My first foray into hip hop was through the album, Illmatic, released in 1994 by Nasir ‘Nas’ Jones. His storytelling on that album took me by the hand through the hallways of the Queensbridge Housing Project and the streets of New York city. With the backdrop of jazz music and heart pounding bass, Nas captivated so many ears and hearts on Illmatic, that it is still hailed as a classic hip hop album.
So it was fitting that during its 20 year anniversary, a documentary on the pivotal album should come out. The film, NAS: TIME IS ILLMATIC, takes you through Nas’ childhood in Queensbridge, his formative years as a street poet to his break out success on his debut album. Featuring in-depth interviews with the key producers behind Illmatic, L.E.S, Large Professor, Pete Rock, DJ Premier and Q-Tip, audiences see the creative process that made memorable tracks like ‘One Love’, ‘NY State of Mind’ and ‘Life’s A Bitch’.
There were several funny moments courtesy of Nas’ brother Jabari ‘Jungle’ Jones. With such admiration and love for his brother, Jungle paints a powerful picture of their rough upbringing in Queensbridge juxtaposition-ed next to the unwavering love they received from their late mother, Ann Jones. You see the layers that form Nas as an artist.
But the cherry on top for me was getting to see Nas perform on stage after the film screening. He went through the whole Illmatic album while telling stories between songs about where his mind was at when he wrote each song. In the 20 years since Illmatic was released, Nas has probably performed these songs over a thousand times but last night he rapped as if he had just written those words and was excited to share them with us.
A great documentary followed by a great performance. If you are a fan of hip hop period, I highly recommend you check out the film NAS: TIME IS ILLMATIC.