Hennessy is celebrating its 250th birthday in predictably lavish style. During an exclusive black-tie gala at Lincoln Center last week, the world’s largest cognac producer unveiled a new, ultra-premium release backdropped by a multimedia art exhibit at Alice Tully Hall. The show featured a menagerie of film, interpretive dance, photography, and interactive installations focusing on the past, present, and future of the eighth-generation French liquor brand. It was here that Nas, rap icon — and Hennessy Ambassador — performed a private, impromptu show in front of a handful of ebullient attendees. I sat down with the legend of Queensbridge before he took the stage to discuss his relationship with Hennessy and how it evolved as a fixture within hip-hop culture.
Like with most of the other guests that evening, Nas’s first sip of Hennessy 250 — a limited-run, $600-a-bottle release — came at last Tuesday’s Lincoln Center gala. “It’s really what I would like to drink every time I drink cognac,” he said. “That’s the type of drink I like. It’s smooth. Really smooth.” He might be on the company payroll, but it’s difficult to argue with his assessment. Although the newest addition to the Hennessy portfolio offers exotic, saffron-like spice aromatics, on the tongue, it’s redolent of orange zest and wildflowers with a lush, velvety mouthfeel that demands careful contemplation beyond each sip.
Even for a successful rapper, this precious juice, containing eau de vie aged for up to 50 years in French oak barrels, is reserved for special occasions. As an everyday go-to, Nas prefers his dependable V.S., the brand’s flagship golden blend, which typically retails at around $35 a bottle in the city.
That drink has been familiar to Nas throughout his entire professional career. “We always want to be accepted as an adult, when you’re young,” he explained. “That’s the reason why we didn’t first know about it. I was introduced to Hennessy by an older fellow who told me I was drinking basically bullshit. He told me about better Champagne, he told me about Hennessy. We started rapping about it, and that was it.”
An official collaboration between Nas and Hennessy was bound to happen sooner or later. He’s been repping the company’s spirits long before it paid him to do so. “It was on my first album, before one song, I mention this damn drink,” he recalls, referring to the opening track of his debut 1994 classic, Illmatic. “I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Hennessy, like a family member, throughout my life. So it was funny, ironic, how they contacted me to be an ambassador.”
The partnership hardly affected his lifestyle, as Nas notes: “I just do what I’ve been doing, but now we do it on a big level. It’s pretty cool, just to show my world and their world combining. It starts right there. That’s where it is. ”
It’s hard to fake true passion. And, over the course of even a brief conversation, you wouldn’t dare question Nas’s genuine devotion to this particular liquor. He also takes pride in being included among the other noted personalities who have been associated with Hennessy throughout the years. “[They] had people in the past: Miles Davis, Martin Scorcese, [Manny] Pacquiao. Out of all those guys I’m probably the real Hennessy drinker,” he boasts. “So it was a great idea for us to get together. I’m an old-school fan of rap. Run-D.M.C. meeting Adidas — things like that — I can equate to this.”
Even though Nas still enjoys his “Henny With Sprite,” he concedes that “now I’m a more civilized drinker. Now I enjoy every moment of it — it’s not just a party.” The new 250 release from Hennessy provides plenty of reason to celebrate. And not even Nas would dare dilute this drink with sugar water. “The 250 is neat!” he exclaims.