding performer,” Detroit Pistons Vice Chairman Arn Tellem said Nas. “The crowd was really into it and it was great to have this kind of event here in Detroit at the end of Black History Month. It’s a culmination of all the things we have been doing in the community and a great way to bring people together.”

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Nas performed Illmatic and a number of his other classics in Detroit Tuesday night at Orchestra Hall. PHOTO: Kory Woods

So how did “Nasty Nas” team up with the DSO, of all forms of music?

“I had the idea of putting on a concert at the end of our Black History Month festivities,” Tellem added. “Our team at the Pistons went out to get Nas, because we heard he would do something like this, perform with the DSO, and here we are. Given our partnership with the DSO, it was a natural fit.”

The Detroit Pistons and DSO have a multi-year partnership aimed to enhance music and education programming for Detroit youth. Financial commitments from Pistons owner Tom Gores, Tellem, and the Detroit Pistons Foundation have expanded the DSOs Civic Youth Ensemble offerings for Detroit students. Funding will also allow all Detroit Public School Community District (DPSCD) fourth-graders to attend DSO educational performances for free through subsidized tickets.

The unique event drew such a diverse crowd, including Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, and received rave reviews. Nas performed some of his other classics, including “One Mic”, “The Message”, “Hate Me Now”, and “I Can”, with the crowd wanting more.

“We hope to do this every year,” said Tellem. “It’s not easy to pull off, but we are hoping to do it every year going forward.”

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