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'Nas: Time is Illmatic' tells the story behind an iconic album

In 1994, a relatively unknown hip-hop artist named Nas released his debut album Illmatic to mediocre sales. Over the next seven years, the album rode a surge of critical acclaim to platinum status in 2001—cementing itself as a landmark in East Coast hip-hop. Twenty years later, Nas is telling fans old and new the story of his creative roots in the documentary Nas: Time is Illmatic, out this week.

Today, the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival opener is in limited release in New York City and Los Angeles.  The doc, directed by One9, is described as “a thrilling account of Nas’ evolution from a young street poet to a visionary MC.” The 71-minute film offers an intimate narrative of the forces in Nas’ early life that shaped him as a music artist—from his childhood in Queensbridge N.Y. to his young adult years on the ’80s hip-hop scene—as well as firsthand insight into the time and place that bore Illmatic. “We knew we couldn’t tell the story of Illmatic without telling the culture around it,” One9 explained to Vice.

Time is Illmatic features interviews with Nas’ biggest influencers, including his brother, the father who left his family, and the producers on Illmatic: Large Professor, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, L.E.S., and DJ Premier. The filmmakers (mostly Nas’ friends) also spoke with the people that now count Nas as a profound influencer, like Alicia Keys and Pharrell Williams. Time is Illmatic will screen tomorrow night only in a number of other cities. It will be available for download on iTunes/OnDemand on Friday Oct. 3.

 

Nas brings 'Illmatic,' New York City trash cans to SXSW

In her book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), Mindy Kaling of the American Office argues that “with the [British Office] character David Brent, Ricky Gervais guaranteed that he would live in the pantheon forever, even if he did years of terrible, mediocre stuff.”

Gervais should get a beer with Nas. While he hasn’t produced anything truly terrible yet, the 38-old rapper will likely never outdo his 1994 debut, Illmatic. He’s had some good albums (and some just-okay ones) since then, but that record — one of hip-hop’s finest, period — will always define him.

As such, the classic East Coast album was on everyone’s mind at the Queensbridge rapper’s SXSW show at ACL’s Moody Theater. The stage was expertly dressed to resemble a New York street corner, complete with graffiti, a subway entrance, and an authentic-looking NYC trash can. For the many traveling New Yorkers weary on the last night of the festival, it was a little tempting to pull out a Metrocard and ride the imaginary train all the way back home.

Nas was also looking to take a trip to another time and place. Much like Jay-Z’s recent Carnegie Hall debut (which featured a Nas cameo), this NYCentric show splashed the wall with large, postcard-ready images of Big Apple icons like the Empire State Building and the Brooklyn Bridge. The decor cemented what many had hoped: Nas would be serving up llmatic, the album that helped shape the New York sound.

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