It has been many moons since Nas and Kelis were considered #goals. The once-dubbed “hip-hop royalty couple” has descended from their plinth––complete with green wedding dresses and massive tribute tattoos––back down to where I (and the rest of human existence) has been living. They are now among us: hurt, messy, and carrying baggage (and a baby) from lovers’ past. We’ve seen this movie before; it has starred our friends, our relatives and even ourselves. In the latest turn of the page, Nas has rocked social media with a seven-part manifesto of his side of the story, four months after Kelis sat down for an hour and 15 minutes to tell hers.
But we know the adage as well as we know this narrative: There are always three sides to every story. And the third side of Nas and Kelis’ story, is brokenness.
Watching Kelis’s hour-long discussion of her relationship with Nas struck a very deep chord in me. I have been in unhealthy relationships. I have exchanged physical and verbal blows with men I’ve been with. I’ve fought past very real warning signs and attempted to keep going. I’ve been cheated on and have fallen victim to emotional abuse. I have told myself that I was strong enough to take it all in the name of love. I have been on both ends of right and wrong. She was candid as ever, and it was relatable in the most painful ways:
“We had really intense highs and really intense lows. It was never normal.”
“I’m 5’10”, I don’t back down, I’m extremely confrontational. So I take my part in it. I wasn’t perfect. I never painted myself as an angel. I can be a bitch. I can fight, I know how to fight; I’m not afraid to throw a punch. But I wouldn’t have started it. I’ll participate in ending it, but I wouldn’t have started it. I was never that angry. The funny thing is, because I’m a loudmouth and because I’m super opinionated, I’ve got this image of who I am. I adored him, I really did. I was never that angry. He was angry, he was dark, and he’s always been that way.”
“I felt like, ‘This is my partner; I chose this. We’re gonna do this. We’re gonna make it work.’ I stayed for years after that, and you keep it moving. Like I said, I’m not frail, I’m not scared, I’m not weak.”
“I didn’t say anything because I wanted things to work, and because I was delusional, and because I thought I could love past this.”
“I didn’t file for divorce because he cheated; he’d been cheating for two years and I knew that. It was because, on top of all the other stuff, then you’re going to cheat? Okay, this is too much.”
I believe her story. I believe the fights on drunken nights happened. I believe she had bruises on her body. I believe she extended an invite to Nas to come by for Thanksgiving dinner. What I don’t believe, is that Kelis has truly let go of the pain. Has she walked away from the relationship? Yes, and bravely so. Has she released the love she had for Nas? Yup, that is clearly not a woman in love––at all. Has she rebuilt her life from that emotional rubble? Absolutely, and it’s beautiful. But as I watched that interview, and the tears welling up in her eyes from frustration, I saw a woman in full on lioness mode, shielding her cub from a man she still calls “crazy.” From a man who hurt her deeply. From a man who let her down. From a man she is still feeling betrayed by to this day.
“The whole story, ‘you keep me from my child.’ Hmm. Really? When did that happen? Was it when I was begging you to help? Or when I was waiting for you to show up to the point when I couldn’t even tell my child that you’re coming until you’re at the curb, because of how many times you have not shown up? I will not have that for him. So yes, I am a mother. I will protect with my life.[…] I’ve been a parent. I’ve been there. And it’s not about not allowing you to see him, it’s about the fact that when you’ve not been there, you can’t show up when you feel like it, and regulate.”
Nas’ rebuttal was no less triggering. I have been on the receiving end of accusations of these kinds as well; seen and unseen by the eyes of the same man. The seven-caption open letter displaces most of the rapper’s responsibility in their relationship, handing most of the blame for the disaster off to Kelis. The general crazy-making, victim-blaming and misogyny in his response is jarring. Skating past his unfaithfulness, holding her rowdy “Caught Out There” single up as a sign of her aggression, plastering her as “hostile” and “jealous” and making note of things he’s paid for, is all characteristically abusive rhetoric and equally painful to behold:
“I have to say i wasn’t the most faithful husband. I was immature. I’m sorry about that. But you bumped your own head sis.”
“I hate all this, but you were a very jealous wife, and i had to deal with that and that’s the worst feeling. How much heat i had to take from producers, writers, music attorneys and record execs etc who felt your mean spirited wrath and dropped you from labels, from startrack to them all. I stopped talking to jungle & steve stoute because of you & almost lost Anthony because of you.”
“I shouldn’t have ignored the signs from your your first song and video I HATE YOU SO MUCH RIGHT NOW.”
“You used to turn my phone off so my professionals couldn’t reach me and take the battery. You insulted any and everyone whoever was around me. Not a single person in my life loved or could even stand you.”
“The altercations you speak of are no more different from what most normal couples go thru, but your exaggerated version is UNJUST. Whenever one is constantly attacked the instinct is to restrain that person or defend yourself to prevent escalation. In hindsight now my advice to young men out there in a situation like that is to RUN at the very first sign of verbal abuse or physical. I herd you said terrible things about me. It makes me feel sad how heartless you can be.”
“I gave you the tools to be successful after you was dropped from your label. I paid for your cooking school cordon blue [sic]. The expensive yellow stove we had flown in from Europe. I helped pay for the remodeling of your house. Your assistant stole thousands from my cc according to Amex. Out of all people you should be completely understanding of my my grind.”
These statements are about the ex-wife whose exit scarred his heart so deeply that he held her wedding dress on the cover of his album. This defense is against the same woman he admittedly asked to “make love one more time” after their split. This is the same woman he now feels is tearing down the image that he worked so hard to create, and this statement is clearly an attempt to repair it. I believe that Nas genuinely wants to be in his son Knight’s life. What I don’t believe, is that he has freed himself of the pain this relationship left behind either. He makes several mentions of their relationship ending that reek of “jilted.”
“Why do you need to have control over my life? because we’re not together?”
“I thought you was beautiful. You came into my life at a time i was grieving from my moms passing. You was a friend. Because of that i wanted to marry you. And i did.”
“It didn’t work out. Life goes on. I’m not coming back to you. Your married and im happy for you and I’m a extremely happy black brother out here trying to make a difference for my kids and the next generation of young people who see me as huge inspiration in music, art,business, education and so on.”
“I even had to be in a relationship with you AGAIN after we separated just so i could see my son…”
The sad reality, that should be clear to anyone who has experienced a toxic relationship, is that these are clearly two people who are hurting, and whose hurt predates one other. Kelis, a flagbearer of the Strong Black Woman Syndrome, believed that she could “love through” it, and sat in the midst of a poisonous and violent marriage because she was not “frail,” “scared” or “weak” enough to speak up or leave. And Nas, while he attests “Women are the essence of life. I cherish them,” was unfaithful to the wife he procured with vows to God, and is still passing it off as simple immaturity. He, like a lot of Black men, struggle to practice love in action and proceed to allow emotional manipulation to take the place of accountability. What they’ve seen, been through or how they were loved early on in their lives, was clearly brought into their union.
This is bigger than right and wrong. This is deeper than #TeamKelis or #TeamNas. And until both Nas and Kelis admit that they are in pain, their child will suffer the consequences of their unchecked healing.
(Photos from left: Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images,