*Nas is one of the most prolific rappers in Hip Hop history.
Ranked in the league of Biggie, Tupac Shakur and Jay Z, Nas’s first album ‘Illmatic’ helped define an era of music and was an influence on makers of all types of black music.
‘Illmatic’ was released in 1994, and projected the humble rapper to the top of the ranks of Hip Hop performers. Upon its twentieth year anniversary, film makers One9 and Erik Parker teamed up to create ‘Nas: Time is Illmatic’ a documentary about the rapper and in particular his first album.
“We started out originally in 2004, when we started shooting it,” said Walker, “it was originally about just the making of ‘Illmatic.’ What happened in the studio? The magic that made the poet and the producers that produced it. After we talked to Olu Dara, one of our earlier interviews, we realized that what was more important and what was a bigger story, was what made the person who created the music, because that story spoke to us all. We all could relate to the influences, the things that that person saw, and it helped explain the album in a much better way.”
The documentary does a good job in describing Nas’ life without neither downplaying nor promoting his lack of formal education, but instead highlighting what Nas himself did to gain intelligence and wisdom over the years by reading and seeking the answers to questions that he had.
Olu Dara, Nas’ father, speaks in the documentary in way that is almost apologetic, hinting at the fact that most not completing high school will not end up as successful as Nas, but he was special and uniquely intelligent. That combination, along with parental support that included allowing Nas and his brother Jungle, to drop out of school in the ninth grade and “work” helped open Nas’ world to the potential to make music.
One thing that was to be mentioned, but could be easily ignored in this documentary, is the fact that Nas was driven to be a poet and a rapper from an early age. This drive to perfect his craft cannot be ignored and those that want to follow in Nas’ footsteps should ponder on whether or not they have a drive similar or greater than Nas’. Even Nas himself ponders on what he would have been like if he had been allowed to go to a design school where his “gifts” would have been acknowledged and uplifted instead of ignored and degraded like they were in New York’s public school system.
If you put Nas next to the other top rappers like Ice Cube, Scarface, Tupac, Biggie, Jay Z and Lil Wane, the one thing that will mark him as immediately different is his humble demeanor. Not boastful, braggadocios or loud, the rapper lets his skill shine through the quality of his lyrics. This has arguably been the rapper’s downfall, as most understand the key to success is repetition and the others are quick to repeat how talented they are eventually leading public perception in a more deliberate way.
Eric Walker, writer of ‘Nas: Time id Illmatic’ does a good job in describing the real qualities of the hip hop star. “One of the things that is really important for us in making this film,” said Walker, “is that it doesn’t just live as a film. It’s not something that’s entertaining and people just go home and have a good time, just being entertained. We outlined the film so that there would be an education component that goes along with the film. Martha Diaz, our Associate Producer, in conjunction with the Tribecca Education department put together a curriculum and a community outreach component to go along with it. Even more important than that, we think this film could be a positive change in the community. Many times we hear about stories being talked about from the outside in, where you have young black boys being shot, or graduation rates are horrible. We hear these statistics, we hear people talking about them, but we rarely get a chance to hear the voices or the viewpoint of the person that can actually provide the most insight into how those issues can be addressed, so that the institutions in America can actually change. People can watch his documentary and gain some real understanding of what young people are going through.”
“This was more like a passion project and actually just a pitch at the time,” added the film’s director One9. “We sent it to his manager at the time who sat down with Nas and brought him to the dinner table to explain what we wanted to do. Nas was interested, but wasn’t fully committed. Over the next few years, we picked the project up and put it down whenever we could.”
“We were able to get funding,” continued One9, “from the Ford Foundation, from Orlando Bagwell who was running JustFilms. He gave us a research grant. From that, we were able to film a little bit more.” One9 goes on to explain how Nas and the film team connected over old photos that they had obtained from their research. “He realized that we were creating something that connected to a bigger picture. Not just the music, but people’s family history and we had the conditions and the social histories involved, so Nas really gave us access after that. He said he wanted to go back to Queensbridge and walk through the old neighborhood, and try to show us to his house. We needed to get that raw honesty and he was able to give that to us as well as connect us to his brother Jungle.”
Instead of being driven solely by the music, the documentary provides an interesting historic perspective on life in New York and the history that shaped its people.
“We decided to break the film down into song titles,” explained One9, “and started to break the film down into those themes. We looked at ‘New York State of Mind’ and began to look at the Queensbridge Housing Projects. How did those projects get started? How did they change the lives of the people who lived there? In particular, when the Jones family moved in and how did that affect Nas as a story teller, as a lyricist. In ‘Life’s A Bitch’ we looked at the family being torn apart. ‘One Love’ looked at the prison system. For ‘Genesis’ we looked at the graduation rate, the birth of ‘Nasty-Nas’ as a ninth grader dropping out of high school.”
Instead of choosing other hip hop tracks to punctuate the film, One9 and the film’s producers chose to score the film by choosing what One9 describes as “more of a cinematic approach,” by using Brian Satz who is listed as the film’s composer of theme music and the film’s musical director to create a more distinct soundtrack that surrounded the actual music in the film.
“Every day has its different challenges,” explained Walker on the difficulties in making the film. “Whether it was tracking down someone we need to interview, putting together the crew, finding the funding to make the film, everyday has its particular challenge. Each one of those challenges can also be flipped, because it’s also what makes it exciting once you accomplish it at the end of the day. It’s all hard work, but when it’s a passion project, you can appreciate it for what it is.”
The documentary fills in fans and those who might not know that much about Nas, from his roots in the project, his parents, family and his peers in the music industry such as Erikah Badu, Pharrell Williams and Alicia Keys. It also includes comments from the ‘Illmatic’ producers Large Professor, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, L.E.S., and DJ Premier.
The film opens nationwide on October 1 and will have a premier screening on October 10 in DC, Philly, Detroit, Phoenix and Los Angeles.
In Los Angeles, the film is now playing at AMC Burbank Town Center 8 201 E. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank, CA 91501.
On October 3 the documentary will be available on demand and iTunes.
October 22, Nas will be performing in Los Angeles for the ‘Nas: Time is Illmatic Tour.’ For more information on the tour or to purchase tickets, go to http://www.nasirjones.com/events.
For more information on Erick Parker and One9, visit: http://timeisillmatic.com/filmmakers.