Why You Must See the ‘Nas: Time Is Illmatic’ Documentary
“Time is illmatic, keep static like wool fabric / Pack a 4-matic to crack your whole cabbage”
Nas’s timeless debut LP, ‘Illmatic,’ has finally gotten the movie treatment it deserves with ‘Time Is Illmatic,’ the documentary directed by One9 and written and co-produced by Erik Parker. It screened at the Tribeca Film Festival back in April of this year, and on Oct. 2, 2014, the film will be shown in theaters across the U.S. for a special, one-night only viewing. The movie will then be released digitally on iTunes and video on-demand platforms Oct. 3, while the movie’s first limited release in theaters will begin on Oct. 1, in New York and Los Angeles.
Jay-Z once dissed Nas by saying, “You ain’t live it, you witnessed it from your folks pad, scribbled in your notepad and created your life.” But what's wrong with the self-proclaimed "Street's Disciple" being a street reporter as well? ‘Time Is Illmatic’ runs with the idea of Nas as observer, and the film places all its emphasis on the environment surrounding a young Nasir Jones in the early ‘90s. Throughout the film’s 75 minutes, we begin to see what Nas saw when he wrote his debut album.
There is Olu Dara, the oft-celebrated father with a darker past than is fully revealed in the movie. Yes, he played the trumpet on ‘Life’s A Bitch’ (in the movie, Nas says he asked his pops to play something that reminded him of his and his brother Jungle's childhood) and is cited as a huge musical influence on his son, but there’s also Mrs. Fannie Ann Jones, who Nas acknowledges as the reason he is who he is today. When Nas’ parents split, it was Mrs. Jones who provided for the family, not Olu Dara.
‘Nas: Time Is Illmatic’ also tells the story of Willie "Ill Will" Graham, Nas’ longtime friend who was gunned down just as the QB MC was beginning his musical career. Never before have we heard such vivid detail about the moment Ill Will was murdered, and longtime listeners of Esco will find Jungle’s recounting of Will’s passing to be a window of insight into Nas’ music.
And then there’s Queensbridge itself, a living, breathing character not only in the movie but throughout ‘Illmatic,’ too. Throughout the film, Jungle and Wiz, former Braveheart, take us on a tour through the Queensbridge Projects, where Nas sat on project benches, sketching out rhymes. In one of the final scenes, we’re shown photos from the album cover shoot, and Jungle goes down a line of people who either did a bid or are currently incarcerated. “It makes me really realize, if it wasn’t for music, you would have told a story about [me] too,” says Nas wistfully. “Or maybe I wouldn’t even have been in that picture.”
Queensbridge Projects made Nas who he is. It made ‘Illmatic’ the classic we know it as. But without Escobar’s keen insight, we would have never seen it like he did. ‘Time Is Illmatic’ is most effective when it captures the things Nas saw, because those things helped shape one of the greatest rap albums ever made. “I gave you what the streets felt like, what it sounded like, tasted like, smelled like, all on [‘Illmatic’],” says Nas, “and I tried to capture it like no one else could.”
Watch the trailer for 'Nas: Time Is Illmatic'