Certain people are just right for one another. Two individuals who click no matter their surrounding circumstances. Soul mates who come together from different walks of life to form an unstoppable dynamic duo, capable of magical things they couldn’t achieve without the other.
In the music industry, these mutually beneficial relationships rarely last, but when they do, the results can form a union that impacts its surroundings substantially. Think Beyonce and Jay. Snoop and Dre. Drake and 40.
One duo that never had a chance of falling into this category was Amy Winehouse and Nas.
Although the two old souls shared song credits a few times, Winehouse’s world-shattering death in 2011 concluded the pair’s brief but strong bond before they truly got to know one another. The sad part is, that’s exactly what was happening during the singer’s final months.
The unlikely duo was ultimately connected by their mutual friend and producer, Salaam Remi, who knew the Back to Black singer had been hoping to work with Nas her whole career.
“When I’d just met Amy, I was doing ‘Made You Look’ for Nas’ God’s Son album at the time,” Remi told The Hollywood Reporter. “I was just starting to work on Amy’s Frank album, so there are Nas songs where Amy did adlibs on them that we never put out…backgrounds that she was just singing on. She was really inspired by him.”
Furthermore, rumors swirled that Winehouse had a crush on Nasty Nas and her 2006 single “Me and Mr. Jones” was actually about the famed Queens rapper. This was later confirmed by Nas to XXL, who found out via Remi. “I don’t really remember if Salaam, who was really close to her, if he told me about it or not. But I heard a lot about it before I even heard the song.”
Eventually, Nas and Amy were formally introduced and immediately hit it off.
“A lot of times if I had my computer on in the studio,” Remi told The Hollywood Reporter, “my Skype would ring and Amy would be there, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ And then she’d end up talking to Nas or whatever, then they got each other numbers and they would talk.”
Although they’re rarely associated with one another to most, the pair of Grammy Award-winning musicians had a ton in common.
Both come from families with a strong musical heritage. Winehouse grew up around her uncles, who were professional jazz musicians, while her aunt dated English jazz saxophonist Ronnie Scott. Nas is the son of accomplished jazz singer and cornetist Olu Daru.
Beyond their rich roots, the duo are both known for having rather reserved personas — a trait that doesn’t mix too well with the attention their talents warranted on a regular basis. As a result, the two extremely witty artists also shared a passion for drinking, a vice Nas would lament in numerous songs and Amy would eventually succumb to.
“I want someone who likes the champagne I like. My a-alike. Someone to talk me off the bridge any day or night,” Nas would eventually say about her.
With conversations between the two becoming more frequent, true face time was inevitable. Eventually, Remi got the two together in London and, when the time came for Nas and Amy to hit the studio together, the duo clicked on sight.
“We were working on a song for the album, before ‘Cherry Wine,’” Nas said in 2013. “The record was a Donny Hathaway cover. We were putting the music together. She was putting the words together, changing the words up a little bit. But, we never got a chance to record it.”
Although they only hung for one weekend in person, they had built a relationship in the months prior over phone, talking about everything from movies and relationships to paparazzi and celebrity nitpicking. They even shared a birthday and were planning a joint party in the weeks prior to her passing in July, 2011.
“When I got the call that she passed, it really took me down.”
To shake the bad vibes and celebrate Amy’s legacy, Nas and Salaam reached out to her family and requested an unused acapella for a song they were working on and Remi had originally recorded with Winehouse in London. That vocal ended up becoming “Cherry Wine,” one of the many standouts from the Queensbridge legend’s highly-acclaimed Life Is Good album from 2012.
“It was all very fluid,” Remi explained to THR about recording the Grammy-nominated track. “I had the drums up, was playing guitar and she’s singing, it was just another day in the office for us. We’d done different versions of it over the last couple years when we kind of messed around with it, playing with it in different types of arrangements, but this version was always what felt right at the heart of our original inception.”
After Nas added his vocals and the final version of “Cherry Wine” was pieced together, the Braveheart leader would later find out from Amy’s manager that her lyrics were actually written about him, without intentions of ever having them wind up on his song. “It was a meant to be kind of thing,” Nas said about the situation.
Their only other collaboration was “Like Smoke,” a swinging groove that was the lead single on Winehouse’s posthumous Lioness: Hidden Treasures album. Nas’ verse was recorded after her passing, allowing God’s Son to thoughtfully lament on the loss of someone who clearly meant a lot to him.
“Will I marry again? Maybe, I guess
I hold a lady’s interest, I just met
The love scholar, she the teacher’s pet
Every other eve we meet and make each other sweat
I feel triumphant, no strings
Just a fling to have fun with
I be out in London, Camden
Huntin’ for the answers, why did God take away the homie?
I can’t stand it
I’m a firm believer that we all meet up in eternity
Just hope the big man show me some courtesy
Why? ‘Cause I’m deemed a heart breaker
Like smoke, girls lean ‘round a player”
While the burgeoning relationship between Amy and Nas produced an unforeseen personal bond and a few slept-on classics, the future clearly held much more for these two snapshot soul mates.
Can you imagine if they would’ve actually had a true romance come to fruition? Media surely would’ve considered them a legitimate power couple in the entertainment business, boosting both of their careers. They might’ve made even more beautiful music together, building bridges between UK and USA charts, like the Beatles’ heyday. They surely would have become the face of biracial couples. Cool couples, too. Then again, they might’ve actually been bad influences on one another.
No matter where our imagination takes us when speaking on the relationship between these two undisputed legends, the fact is we’ll never know. Amy passed tragically and Nas went on to refresh Mass Appeal records and turn it into one of the most credible labels in hip-hop. Had things gone differently, we can only hope their paths would’ve continued walking hand in hand.