New York underground mainstay and prog rap pioneer Uncommon NASA returned to many of the areas of New York where he came of age for his new video “574s.” Not your average song about sneakers, the track from his new album New York Telephone covers the cross-section of lifelong brand loyalty and how a passionate appreciation can lead to a lifetime of setting goals. We spoke to NASA about his new video and how these locations of many of his memories lead to his life finding a “new balance” during his formative years.
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A line that stands out is in the second verse when you refer to your affinity for the 574s as “consumerism in its best form.” Is that said with your tongue-in-cheek?
I guess it’s a little tongue-in-cheek, but it’s real. I’ve said it for years, you can’t have culture without commerce. I’m very quick to question people who feel they can’t get anything out of having some money to buy something. And, the point of this song is not to say “look at me, I got all these sneakers,” it’s to say, for me, when I was a young man, I discovered these sneakers and they meant a lot to me. I was never into sneaker and never sought to own something that materialistic when I was 18 or 19, but seeing them I was really interested in what they were and how to get them. The point of the song is that simple little materialistic goals like that can, over time, be crafted into real life quality of life goals. Things that have deeper meaning that just owning a pair of shoes, as far as like completing school or getting a different job for buying a home or just being happy in life or being a stronger artist. Those thing can kind of come through some sort of consumerism if you take the right steps towards it.
Given what a presence they’ve been in your life, had you ever tried to make a song about 574s before?
I’ve always kind of thought about it, because those samples are out there. The Phife Dog sample and the Big Juss line about 580s is out there. Those things have always played in my head, whenever a rapper mentioned New Balances I’d get excited because I’d been into these sneakers for years. I never really thought about it until last year I was on the road and went to the New Balance store in Boston and I saw they were selling t-shirts with just the 574 logo design. I had the beat and it just fit perfect with what I wanted to do and the imagery I wanted to put out there. I was finally at the point where I was skillful enough to do that type of song and have a deeper meaning without falling flat about it.
The song mentions doing temp work around Wall Street, where you shot a lot of the video. Did returning to this area give you any flashbacks?
Yeah, absolutely. I hadn’t been to some areas in that video in a long time and Mike Petrow, who directed that video, kept making fun of me because I kept trying to lead him to places that didn’t exist anymore. “We gotta shoot in front of this! Oh fuck, that’s gone.” That happened constantly throughout the shoot. It’s an interesting thing, I kept getting flashbacks. The George Washington statue is where I used to get punch all the time from the gyro carts. Right in front of the stock exchange, I used to walk through that door. That’s really where that was. That was my everyday for a good number of years, even during my first studio job at Ozone, that was on Pearl Street and not too far from the stock exchange so even years later after my first internship I wound up back downtown. As a Staten Islander, downtown Manhattan is a very familiar place because you just hop off the Ferry and you’re at work. Although, I haven’t worked in that area for a long time now.
Being you’re a Staten Islander and there’s a lot of shots in the video on the Ferry, what’s the most wild thing you’ve witnessed on the Ferry?
I know exactly what to tell you. The most wild thing I saw was, I had gotten a phone call from my Godmother who I don’t talk to on the phone all that much. We happened to be talking on the phone for whatever reason, and I look up, and I see feet over the side, and I hear a splash. I thought “Holy shit, somebody’s just jumped off the fucking Ferry.” All these people are stamping around, and I’m at a point where I’m pretty cynical and pretty paranoid and I knew I had seen somebody jump off a Ferry [so] A) I didn’t want to see somebody’s corpse in the water and B) didn’t want to risk the fact that couples were sneaking up and tossing fuckers off the Ferry. You don’t know what people are up to these days. So, I just walked away, hung up and waited to see what happened. They pulled this fool out of the water, he’s perfectly alive and well, and he’s going by on the Coast Guard raft and he’s in the boat giving the Ferry the thumbs-up and waving. I’m out there booing this motherfucker because, that’s like the most selfish thing you could possibly do. I was on that boat for an hour because we couldn’t dock, they were doing an investigation and all this shit. I’ve heard of people doing stuff like that, I guess this guy was a thrill-seeker, but it’s pretty stupid to jump off of a boat. It was one of the taller ones, so I guess he was jumping off the third or forth floor. So, you can get yourself killed doing shit like that, especially if you get sucked up under the boat. But, yeah, that was the strangest thing I’ve seen on the Ferry. That’s the weirdest thing I’ve seen.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 2, 2014