I Can't Call It: Time Is Illmatic

Posted On Wednesday, October 8, 2014

I’ve been working with at risk teens in different hoods throughout DC and Maryland for the past 14 years. And once cats find out I produce, all of the ones who rap always step to me about getting beats, studio time or just advice on how to get started in the game. But before I let ‘em hear a beat or even let them spit for me, the first thing I ALWAYS ask them is “have you heard Nas’ Illmatic?” And if they haven’t I tell ‘em to go listen to it and THEN we can chop it up. Now, the thing that bugs me out is that I’ve never looked at “Illmatic” as my favorite hip hop album (it’s in my top 5 tho) and on top of that, Nas isn’t even my favorite MC (he’s in my top 3 tho) so why am I telling these kids to go listen to “Illmatic” and not “It Takes A Nation…” (which IS my favorite hip hop album) or Ultra’s “Critical Beatdown”, Eric B & Rakim’s Paid In Full or BIG’s (who IS my favorite MC) Ready To Die?” And to be honest with ya'll, I don’t know why I send them to “Illmatic.” Maybe subliminally I look at it as the blueprint on how to be a dope MC and if that’s the case, that puts “Illmatic” on another level then the rest of those other “classic” albums I just named. So at the end of the day, not only did Nas create the perfect hip hop album that help change the game and one of the greatest albums (not just hip hop) of all time but he literally made a hip hop study guide for not only up and coming MC’s but for ALL MC’s to understand that “this is how it should be done.”

So, from that ‘lil soliloquy above, you can see that I look at “Illamtic” as the bar that I hold all these other hip hop albums to when it comes to how dope they are. So, when word first got to ear about a documentary about “Illmatic” being made I didn’t pay it any mind. See, I always look at it like, dope stuff like that…the stuff that NEEDS to be made, never comes to life. I figured it would end up being another “Detox” or that new album D'Angelo album we’ve been waiting 14+ years for. We’d keep hearing rumblings about it but it would never drop. Even when I saw ‘lil adds here and there about it, I still wasn’t sold. It wasn’t ‘til my dude Jas hit me about hitting up the screening in DC that it hit me that this jawn was actually coming out. And THAT’S when the excitement started. But with excitement also comes expectations. And let’s just say I get let down more then Will Smith did on that ep of The Fresh Prince when his pop didn’t come back for him when it comes to getting dope hip hop in 2014. So, now the problem isn’t, is the doc gonna drop, it’s is the doc gonna be dope. But come on ya’ll, can you REALLY mess up a documentary about one of the greatest pieces of music of all time? Probably not, but I’ve seen stranger things happen. Like who the hell would’ve thought Raekwon was gonna follow up “Only Built For Cuban Linx” with “Immobalarity?” 

The other day, I got pulled over for speeding and the cop told me from the door, “I’m not gonna give you a ticket…just a warning.” And since he didn’t hold me hostage for 20 minutes wondering if I was gonna get a ticket or not, I’m gonna use that same train of thought and not hold ya’ll hostage for 5 paragraphs to tell ya’ll that “Time Is Illmatic” is the shit! It’s literally one of the best documentaries I’ve seen. Now, peep that I didn't say it's one of the best "hip hop" or “black" documentaries I’ve seen but one of the best docs period. And best believe ever since I started vegging out on docs to see how they’re shot and and how good stories are told (since I’m working on my own doc on New Orleans) that I’ve seen A LOT of docs over the past 2 years. Now, one of the dopest thing about “Time Is Illmatic” (and you’re gonna hear that phrase a lot) is that it deals with more then just the making of “Illmatic” and to be honest, that’s all I wanted. A doc solely about the making of the album, would’ve been dope and not only do we get that but we also get to see what the things were that made Nas the dude to create that incredible pieces of music. It’s literally like seeing different pieces of a puzzle coming together to tell the story of what made Nasir Jones able to create something so dope. It's stories like how his pop grew up down in Mississippi and was a jazz musician, how they had the ill library in the crib with books like “The Egyptian Book of the Dead", "The Psychology of the Modern Man" and "The Autobiography of Malcolm X"  to how his pops eventually left the family and how he gave Nas & Jungle the ok to drop outta school and learn the world for themselves that help those puzzle piece fit together. It’s like you get the sense that maybe if Nas’ dad wasn’t a world traveler, a musician and a dude with mad books in the crib that there may have never been a Nasty Nas. Now don’t get it twisted, Nas may have still ended up becoming a MC but we may not have gotten Nasty Nas the “intelligent thug.” And to me, being that intelligent thug is what makes Nas…Nas. 

“Ill Will Rest In Peace Yo I’m Out….” 

And even though the doc goes into depth about the making of “Illmatic” (which is exactly what I wanted) with interviews with all of the producers to how Marley & Shan and the BDP/Bridge wars influenced him and how Roxanne Shante made him step his rhyme game up to how his verse on “Live At The BBQ” made him the most sought after MC in NYC for me the most important part of “Time…” was the story of Ill Will’s murder mainly because it humanizes Nas. And what I mean by that is that a lot of times we put MC’s, ball players, entertainers, etc. up on this super hero level like, they don’t have problems or deal with issues like we do because they’re rich and famous. But seeing Nas get choked up talking about his best friend's death some 20+ years later deads that whole perception real quick. And then to hear Jungle talk about how he questioned his mom’s decision not to move the family outta The Bridge after the shooting and how him having to come out on the same block everyday where he just got shot and saw Will die, traumatized him and made him become the shooter he is gives viewers an entirely new insight into what a lot of these youth in the hood have to go through on a daily basis when it comes to dealing with loss and how it affects them. And as if the story of Ill Will's murder wasn't enough, you get Jungle (who brings SO much to the film) breaking down the fates of the cats on the back of "Illmatic's" cover like at the end of "Coolie High" when you get to see what happened to Preach, Potter, Stone, robert and the rest of the team.

Another one of the dopest things about "Time..." is that it's a story about us, told by us which is REAL important to me. Not to bring race into things but I feel like so many times, white folk end up telling our story. I don't know if that's cause they can get the funding for it or they have the foresight to make it happen but to me there's no way Remy from Higher Learning needed to be the man behind the Tribe documentary. And as much as I LOVE MCA from the Beastie's (God bless the dead), I would've loved to see one of our own shoot the doc "Gunnin' For The #1 Spot" about the 14 best high school players coming to Rucker Park for the Nike Elite challenge. Now, please don't get it twisted, I salute Remy & MCA for making those projects happen, but it's just something extra special knowing that WE made this project happen. And not only did Erik Parker and One9 make this project happen and help to cement "Illmatic" in the record books as one of the best pieces of music EVER but these dudes also messed around and made a 5 mic classic themselves. Salute.

5 outta 5 mics

A Look Inside Nas: Time Is Illmatic from dress code on Vimeo.

1 comment

  1. I couldn't have said it better. Awesome critique of a masterpiece.


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