Twenty years ago, Nas‘ debut album blew up hip hop. Â The cultural impact of songs like the “The World Is Yours,” “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” and “One Love” Â resonated in hip hop and beyond. Â The movie honoring the rapper’s legacy over the past 20 years, Nas: Time Is Illmatic, accessibly analyzes the album’s impact and, like any good doc, informs, entertains and jars your emotions.
Directed by One9 and written by Erik Parker, don’t think the doc is just another behind-the-scenes look at an artist. Without cheap gimmicks or exploitation, Time Is Illmatic unravels how a young boy loses his innocence on the streets of Queens and transforms into an icon. Considering the endless stories of police brutality and our collapsing public education system (one of the most powerful scenes is Nas’ father brilliantly breaking down public education and its epic failures), the movie is deeply relevant, representing the lives of black men who live in an environment where their lives are not valued. Nas is a clever voice for the voiceless, but this isn’t a story for just Queens, black men, or the ‘hood. Â Time Is Illmatic transcends hip hop, the doc is an all-American story, peeling back the beauty and grit of America’s roots.
Ten years in the making, director One9 thankfully avoided the cliche of attempting to encompass an artist’s full career. Â By using interviews from Nas’ past (like the legendary Roxanne Shante who gave him his break) to his present (Alicia Keys, Busta Rhymes, Q-Tip) the movie is polished, cohesive and moves at the pace of a vibrant hip hop album. It’s a full circle film, touching on the feeling of the times without pushing an agenda. A humble Nas candidly tells his story, clearly trusting his directors, and the result is one of the best documentaries of the year.
Time Is Illmatic is sure to be a seminal piece of work for scholars and fans of hip hop for years to come.
Nas: Time Is Illamtic opens in select cities October 1 and VOD on October 3.