Few debut albums of the past 20 years are as assured or as influential as Nas’ “Illmatic,” a diamond-bullet of a record that helped kick off hip-hop’s second golden era and still arguably stands as its greatest achievement. Tribeca has selected “Time Is Illmatic,” the documentary about the making of the album, as the opening film of this year’s festival, and they’ve released a trailer for the film.
“Time Is Illmatic” covers Nas’ journey to make his towering debut at a mere 20 years old, looking through his influences, the musical legacy of his family (jazz musician father Olu Dara, his younger brother Jabari “Jungle” Fret), and the odds he faced after being rejected by labels such as Cold Chillin’ and Def Jam and the murder of his best friend DJ Willy “Ill Will” Graham. Nas’ highly literate rhymes and rat-a-tat delivery gained the attention of high profile producers such as DJ Premier and Pete Rock, who brought the album the soul and jazz samples that would help define East Coast hip hop in the 1990s, and the album helped shine a light on both the lows of growing up in the inner city (“Life’s a Bitch,” from which the album and film’s title originates) and a generation’s hope (“The World is Yours”).
The trailer doesn’t feature much of the album’s music (only the first track’s telltale opening subway sounds), but it does feature archival material and excerpts from interviews with Nas. “When I made ‘Illmatic,’ I was trying to make the perfect album. I was trying to make you experience my life.” It’s testament to the album’s strengths that it not only took listeners through Nas’ life, but gave a voice to countless others.
“Time Is Illmatic” is directed by artist One9 and written by music journalist Erik Parker. The film will have its world premiere on April 16th at the Beacon Theater. Watch the trailer below.