In a six-story SoHo building in New York City, a WeWork space mirrors a hip-hop playground. A red street sign hangs on the wall that reads “Once again I reveal the skill, money’s growin’ like grass with the mass appeal,” a lyric from Da Youngstas’ Qu’ran from the hip-hop group’s 1992 track “Pass da Mic.” Tupac is playing in the speakers and Nas is talking business with Peter Bittenbender, the CEO of media and content company Mass Appeal.
Since last November, the 9,000 square foot office on the second floor has served as the private headquarters for Mass Appeal’s editorial and production team courtesy of WeWork, the company that flips white-walled, corporate offices into inspiration-inducing collaborative workspaces. Beyond the 68 desks, conference room, private offices and five edit suites, Mass Appeal HQ also boasts a recording studio (the first WeWork space to do so), one that Nas is currently using to wrap up his twelfth studio album (while taking a tour, this writer walked into a session featuring Nas, Mass Appeal Records signee Fashawn, and producer Statik Selektah.)
The office is similar to other WeWork spaces in that conversations could strike up among patrons at any given moment.The decor for the Mass Appeal digs, though, are unique to the brand’s passion for hip-hop culture with past Mass Appeal magazine covers, vintage hip-hop photography and floor-to-ceiling artwork designed by artists like Stikki Peaches. There’s even a white bench that doubles as a boombox made from car speakers and a New York State of Mind bar that serves Nas’ favorite cognac, Hennessy.
Billboard had a chat with Nas, Bittenbender and WeWork vice chairman Michael Gross, where they talked about the customized space, the projects Mass Appeal is currently working and an update on the highly anticipated Life Is Good follow-up.
Nas, how did you infuse Mass Appeal’s ethos into this space?
Nas: New York city is full of great spaces. The best spaces of the world are here. This is the new Europe, where the settlers came and busted out their ideas and put it down so there’s nothing but great space in this great city. When I saw [the office], it wasn’t over the top. I felt comfortable, It didn’t feel like a place that bankers would be working. I felt like this was a place where real people of downtown of Manhattan would be. That’s what really stood out to me. It felt comfortable. I love New York, I love it. There’s all kinds of places you can go. You got spaces that are not friendly, no vibe and that’s my lawyer’s building. [Laughs]
Gross: We’re changing that, too, by the way because the truth is all [offices] should have a vibe. As the next generation of leaders of all industry types, there’s going to be people of our generation that are going to make that so we’re at that shift, we’re at that inflection point. We see that everyday.
Were there specific pieces that you wanted to incorporate into the office?
Nas: Yeah, I wanted to get a chair from Shea Stadium turn to vibes or just rap album covers from rap album covers from the 1970s and on, and graffiti. Stuff by Keith Haring type of vibes. Anything that represented New York and culture and hip-hop.
What made you add a studio in this space?
Nas: Everything’s here but that. I was sitting here and we were talking about how great it would be when we scored this film or made this record, it would be great to get these records done and we go, “We’re missing this one piece.” It worked out perfectly.
What were some projects that you have already done in this building?
Bittenbender: We just started [working here] so the first session was a few days ago. The first project we’re mixing is actually [Nas’] performance at the Kennedy Center that we shot three years ago. He performed with the National Symphony Orchestra for the Illmatic anniversary. We documented that whole experience.
We put it in the vault because we had to shoot this. We don’t know when to put it out but we had to capture this moment. Recently, we brought it back and they mixed the full Illmatic [album] with the orchestra guy back in the studio. That was the first project [we worked on here]. We had to make sure whatever project we touched first came from [Nas] obviously. The first session [in the recording studio] was him and Fashawn the other night, which was magical vibes.
Nas, I know you made a record called “Nas Album Done” but I guess the album isn’t finished yet?
It’s not done till it hits the streets.
But the studio in this office is going to help create the vibe.
Oh yeah, that room is where we’re finishing everything.
Can fans expect this album before the year is over?
Any titles in mind?
Not yet, not till release.
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