'Time Is Illmatic': 7 Illest Must-See Moments In Nas’ Documentary
October 2, 2014 - 9:59 pm
Roxanne Shanté’s challenge
Once upon a time, long before he’d don the nickname Nasty, Nas was a struggle MC. Still, Roxanne Shanté saw the future legend kicking rhymes with his boys and invited them to perform with her at a park jam. After stumbling and snickering through their lyrics in an impromptu audition, Roxanne motivated the pubescent aspiring rappers to step their rap game up in the most effective way possible: by threatening to put hands on them. “She was bigger than us, and we believed her,” Nas remembers with a smile.
The story of Ill Will’s murder
You get to understand why Nas has immortalized Ill Will throughout his career. His best friend’s death put a battery in Nas’ back to succeed by any means, but also forever changed his life outlook. His dad, Olu Dara, says that he saw a cynicism in his first-born following Will’s murder, a demeanor he still sometimes sees today. It explains why some of Nas’ greatest songs also tend to be his most morose.
Pete Rock recreating the beat for “The World Is Yours”
The boom-bap god remembers stumbling on Ahmad Jamal Trio's “I Love Music,” hearing the loop and chopping it up, seasoning the melody with some unorthodox percussion. Rock says Nas was instantly captivated, and eventually convinced him to sing on the hook.
Q-Tip’s deconstruction of “One Love”
The producer gets deep on the lyrics of the audio jail mail “One Love,” zooming in on a particular couplet from the first verse: “I heard he looks like ya/Why don’t your lady write ya?” From that line alone, Q-Tip delves into the devastating, double-pronged impact of the prison-industrial complex. He explains how incarceration emasculates and imprisons the person doing time, while simultaneously destroying the family structure and poisoning the hope of loved ones on the outside. It’s one of many moments that help you to realize that Illmatic is more than just an album—it’s a sobering socio-economic portrait of ghetto plight.
Nas meets a five-year-old kid in Queensbridge also named Nasir
The love Nas receives when going back to his old Queensbridge stomping grounds is palpable. But he gives back, too. When a little boy reveals that his middle name is Nasir, the hometown hero slaps him five and tells him that anyone who bears their name is a king. It’s touching and bring's Illmatic's story full circle.
Illmatic’s thug roll call
There’s a photo in the Illmatic booklet that pictures Nas on a park bench with a mob of friends and Queensbridge locals. In a particularly chilling scene, Jungle details the fates of most of the faces pictured, which is overwhelmingly jail or untimely death. In response, Nas’ expression is numb, leaving a long, dead silence before finally mustering up the words: “That’s fucked up.” You get a tinge of survivor’s guilt, plus his own personal responsibility to represent for those locked inside or buried below. It sums up the sense of despair that characterizes Illmatic.