Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones, or simply Nas, is one of the most famous hip-hop recording artists in the United States. His debut album Illmatic is considered one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time. In the documentary film entitled Nas: Time is Illmatic dedicated to the twentieth anniversary of the Nas’ debut album, the history of the musician’s life and the album is revealed to the viewer.
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The main characters of the movie are Nas and his brother, Jabari “Jungle” Jones. Both brothers grew up in Queensbridge Houses, Queens (New York). Although their family’s income was quite modest, Nas described his parents as good, hard-working people who were interested in culture and music. Nevertheless, Nas had felt that he needed to grow up to face the environment he lived in: the streets where cocaine was sold, and shootings were common.1 The brothers had to drop out of school after the parents had divorced. However, Nas’ was encouraged by his father to write music; eventually, the record label Columbia noticed young artists. The collaboration resulted in the album Illmatic that Nas’ had recorded when he was only 20. The challenges that he had to face growing up in Queens reflect in the album lyrics: “In broad daylight, stickup kids, they run upon us / 45’s and gauges, MAC’s, in fact”.2 Thus, the album is shaped by Nas’ life in the neighborhood and reflects the problems that “the underprivileged and underrepresented” had to solve.3
Among music styles that are mentioned in the movie, jazz is discussed separately because Nas’ father was a jazz musician who traveled the world to make money for his family.4 Nas’ also mentions the songs “South Bronx” by Boogie Down Productions and “Kill That Noise” written by MC Shan. Both these songs were a part of “The Bridge Wars” between New York’s hip-hop performers, which also influenced Nas’ in his teenage years. Nevertheless, the main style that attracts the attention is Queensbridge’s hip-hop that existed before Nas and will possibly continue to exist after him. After all, “the Bridge” has created many notable hip-hop performers, including Marley Marl and Juice Crew.5 In most of the mentioned songs or albums, life in dangerous neighborhoods of New York in the 1990s is the central theme that is explored by the performer in different ways.
The uniqueness of the Nas’ album is that he does not focus on himself; instead, he draws a picture of the life in Queens, dedicating his songs to friends, family, environment that had shaped him, and feeling that he belongs to the ethical group that has a chapter of enslavement in its history. Nas’ brother demonstrated a photo during one of the scenes: all the boys on the photograph are arrested and in jail. The threats that the streets contained, the dangerous life in the neighborhood, the deaths, and fails of the inhabitants constitute the album. Illmatic is a detailed, vivid, and disquiet picture of The Bridge and the streets. The themes explored by Nas will be readdressed in albums of other hip-hop performers, creating a unique representation of those who were underrepresented for decades. Nas’ stage identity also emerged from this album and allowed him to provide a detailed picture of citizens in Queensbridge, their wins and losses.
Henderson, Odie. “Time Is Illmatic: Review.” Roger Ebert. Web.
Nas. “N.Y State of Mind.” Illmatic. New York, NY: Columbia Records, 1994.
Nas: Time Is Illmatic. Directed by One9. 2014. New York, NY: Tribeca Film Institute, 2014. DVD.
Smith, Benjamin. “Nas: Time Is Illmatic Tells the Story of One of the Greatest Hip-Hop Albums Of All Time.” Decider. Web.
- Nas: Time Is Illmatic, directed by One9 (2014; New York, NY: Tribeca Film Institute, 2014), DVD.
- Nas. “N.Y State of Mind,” Illmatic (New York, NY: Columbia Records, 1994).
- Odie Henderson, “Time Is Illmatic: Review,” Roger Ebert, Web.
- Nas: Time Is Illmatic, One9.
- Benjamin Smith, “Nas: Time Is Illmatic Tells the Story of One of the Greatest Hip-Hop Albums Of All Time,” Decider, Web.