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It’s the question that has been at the center of every Hip Hop debate for over the last 20 years. Who is the best? Biggie, Jay Z or Nas? Ask 3 people the same question and you will most certainly get three different answers.
The Queensbridge native once addressed this on wax in what would become one of the most talked about rap battles in Hip Hop history simply stating that there “ain’t no best.” However, the masterpiece known as Time Is Illmatic aids in telling a different narrative.
When indie film-makers Erik Parker and One9 decided to embark on the journey to chronicle Nas’s legendary album, it makes you wonder if they were prepared for the history that would unfold.
“Every rhyme was like the best s**t I ever heard in my life.” – Jungle / “I just felt like a king was born.” – Olu Dara / “It was like living a hustler’s life through poetry.” – AZ / “It was so honest and it was so truthful that it’s never gonna not be one of the best albums of all time.” – Alicia Keys / “He had the courage to tell the truth about the dark side of the black systems in America.” – Dr. Cornell West / “What he did lyrically completely shifted the climate of how the MC was supposed to rhyme.” – Busta Rhymes
Time Is Illmatic celebrates the legacy of a young man who defied every obstacle that came his way. Where there was little to no hope for better days within a city engulfed in drugs, poverty and violence, Nas found the light using his words to offer hope and give a voice to those who could not speak for themselves. Erik Parker and One9 eloquently re-introduced the talented MC’s prophecies with songs like “Life’s A B***h”. Nas raps, “I woke up early on my born day. I’m twenty, it’s a blessing. The essence of adolescent leaves my body now I’m fresh and my physical frame is celebrated cause I made it. One quarter through life some Godly-like thing created.” Therein lies a familiar story reminiscent of what many young black males go through as they come to terms with the harsh realities of the American experience.
Nas recollects, “I didn’t know what my future would hold. When I made Illmatic, I was trying to make the perfect album. I was trying to make you experience my life. I wanted you to look at Hip Hop differently. I wanted you to feel that Hip Hop was changing and becoming something more real. I gave you what the streets felt like, what it sounded like, tasted like, all in that album and I tried to capture that like no one else could.”
We may never see another Hip Hop album as conscious or cohesive as Illmatic in our lifetime. There have been several contenders but the verdicts still out. In the meantime, I for one am thankful to Time Is Illmatic for immortalizing Nas’ work on the big screen and for reaffirming his place in Hip Hop history as one of the best MC’s to touch the microphone.
Check out the trailer for Time Is Illmatic and download it for your viewing pleasure here. For more coverage of the film, listen to exclusive behind the scenes commentary as told by Nas, Erik Parker and One9.
Nas Question and Answer 1:
Nas Question and Answer part 2:
Erik Parker + One9 give an in-depth analysis into the making of Time Is Illmatic: