Nas likes Cigars and Cognac — Escobar and Hennessy, to be exact.
And that’s good news for both brands. Having the winner of the 2021 Best Rap Album Grammy as your co-owner and brand ambassador, respectively, will get you noticed. Nas made his debut in 1994 with the highly acclaimed album Illmatic. It’s widely recognized as one of the greatest rap albums of the 1990s.
Since then, he’s been nominated for numerous Grammys, two BET Awards and
several MTV Video Music Awards. Named one of the 10 Best Rappers of all time
by Billboard magazine, Nas has come a long way from the projects of Queens, N.Y. An investor in numerous start-up tech companies, associate publisher of Mass Appeal Magazine, and the owner of the HSTRY clothing line, Nas is not only a celebrated artist but also an accomplished businessman.
We recently sat down with Nas in Los Angeles to find out more about his co- ownership with Escobar Premium Cigars. Interestingly, “Escobar” had been an alter ego he adopted in the ‘90s when writing verses in gangster rap style prior to any affiliation with Escobar Cigars. It was kismet that they would join forces.
Cigar & Spirits Magazine: How long have you been passionate about cigars? When did you light up your first stick?
I always thought cigars represented maturity. This is when I was a kid, and it represented authority. It represented experience, and someone who was fairly secure. They are thinking about life and made a decision to smoke it.
It was like with wine. My mom used to drink wine. I watched adults drink wine. I tasted it and hated it as a kid. I didn’t get it. Didn’t think I would smoke cigars, really, but I was more drawn to cigars and wine. I could see that for myself.
As you went on, did you come to appreciate the artisanal aspect of it, as well as the aspirational part of it? The craft.
When I first touched the cigar, it was just curiosity, I didn’t continue to smoke. Then I found myself around the right person who wanted to educate me about a cigar, and let me have a go at it. Again, it took a little bit. I didn’t like anything yet. It didn’t hit me till I was around 23, in Miami.
I smoked a lot more marijuana then than I do now, and it was a way for me to have a smoke without it being illegal. I can smoke outside. Once when I was having a nice drink outside by the ocean in the early 90s, I got my hands on a box of Cohibas.
Once you develop that initial appreciation, it just opens up this whole other realm, because there’s so many different types of cigars to experience. Talk to me a little bit about being a brand partner with Escobar. How that originated, what’s been rewarding about it so far.
Well, through music, I’ve been showing people my lifestyle with the type of drink I drink, what I like to smoke, suits I wear in my videos and photo shoots, and I rap about it. I rap about cigars and finer things. A lot of people would approach me and say, “Tell me about what kind of cigars you smoke,” and at this point, I only had like Cohiba and Davidoff, so I didn’t really have that much to tell people. I knew that Cuban cigars are the best at the time. I realized that I was a walking poster child for a couple of things, and cigars were one of them. I knew one day I would have to partner with the right people so that people can experience my experience, and experience my music in a more physical sense with actually touching the brand.
Escobar has been a nickname of mine since the ‘90s. Escobar is aware of what’s in my music. They’re aware of my lifestyle. There’s tons of pictures of me smoking cigars. I think they knew that it would just be a great opportunity to meet and go after it, and do something fun and good for the smoker. We could really do our thing. It’s been really a slow process, but really organic, and very natural.
Is the Escobar Churchill one of your favorites?
The Churchill is good. That’s the one I had in New Orleans recently, a couple of days ago. It’s very smooth. Everyone loved it. I passed it around. Yes, that one is great.
The Maduro and the Natural are stellar.
I like the Maduro, the Natural is great. People like the Natural a lot. When we first launched, I was waiting for somebody to scream at me, “How dare you come into this industry? What do you know?” But everyone of those guys gave me love. And everyone loved this one.
There really is a brotherhood to the cigar world. In terms of developing a successful business partnership, do you see any connections between being a creative cigar partner to creating a great record?
I give my all to everything I get involved in. We had the opportunity to pick great stocks with cigars. I wanted it to be part of it, and so did they.
Talk to me a little bit about your affiliation with Hennessy. When did you become a Hennessy enthusiast?
I’ve been down with Hennessy since 2013. I rapped about Hennessy. On my first album, I have a conversation with my brother and my friends before any song begins, and we’re talking about Hennessy. It wasn’t intentional, it wasn’t planned. We were having a natural conversation. We were just talking about what we talk about, and mentioned Hennessy.
I learned about it from the older guys in my neighborhood. They saw us drinking crappy stuff, and they said this, “You want cognac? At least you should be drinking this.”
It became my drink of choice, as it did many New Yorkers in the ‘90s. It’s been around longer than that, of course, but for me it was the ‘90s.
I was approached by beer companies before Hennessy. Even though I might like a beer here and there, it wasn’t really my thing. I couldn’t just promote something that didn’t do anything for me.
You didn’t feel it.
Had to be my real lifestyle. It’s like “Michael Jordan could play basketball, let’s give him a Nike. He wears Nikes, he loves Nike.”
What do you like to pair up?
A Cohiba, Behike, Siglo V1—any of those pair well with Hibiki Japanese whiskey. Japanese whisky has been trending for quite some time. It’s gaining popularity. Macallan is there, too. Of course, Hennessy XO or Hennessy Paradis. I love Richard.
So what will 2023 bring us?
We’re working on many projects. I’m sure there’ll be some cool collaborations in 2023.