Behind The ScenesStarting 5X Games

Acclaimed rapper Nas returns to perform at X Games Aspen

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Multiplatinum-selling hiphop artist Nas returns to X Games Aspen to help kick off the action sports, music and festival experience Jan. 28-31 (ESPN, ABC, ESPN3) at Buttermilk Mountain in Colorado.

For Nas, who performed at X Games Aspen 2012 (see photos above), this is another milestone in his long relationship with ESPN. The rapper, who has been nominated for 18 Grammy Awards, won a National Sports Emmy in 2011 for his work on the E:60 film “Survival 1,” which documented the trials of the Liberian National Amputee soccer team.

He’s also supplied his voice and vision on ESPN promotions involving the network’s coverage of the US Open, the NFL Draft and performed at the 2012 ESPYS. He tells Front Row why he enjoys performing at the X Games and working with ESPN.

What excites you most about performing at X Games Aspen 2016?
I love the Aspens. It’s the atmosphere, mountains, watching people ski. The crisp weather. The other acts and the crowd.

What was it like working on the ESPN documentary “Survival 1,” for which you received a Sports Emmy for producing, directing and scoring the E:60 film?
Working on the ESPN doc was an honor. I was heavily motivated by the soccer players. I hoped that working on it that my voice would do it justice. Receiving my Sports Emmy was unexpected and immensely gratifying knowing that maybe I was a part of helping to get this amazing story out there more.

What has drawn you to so many ESPN projects – from the 2012 NFL Draft collaboration with [acclaimed guitarist] Gary Clark Jr., to performing at the ESPYS, etc.?
ESPN is just great. Happy they even know who I am. I’m always surprised who may know me, plus they put eyes on me that never saw me before. The NFL Draft stuff we did was real cool. Gary Clark Jr. is great. And rocking the ESPYS performance was a thrill, too. I’m saying not many artists can say they ever did that, that was big.

What was the reaction to your work on ESPN’s 2015 US Open promo, “We Play”?
The US Open is in my town, Queens, N.Y. It made my year working with them. The commercial was everything. It was everywhere. It surprised many people, but it was so fitting. Being a Queens native and all, we brought it home. And watching the Williams sisters [Venus and Serena] play was history.

ESPN Music assembles another X Games Aspen all-star concert lineup

Once again, X Games Aspen will present a diverse musical lineup as part of the action sports festival. Nas is part of a marquee that also features deadmau5, DJ SNAKE, KYGO, Run The Jewels and Twenty One Pilots. What goes into assembling these concerts?

Kevin Wilson, ESPN Music Director, helps formulate strategies marrying music and ESPN programming. He’s been with the company since 1994. Associate Director, X Games Music & Cultural Development, Jen Rieber has been with the X Games since 2011. In 2013, she became involved with the event’s on-site musical elements with input from ESPN Music.

What’s it like working with Nas?
Wilson
: Nas and his team have been amazing collaborators and we have done such diverse amazing work together. It only made sense to bring him back to X in a bigger fashion.
Rieber: We have enjoyed working with them while advancing the show and are looking forward to a great performance on site.

What were you looking for when assembling this X Games Aspen music lineup?
Wilson
: We are looking for a diverse lineup of different styles that we hope our fans enjoy live and those artists translate well under our sports footage.
Rieber: We are looking for artists who resonate with our fans, primarily a younger and edgier crowd, while still appealing to a broad spectrum of guests.

Having artists who are interested in actions sports and are dialed into that scene helps connect the dots between our competition and our music offerings. We also look for artists who have a strong social following and are active in that space, and understand the value of content creation outside of just the live performances.

Whether it’s being a part of our pre and post-event shows, World of X shows, event announcements or just active participants on the venue outside of their concert hours, we always endeavor to find artists who are excited to be a part of the X Games, and want to participate in a more significant way than just showing up and playing a concert.