Combustible Celluloid
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With: Nas, Cornel West, Swizz Beatz, Busta Rhymes, Alicia Keys, Olu Dara, Roxanne Shante, Jabari "Jungle" Jones, Marley Marl, MC Shan, DJ Premier, Large Professor, Wiz, MC Serch, Faith Newman, L.E.S., AZ, Q-Tip, Pete Rock, Henry Louis Gates, Destiny Jones
Written by: Erik Parker
Directed by: One9
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 74
Date: 10/10/2014

Nas: Time Is Illmatic (2014)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Memory Lane

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I'm not sure how well-known or well-received Nas' 1994 album Illmatic is in general; on the great music ranking site Acclaimed, it currently clocks in as the 211th greatest album of all time. which seems a bit low. In hip-hop circles, it has no peer. It's incomparable. Some have even compared it to the Bible. It's certainly worthy of its own documentary, which marks the occasion of its 20th anniversary.

Nas: Time Is Illmatic, directed by former graffiti artist and graphic designer One9, is a compact 75 minutes, focusing mainly on Nas' -- actually Nasir Jones -- childhood in the Queensbridge housing projects, and then the album itself, recorded when Nas was only 20. Nas is interviewed, and he appears quiet and humble and dignified, arguably the polar opposite of someone like Kanye West. We meet Nas's brother, "Jungle," and his father (his mother has passed on), and we hear an honest account of his parents' marriage. We hear stories of Nas' best friend who did not survive the violence on the streets, and we hear about the people who first gave him a break.

I would have liked to see a little more about the recording of the music itself. The album is broken down in a matter-of-fact way, with the various producers downplaying their input, as if the creation of these incredible songs just somehow happened. Maybe that's why this album still seems like a kind of unsung masterpiece; nobody has ever shouted or boasted on its behalf. According to legend, the album never sold exceptionally well; it didn't take off like wildfire like other hip-hop albums of the day, though it received awestruck reviews. On the plus side, however, it appears that those who need Illmatic will always eventually find their way to it.

Kino Lorber released a DVD in early 2015. It includes 22 minutes of deleted scenes, a couple of short, official-looking featurettes, and a trailer. It also includes something that I had hoped would be in the movie, a song-by-song breakdown of the entire album, with Nas discussing each song (55 minutes total). No Blu-ray edition as of yet.

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