In April 1994, Apartheid was the plague that cloaked South Africa. Former president Richard Nixon had just suffered a stroke. Rudolph Guiliani still presided as mayor of New York City’s cold, concrete streets. In the midst of all that was happening in the world, 19-Year old Nasir Jones, baby faced, fresh out of Queensbridge projects smacked right into a deal with Columbia records, and debuted his album Illmatic; so it was written.
It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since the ground-breaking album as graced our ears and is still considered one of, if not the, most relevant hip hop album of our time.
Multimedia artist, and director One9 said, “What makes Illmatic stand the test of time, was that it’s just so honest and real. He wasn’t glorifying anything, he was just discussing what was going on outside his bedroom window.”
In 2004, journalist Erik Parker was the music editor of VIBE magazine and pitched a story about his favorite album, Illmatic’s 10th anniversary. After the article was released, Parker collaborated with One9 and embarked on a decade long journey to create a film about the hip-hop classic, Nas: Time is Illmatic was born.
The first interview the media makers conducted for the film was with Nas’ father Olu Dara Jones and they realized their story had the potential to transcend and become much more than their original concept of a celebratory piece of the album; they had a generational story which included the Jones’ family history, Blues music and culture which all ultimately had a part in the genius that became Illmatic.
“We hope to make this the best film that we could which would represent the story of Illmatic in the best way we knew how.” Writer and producer Erik Parker said. “Illmatic wasn’t just an album,” he continues, “It wasn’t just a piece of art, it was a document that represented a generation of people that didn’t just speak to us, but spoke for us to a larger audience.”
Parker and One9 didn’t want their film to be just another hip- hop documentary, too many films have been made regarding just the genre. They yearned to create something that resonated with audiences and touched on topics that are frustratingly still issues today, such as problems with the prison systems, housing, and gun violence in inner cities.
One9 stated, “Queensbridge represents what’s going on in Chicago, what’s going on in Detroit, What’s going on in DC, What’s going on in Ferguson. As we developed as filmmakers and became more conscious about the impact we can have, we realized we can’t just limit it to the music.”
Parker added, “Because Illmatic was made 20 years ago, there is enough time in between for us to understand it’s impact, as well as the social and cultural implications of our world.”
Although it took 10 years to weave the pieces of the rich tapestry that is Time is Illmatic, Nas was on board from the very beginning, God’s Son stated, “I was down I just didn’t know how far I wanted to go with it. I was just watching and waiting seeing what would happen and took a while.”
Tribeca Film and Illa Films are also set to create educational initiatives based on the documentary in high schools, colleges including NYU, and prisons across the country. The first event of the initiative was held on Sept. 29th at The Jacob A. Riis Settlement House, in Queensbridge—where it all began.
The film will feature cameos from his younger brother Jabari, “Jungle” Jones, Illmatic producers, Pete Rock, Q-Tip and Nas’ fellow musicians Pharrell Williams and Alicia Keys.
For a complete listing of scheduled screenings and more info, check out http://timeisillmatic.com.
– Shannon Thomas