The Unseen Nas

Portsmouth DJ blends hip-hop legends Nas and Quasimoto on mashup album

In a way, a mashup between Nas and Quasimoto seems like a match made in heaven.

Nas, who famously worked with the hottest producers available during the recording of the “hip-hop bible” “Illmatic,” has a reputation for using some of the greatest beats of all time to carry his extraordinary rhymes. 

For Quasimoto, on the other hand, the beats were the main ingredient, and the vocals were secondary. The Quasimoto project is the brainchild of L.A. beat-maker Madlib, who famously said he’s a “DJ first, producer second, MC last.” Rather than showcasing his rapping chops, Madlib altered the pitch of his voice to sound like a hit of blunt smoke chased with helium. Quasimoto’s distinctive voice was like crack for artsy types but could be off-putting for the passive listener.

To hip-hop fans, it’s baffling that Madlib has never produced a beat for Nas. But Portsmouth-based DJ D. Begun has taken it upon himself to settle the “what-ifs” for fans. Using the beats from Quasimoto’s critically-acclaimed 2000 release “The Unseen,” Begun reimagined the album with carefully selected verses from Nas songs. Thus, “Nasimoto was born.

Since its release, the “Nasimoto” album has taken the hip-hop scene by storm, garnering write-ups in the genre’s biggest media outlets like, DatPiff, and Pigeons and Planes. The Sound caught up with D. Begun to talk about his early hip-hop endeavors, the process of finding the perfect Nas verse for each Quasimoto beat, and the unexpected success of his work.

Nasimoto by D. Begun

Tell me a little bit about your background. When did you start making beats and getting into hip-hop?

I’ve been into hip-hop for my entire life going back as far as I can remember. It has really been the only form of music that I latched on to. I started making beats about 15 years ago, originally using FruityLoops, which was free at the time. I pretty much produced for my own enjoyment, not ever releasing anything and only working with other artists a handful of times. Only recently have I decided to release any of the productions that I have done.

What was the first mashup you did?

I have been doing remixes of songs for a long time with my own production, but the first time I created a mash-up, or at least a full length mash-up, was with Jay Z’s “The Black Album” around 2005. When that album came out, they released a full-length a cappella version of it. There were many mash-ups and remixes done with this, and that is the first time I can remember putting together a complete mashup record. I took Jay Z’s vocals from that album and laid them over various DJ Premier beats.

So, why mash up Nas and Quasimoto/Madlib? Did you hear some sort of connection between the two artists when you listened to them?

The first Quasimoto album, “The Unseen,” which I used for all of the tracks on this album, has always been one of my favorite albums from a production standpoint. The rapping on that album is done by the producer, Madlib, in an alter-ego named Quasimoto, with his vocals pitched way up. I was always wondering what that album would sound like with a great emcee rapping over it, so one day I just decided to lay Nas’ vocals over a few tracks. Those tracks came out great and so I decided to continue and complete an entire album’s worth.

How did you go about deciding which Nas verses you would use for each Quas beat? What were some of the tracks that were the easiest to mash up and which ones were the hardest and took the most time?

Some of it was a little trial and error, trying to figure out which verse went best with which beat, and some of it came more naturally. I also tried to pull at least a couple of songs from many different Nas albums and time periods. There were times that I thought a certain verse/song would work well over a certain beat, and once I laid everything down, it just didn’t come together at all. The “Come On Feet” beat in particular was one that I tried with a number of different Nas songs before I settled on using “We Will Survive,” which I still don’t think is a perfect fit but just one that seemed to work well enough. There were others, like “Get Down,” where I laid the vocals over the track and it worked so beautifully together that I barely needed to do any work at all.

Some tracks, like “Hey Nas (Boom Music),” are reworked with a faster tempo at a higher pitch. Yet some, like “One Love (Microphone Mathematics),” are almost completely untouched. Besides mashing up Nas and Quas, how much did you manipulate the sounds of the songs?

I tried as best as I could to not manipulate the tempos too drastically on any songs, but there obviously has to be some degree of that to get it to work properly. I did pitch up a few to speed them up because I just felt they worked so well with the vocals and that was the only way to get them to match up. I had to manipulate the beats as far as changing their arrangements so that it would line up with the vocals as well, and that was where most of the manipulation took place. The one thing I did not do at all was alter the tempo or pitch of the vocal tracks. I didn’t want to lose the integrity of the original. I did drop many of the choruses from the original Nas tracks in favor of just letting the music play or putting in some scratching from the Quasimoto songs. I was trying to get a certain vibe for the record, which meant cutting out a lot of sung choruses in particular, such as removing Lauryn Hill from “If I Ruled the World” and R. Kelly from the “Street Dreams” remix.

Were you concerned at all that a mashup of these two artists might not be well received by listeners? Nas and Madlib are objectively two of the greatest of all time, so it seems ambitious to mash those two artists together.

Honestly, I originally created the majority of this album about six or seven years ago, and I wasn’t thinking at that time that the album would actually ever have any listeners. When I finally did decide to release it, I didn’t know what kind of attention it would receive, so I didn’t really think about it then either, to be honest. The reception has been overwhelmingly positive, so it seems to have worked out pretty well.

Earlier in April, you also released your first EP, “82 til’.” Why did you decide to release the two albums so close together?

I actually put the EP out after the “Nasimoto” album, but just backdated the release date because, on the Bandcamp site, the most recent album is the first one that is highlighted and I knew people were going there specifically for the Nas and Quasimoto mashup. I have had a collection of instrumental tracks that I have made over the years, so I figured that while I was garnering a lot of attention for the mashup album, I would put a handful of those up as well, just to see what kind of reception that they would get.

“Nasimoto” seems to be getting a lot of hype from hip-hop blogs everywhere. How do you feel the album has been received so far?

The reception has honestly been pretty overwhelming. When I released this originally, I was hoping that maybe it would reach a couple hundred people and that maybe a handful of people would download it and enjoy it. It has gone way beyond