Nas - 'Deja Vu'
'Deja Vu'. Arguably Nas' best ever unreleased track and without doubt one of my favourites. Not only does it represent Nas as it his finest lyrically, but maybe more importantly in the context of post 'Illmatic' Nas, it provides him with the perfect musical composition on which to shine.
However, as is often the case with pre-Internet unreleased music, a lot of mystery and rumour surrounds this amazing cut. For years now, people have speculated on whether this was recorded before or after Raekwon's 'Verbal Intercourse' (where Nas spits pretty much an identical first verse).
Many have also questioned whether it was actually an out-take from an 'Illmatic' session. But perhaps most interestingly, everybody seems to have an idea or thought on who produced this musical masterpiece - with names such as Pete Rock being credited - but yet nobody ever seemed to know for sure.
"Getting Props is a True Thugs Wife"
Despite the bullshit he went through with Columbia, and with the gift/ curse of producing one of Nas' best ever records - yet without the masses knowing it was made by him, I was lucky enough to get to speak with the actual producer of this record, Chris Winston, in order to finally set the record straight.
So, over 14 years after he made the track, Chris was humble enough to give me the downlow on how he came to work with Nas, when the cut was recorded, and why it was never released...
Canns - So firstly, can you confirm to everyone when you actually produced the track 'Deja Vu'? A lot of people actually thought that was an 'Illmatic' outtake, whilst others suggested it came a bit later as Nas used the same lyrics on 'Verbal Intercourse'?
Chris Winston - Yes I produced Deja Vu. It was well after Illmatic when Nas started working on It Was Written. He wrote the lyrics to Deja Vu with me then ended up using the 1st Verse on Raekwon's joint.
Canns - So how did the opportunity come about for you to get involved with working with Nas?
CW - I started working at Sony Music Studios in NYC as an assistant. I had been producing hip hop for a while already and I started to play my beats for artists after their sessions. Nas was working on something called Black Velvet I think and after the session I told him to check out a beat I was working on. This wasn't Deja Vu but another track which we ended up recording and never finishing. He was hyped and came back a couple months later to the new Hip Hop studio they had built in the basement. He saw me in there and started asking about my beats and wanted to hear more so I played him a bunch more and he was feeling Deja Vu and this other beat like crazy. Faith Newman was the chick from Columbia and he told her to set something up for us to record.
Canns ...and this was your first production right?
CW - Yes this was my first hip hop production (I was only 18 at the time)
Canns - It must have been crazy getting to work on this project, did you feel immense pressure working on the follow-up to what is considered to be one of hip-hop's best albums?
CW - I felt pressure yeah because I really respected him as an artist and thought Illmatic was the best hip hop record ever made. But once we recorded Deja Vu I felt like we had something at that caliber or better.
Canns - So, was the beat for 'Deja Vu' made specifically for Nas? That beat is crazy - It seems to fit his style perfectly - you must have felt like you struck gold with this one?
CW - I actually made that beat after the first time I met him yeah. Once he laid a verse down everyone in the room knew we had a banger.
Canns - When we spoke previously, you also mentioned that you produced another track for Nas. Is this something that got leaked, like 'Deja Vu' or did that one stay locked firmly in the vaults? Did it have a track title?
CW - Yeah, we recorded the original track he was feeling when I met him months before. This stayed locked in the vaults, he laid down a verse then wanted it erased the next day... I kept a DAT for myself and never leaked it because I respected him and I don't do people like that. Also let me say that speaking of masters, I have the only version of Deja Vu on DAT (digital tape to you youngsters) in existence. Everything I've heard on YouTube and mp3's leaked are from a cassette tape Nas took after the sessions. So when people talk about "quality of production" they are critiquing a CASSETTE tape. If they heard my DAT they would know that it was post Illmatic....
Canns - And you mention that this never made the cut due to Politics and Bullshit with Columbia? Are you still cool with Nas after this?
CW - I ran into Nas in front of the Columbia Records building a few weeks after the session and he told me it was politics. I think they were pushing him to make more radio friendly shit and Deja Vu was just too raw of a joint for the album.
Canns ...and I guess they didn't try and reach out to you later when 'The Lost Tapes' dropped either?
CW - They didn't reach out to me probably because they didn't know who I was or how to get at me. I never waived a flag and said "I produced this" until I saw people getting it twisted.
Canns - So i presume you weren't exactly feeling 'It Was Written' when it dropped?!! I gotta say that over the years i have grown to really like the LP, after initially being so disappointed, but had 'Deja Vu' and 'Silent Murder' been on it this LP would have been even better. ('Silent Murder' was on the Jap/ Euro CD's and US tape versions only originally)
CW - I wasn't feeling the whole record, maybe because I was a little bitter than Deja Vu didn't make it. Even today though I think it could have been a better follow up to Illmatic if some of the "fluff" wasn't there. ("If I Ruled The World")
I still think Deja Vu would have made that record better, but of course I do, I produced it!
Canns - Have you produced tracks for any different artists which never saw the light of day?
CW - I've produced a lot of shit that hasn't seen the light of day over the years, I am really weary of bad deals and bad politics... The music industry is a dark world.
Canns - What about Chris Winston in the future? Can we expect to see you stepping back behind the boards again, or has this whole experience put you off producing records for good?
CW - I write a lot of shit every day and If the situation is right you will see me producing records, but I will def need to be paid FIRST.
So, after all these years of speculation, there you have it. Once again, I want to give a huge thanks to Chris Winston for reaching out and for breaking down the truth behind this masterpiece.
If you want to find out more about Chris, you can find him at www.chriswinston.com.
And remember, next time you're telling your people about how ill 'Deja Vu' is, make sure you tell them that Chris produced it.