DVD Review - Nas: Time Is Illmatic

Cover photo of Nas' album 'Illmatic'
This documentary was released last year. In fact, it premiered at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, marking the 20th anniversary of the album Illmatic, which hit music stores on April 19, 1994. Illmatic was the hip hop album from music artist Nasir Jones, nicknamed Nasty Nas, or just Nas. That album is considered a monumental and influential album to a lot of contemporary and even younger black artists. In fact, it's considered one of the best hip hop albums ever. This documentary charts the making of that album by mainly charting the life of Nas, his childhood into adulthood, and a lot of his experiences that informed the music record's creation.

Directed by One9 and written by Erik Parker, this movie captures several live performances from Nas. During those performances, the lyrics to Nas' songs are put on screen like subtitles. One9 and Parker realize that the power of the songs and the true power of Nas comes in his words.

Commentators of course gush over the album, but there is also some great analysis of the lyrics. The movie doesn't really delve into the poetry of it all or the mechanics of how Nas writes, where he writes, when or what he uses. There's no shot for example of Nas with pen to paper. There's no scans of notes or sheets with his scribbling or typing.

The movie is mainly set at the Queensbridge Housing Projects in Queens, New York, where Nas grew up. The movie is also as much about Queensbridge as it is about the 41-year-old rapper. One9 has plenty of shots above and within the housing area for impoverished or lower-class people, mostly poor African-Americans. We get the history and culture of Queensbridge. Through interviews with Nas, his brother, his father and his friends, we also get a sense of what life was like in the late eighties and early nineties.

There's a lot of drugs and crime, and Nas' album is very much a reaction to those drugs and crimes. A lot of it is an expression of anger and frustration with the loss and ruination of young black lives. It also becomes apparent that Nas as a lot of rappers is just a highly creative reporter of life and what he sees around him.

Nas' life in particular is an interesting journey. It's also not what one would expect. He went from dropping out of school at a young age to having a fellowship in his honor at Harvard University. This is a nice, little time capsule and milestone in hip hop culture.

Four Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but for mature audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 14 mins.


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