Film “Nas: Time is Illmatic,” More than Just Music

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Bay Area residents will have a brief opportunity this week to view the highly anticipated documentary, “Nas: Time is Illmatic,” which delves into the roots of rapper Nasir Jones’ 1994 debut album “Illmatic” that is widely considered one of the best hip hop albums of all time.

Thefilm will be showing at a special one-night-only nationwide screening on Thursday, Oct. 2 at the New Parkway Theater in Oakland.

As a reflection of his experiences in Queens, New York, the film underscores Nas’ childhood growing up in the Queensbridge Housing Projects, the musical influence of his father jazz musician Olu Dara, how he grew up in the hip-hop era and orchestrated the lyrically prophetic album 20 years ago.

The film was written by Erik Parker and directed by One9, both producers on the film with Anthony Saleh and big fans of the album. The idea to make “Nas: Time is Illmatic” started 10 years ago as Parker, then a music editor with Vibe Magazine, realized as he edited a feature on the tenth anniversary of the album that the story behind “Illmatic” could not be fully captured in just one feature article.

“The article came out, and it seemed like so much more to be told about it,” said Parker. “It related to us and our generation in no way that a prior album had. It let us know that somebody was able to express our thoughts in such a poetic and articulate way; it validated our experiences.”

The film features interviews with Olu Dara, Nas’ brother Jabari “Jungle” Jones, “Illmatic” producers Large Professor, Pete Rock, DJ Premier, Q-Tip, L.E.S., and other artists, including Pharrell Williams, Alicia Keys, Swizz Beatz and Busta Rhymes.

Parker and One9 started shooting interviews for the film before sending a trailer to Nas, to articulate the impact that “Illmatic” had on hip hop and urban culture. After continuing filming and sitting down with the rapper who was excited about the film, they received a grant from JustFilms with the Ford Foundation to help them complete the project.

The film, like “Illmatic,” is honest and explores the cultural and socioeconomic issues that played a part in the making of the album – such as the Queensbridge projects, the shooting of Nas’ friend, the crack epidemic and the prison system.

“Our approach was to look at the themes of the album,” said filmmaker One9, “the history of the housing projects, looking at a family torn apart and how did it affect the Jones’; how did it affect Nas. It looked at core issues and really wanted to address those issues in culture.”

In the film, Nas says, “I wanted to do ‘Illmatic’ to leave my voice, my opinions, my philosophies, my ideas in music form, in rap form as something that was proof that I was here.”

The documentary is not just for “Illmatic” fans but can be a “tool to educate and inspire anyone who watches it,” said One9.

When asked what today’s hip hop generation can take away from the film, Parker said, “Artists will take away raw passion; the ideal that someone could be honest and make art that will live beyond their own generation. What happens with great art is it expands over time.”

“We feel like it’s not just a film of music, but it connects to who we are as a culture and how we can move forward. Things that can bond us as opposed to tearing us apart,” said One9.

The New Parkway Theatre is located at 474 24th St. in Oakland. Visit http://bit.ly/1BH6rtz for a list of screenings in your area. The film will also be available on iTunes and OnDemand Oct. 3.

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