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  • Nas: Time is Illmatic provides a closer look at the days leading up to and the eventual creation of Illmatic, one of the most beloved and acclaimed rap albums of all time, released in 1994 by Nasir Jones, more commonly known as Nas. Son of Olu Dara, a famous jazz musician, Nas is explored in Time is Illmatic with the format of an origins story, showing his childhood, his exposure to ganglife and street crime, and his firsthand accounts of the problems facing black communities. All of these features worked to fuel the creative juices for Illmatic, a brisk, forty-minute ride featuring uncompromising lyrical and production talent that, according to Nas himself, was created with the notion of showing people what the streets "sounded, tasted, smelled, felt, and looked like." To put it lightly, it was an album worthy of all five senses.

    We see Nas's childhood wasn't burdened by poverty and the lack of privilege as much as it could've been, growing up in a housing project in Queensbridge, New York with his father, mother, and brother Jabari ("Jungle"). Nas, however, describes the kind of events that often took place when living in the projects, such as shootings, drug deals, and other illegal activities that made it desperately easy to fall prey to the wrong kind of people. Princeton professor and well known activist Dr. Cornel West elaborates on such conditions for the black community by saying that Franklin D. Roosevelt's G.I. Bill helped countless individuals build homes and adequate housing, leading to the inception of suburbs and middle class communities, but only about 2.1% of the money trickled down to African-Americans. With the creation of the suburbs, many black families were part of a working class breed, and lived in urban environments, leading to the creation of high-rise housing, packing as many people into a single building as possible, trapping them like sardines.

    Nas talks about how he was disinterested in school, rarely feeling challenged and, eventually, stopped caring enough to continue with his education after eighth grade. Coming from Queensbridge, black, lower-middle class, and without education, Nas was the perfect candidate to end up like the crack dealers on the street, but Nas's true talent came in the form of rapping. Rapping was a pastime him and Jungle engaged in, eventually being approached by hip-hop artist Roxanne Shanté, who wanted him to perform at a festival at Queensbridge, where he could showcase his talents. It was a wild ride from there, with Nas, at ages seventeen and eighteen, working to showcase not only his genuine lyricism but his uncanny ability to spit, rhyme, and flow with every beat that could be thrown at him.

    One of the most interesting chapters in the film comes when Nas talks about the animosity boroughs and communities had with one another in New York when Queensbridge began to be known for its rap. When a song by MC Shan and Marley Marl called "The Bridge" was released, a rap anthem boasting the talent and the potential of the Queensbridge community, a group by the name of Boogie Down Productions fired back with a diss track called "South Bronx," taking jabs at the community. MC Shan quickly refuted with "Kill That Noise," another fiery, instigating rap anthem, which was only followed by "The Bridge is Over," the sophomore hit from Boogie Down Productions, which sampled Billy Joel's "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" with a mean-spirited attack, devaluing the quality of Queenbridge's music. Recalling the escalating tension, which would later be described as "The Bridge Wars," Nas is nostalgic and even quietly self-reflective about all the emotions that were brought out during such a time.

    The latter half of the documentary talks about the kind of lyrics that made Nas a notable force of hip-hop. Consider one of his lyrics, "when I was twelve, I went to hell for snuffing Jesus," or even another rhyme that went on to make headlines, "waving automatic guns at nuns." These hard-hitting, controversial lines cut deeper than shock value ever could; they were replicating tough, difficult emotions for Nas and his peers about the hellish conditions they were living under and the frighteningly unsafe community they were hailing from.

    Finally, the telling scene of Time is Illmatic, which really sets the tone for the whole film and shows how close Nas was to danger and a path of destruction at all times, is when him and Jungle go through the interior artwork for Illmatic, showing a group of people, some of whom wanting to kill others standing a few feet away from them, all getting together, united for a photo on the album cover for one of their peers who had made it. Nas and Jungle go through the photos, picking out who died, who is locked up with/without bail, who was just released from prison, and so on; at the end of it all, the only words Nas can say are "that's f***** up." Frankly, that's about all I could say at that point too. Nas was so close to becoming another statistic and he rose above it all.

    Nas: Time is Illmatic stands at a slender seventy-four minutes, and even though it's concentrated, it still manages to race by in a way that does more showcasing than elaborating. It chronicles a great deal of events, and talks a lot about Illmatic, even showing Nas on tour for the album, but it doesn't dig too deep into each particular song, nor does it offer more than minute-long interviews with the producers who worked on the album. It's unfortunate that such details couldn't be given more of a profile and more depth, but what we get is still a hard-hitting documentary that uncovers a great deal about how hip-hop transcends the idea of a conventional music genre into a lifestyle that people live and die for every day.
  • For any fans of rap/hip hop, One9's insightful and to the point documentary centred around Nas and his cornerstone album The Illmatic is a must see film as it offers an easy to understand and often illuminating look into the beginnings of Nas and what drew him to write material that became such a huge hit commercially and industry wise.

    Nas comes across here as a thoughtful and thankful artist that is never unsure of where he came from or why he started doing what he does so well. The film however never focuses for too long on Nas alone and discovers some truly great characters along the way to discuss his life whether it be Nas's father, brother or record producers every talking head here has something informative to say and speaks honestly and openly about the ups and downs of growing up in the rough neighbourhood of Queensbridge New York, that through this documentary becomes alive with history and song.

    One9 does a fantastic job or capturing the essence of this neighbourhood, the high-rise apartments and the bustling streets, you can feel how someone in the vein of Nas was inspired, shocked and formed to the artist he became. Loss of live on these streets was a common occurrence, drugs was not only a hobby but a way of live and music was an out, an event that allowed people to vent their frustrations or talk about their lives to those in it and those many worlds away from it. There are some particularly poignant moments here from Nas's personal experiences with the loss of friends or another moment where we realise that those who grew up around Nas are far less fortunate than him, a photo showing faces of young man that have mostly wallowed in a life of crime and violence instead of bettering themselves to a life more abundant.

    Time Is Illmatic is neither ground-breaking nor over stylised yet it's a wonderfully down to earth and accessible look into the life of Nas and the creation of an artist born into a particular set of circumstances. We don't go away feeling like we know Nas inside and out but we do get a gage on what makes him tick and also a reminder that for many rap and hip hop is a ways to a better life and also an art form that speaks for generations but also communities.

    3 and a half street BBQ's out of 5
  • Although I had heard positive reviews for this rap documentary, I held off from watching it because I assumed it would be a puff piece of sorts – probably very well made but ultimately filled with the hype and bravado that most of hip-hop seems to bring. It was a very pleasant surprise then to find that it was really nothing of the sort. Outside of a few aspects which can be forgiven, what we actually get is a film that is surprisingly close to Nas and his family, and looks at the root to that album, rather than specifically celebrating the album itself.

    The nature of the film will mean that, like me, you probably will sync Illmatic to your ipod, or put on the CD as the credits are still rolling, because there is plenty of the music and contributions to say what an influence it was, but I think for most viewers all of this will be stuff they already knew. What makes the film of value then is that it takes its time to wander into the past. I am a casual fan of hip-hop, but generally do not know much more beyond the music, so for me it was interesting to spend time with Nas' brother and father, to understand more about the environment they grew up in, and the things they had to process and deal with. The film is not the most insightful, but it is certainly a lot deeper than I had expected, and there are moments where you can see the impact on Nas and his family, even to look back on events is tough on them.

    The contributions vary through the film. At first there is a fairly typical spread of talking heads saying positive things, but after this the film does focus on Nas and in particular Jungle; there is a certain amount of guardedness about them perhaps, but they are also open about their past, and willing to be affected by what was and what could have been – no tears or great emotion, but you do get the feeling that they are being themselves rather than carefully marketed images, The film is technically well put together, with a good mix of photographs, archive footage, and current material, and although it is short at only 70- odd minutes, it does feel like it gets a lot in there in that time.

    I guess those with no interest or knowledge of Nas or his music will not have too much to hook onto, but for even the casual viewer such as myself, this nor only captures why Illmatic was important, but also gives a good base of background to the man, his achievement, and his background – all of which is pretty interesting and very well presented here.
  • When the album Illmatic is brought up in conversation it is often described as one of the greatest Hip Hop Albums of all time. If you are a fan of Hip Hop then there is an extremely good chance that you see Illmatic as a standout album.

    This documentary is not just about that album specifically. It is the focal point but it does often branch off from this and takes you back into the childhood of Nas and explains how he got into Music. The majority of the story is told by Nas's father, his brother & Nas himself through various interviews. We are shown clips from concerts, old and new, interviews producers, hip hop artists & old friends of Nas. Nas - time is Illmatic is an entertaining watch and offers a glimpse into Nas's childhood and early music career but that is all this documentary offers. If this is your genre then it is certainly worth a watch but as a documentary it isn't that impressive.

    Illmatic is a fantastic album and this documentary supports the album very well, 20 years on it is still, in my eyes at least, one of the best Hip Hop albums ever created.

  • STAR RATING: ***** Saturday Night **** Friday Night *** Friday Morning ** Sunday Night * Monday Morning

    To mark the twentieth anniversary of it's release last year, Nas's Illmatic was re-released for a new generation of hip hop fans to discover. Having recognised Nas as one of my more favoured hip hop performers, I brought a copy myself, and it's not hard to see why it put the musical genre on the map quite as much as it did. He's definitely one of mine, and it would seem many other, people's favourite rap performers, and coinciding with the album, it seems this equally timely and more revealing documentary was also released, delving in to the history of Nas and how his musical influences probably dated back further even than his birth, with his father an accomplished jazz performer, providing him with an inspiration that would propel him away from an almost predestined life of crime to a positive, outspoken role model to millions of fans.

    Although he was another rapper who grew up in 'the projects', surrounded by crime in Queensbridge, New York, we learn that Nas enjoyed a more cultured, educated living environment at home than probably the vast majority of those around him did, with access to literature and poetry books from his teacher mother, to the point where his own father supported him in his decision to drop out of school early, feeling unchallenged and uncared for in the education system. Then an unforeseen tragic event propelled him to put everything in to his ambition as a hip hop artist, and by his late teens, he'd wowed the right people, made the right connections and before he knew it, his titular album was on the shelves. As the driving force of the documentary, we delve in to the social significance and emotional resonance behind each of the tracks, gaining insight in to what made the album such an enduring masterpiece.

    It's all wrapped up nice and smoothly, at just over seventy minutes, cramming a lot of interesting information in to such a short time frame. It's no less a labour of love, a revealing insight in to one of the more articulate, intriguing, hard hitting and distinctive icons of the hip hop genre. ****
  • (Taken from my letterboxd account:


    I want this review to be the longest one I've ever written but it's one of those films that I have so much that I want to say that I'm too overcome to be able to do justice to my feelings and rating.

    First of all, I love Nas' music. 'Illmatic' is probably my favourite hip-hop album. It's the only hip-hop album where I like every song on it. Sure there are better and worse ones, but they're all better than great. The tracks on Illmatic are perfect. They're all diverse and all contain various messages and social commentaries. It's a perfect inside into that lifestyle. That is exactly what the documentary encapsulates as well. It frequently contains sections about the relevance of those tracks, and the inspirations Nas found when writing them.

    The stories of the inspirations for these songs are just perfect. These songs aren't soulless cash-ins, they're authentic stories on life in the hood, and what has happened to these people. It was really profound hearing about Ill Will, and everything that happened to Nas and his friends. When Jungle is looking at the picture of the hood group and going through where they all are, I just knew that everything here was just so apt and perfect.

    This is one of those documentaries that only hits this hard when you have a big interest in the source material. As someone who LOVES 'Illmatic', I was bound to love this. I loved the use of each track, and how they all fit in. The editing (both sound and visually) is amazing. It knew exactly when to sync music and stop it. It worked so well.

    Hearing the stories behind the songs is probably my favourite part about the documentary. Finding out that Nas' dad did the sax solo for 'Life's A Bitch' really took me aback. I loved that solo and it just came from Nas telling his dad to do whatever he felt like playing. Just fascinating.

    Nas changed hip-hop. There cannot be any argument against that. He made songs that actually meant something. He was telling the world exactly what life in the hood is like. The documentary gives a good insight in the effect of that album, and what it took to make it. Everything that brought Nas to 1994.

    Nas is king. Illmatic is everything hip-hop should be. This documentary tells you the incredible story of how it happened. The anecdotes are brilliant, and really hold the piece together well. This is a documentary that understands its focus, and doesn't just have famous people saying how great it is. It mainly has Nas and his peers telling the truth about how things were. It's much better than a biopic version could be.

    Overall, I think I've written enough to be satisfied. It's taken me over 90 minutes to write this. This documentary perfectly says everything about one of the all-time best hip-hop albums. It tells you everything you need to know, and satisfies any fan of Nas. It's just about the defining era of Nas' career. It doesn't talk about his other albums after. It just looks at before Illmatic, during Illmatic, and then the present day aftermath of Illmatic. It's inspiring, fascinating and just magnificent. A must see for hip-hop fans. The ending to this movie was just breathtaking. I LOVED that ending scene. At first I thought it was forced but once it got going, WHOA, what a smart way to end it.

    *deep sigh of relief*
  • Delving deep into the struggles of growing up in the projects and the impact of the landmark album today, "Time is Illmatic" is an expertly crafted and encapsulating look at African American culture and rap told through the eyes of one of the most important artists of the 90's.