Recently I attended a Q and A and screening session for Time Is ILLMATIC at The City College of New York, which is the documentary chronicling the events that lead up to Nasir Jones A.K.A. Nas’s first album Illmatic from Director One9 and Writer Erik Parker. The feature length documentary, which opened the Tribeca Film Festival, is as heartfelt as it is insightful with candid moments from the rappers upbringing that really showcase life for the young MC in the years leading up to his 1994 magnum opus, Illmatic.
The documentary starts off with an interview from Nas’s father and Jazz musician Olu Dara. Dara goes on to give the history of his side of Nasir’s family and the artistic prowess they possessed. The artistry and the talent that was present in the family seems to come to a head with the immergence of “Nasty Nas” the MC from Queensbridge Houses. The film then goes on to explain the how a boy raised in America’s largest public housing development learns to navigate his world and use his gift of poetry to better himself and the lives of those around him. With interviews from Cornel West to Jungle, Nas’s little brother, the film and its superb cast give both depth and breadth to the scope and magnitude of Nas and Illmatic the album.
The documentary Time is ILLMATIC is a poignant look into the lives of inner-city youth who have to deal with the daily pressures of violence, abject poverty, the drug trade, and mass incarceration. The lens is placed on Nas as the focal point to touch on these topics in an honest and raw way. The cinematography is crisp and the strategic usage of Super 8 film at certain points is superbly executed. Illmatic the album spoke to a generation who saw the worst life had to offer and managed through prose set to sampled beats and rhythms, to become the roses that grew from concrete. Director One9 and Writer Erik Parker have crafted a documentary that is just as riveting and spellbinding as Nas’s Illmatic album. I highly recommend this documentary to the Hip-Hop head and the movie buff alike.