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Nas is truly ‘Illmatic’

David Goodson | 4/24/2014, 2:02 p.m.

Here’s a scenario painted at a Bronx barbershop. It’s a high stakes poker tournament featuring the creators of the greatest hip-hop albums of the past 20 years. Contestant number one is boisterous, demanding “All Eyes on Me” as he waits for his hand to be dealt. Contestant number two is a true playa for real–if you don’t believe it, ask his man Puff. Versace shades hide his eyes, but he’s looking at his opponents as if to ask if they’re “Ready to Die.”

You hardly notice the third party with his Yankee fitted hat pulled over his eyes. His stoic demeanor leaves no “Reasonable Doubt” that when it comes to constructing a classic album, he has “The Blueprint.”

Lastly, there’s the verbal assassin from Queensbridge who described in one word the turbulent past, present and possible futures of brothers from his hood and others like it: “Illmatic.” So as the last cigars are burnt, the final hand is dealt and all the chips pushed in the middle of the table and winner is declared. The streets have spoken. Stand up and grab the pot–“It’s Yours,” Nas.

I gotta admit, I was a little late to the party with “Illmatic.” The buzz surrounding the album was on full blast, and I didn’t truly believe in the people saying that this was the second coming. Things changed after I saw Nas perform at a club in San Francisco as part of the Gavin Radio Convention. The crowd was firmly behind him, but what struck me was he performed with his eyes closed.

On the plane ride home, I popped in the cassette and closed my eyes in an attempt to get some rest on the six-hour flight. The first two tracks alone, “The Genesis” and “N.Y. State of Mind,” made me a believer, and that’s when I got hooked.

The lyrics were beautifully crafted and juxtaposed with the menacing monotone narrative. The scenes were ugly and unfortunately real. I could see the picture that was painted. It was like cinema. It’s ironic that in 2014, that album would not only celebrate the 20th anniversary of the opus with a rerelease of the album, but also a documentary film about the making of the project titled “Time Is Illmatic.” So epic is the scope of the film that its world premiere opened the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival. Presented by AT&T, its opening night at the Beacon Theatre was followed by a performance. This documentary follows the trajectory of Nas’ 1994 landmark debut album, “Illmatic,” widely considered one of the most important and revolutionary albums in hip-hop.

Directed by multimedia artist One9, written by Erik Parker and produced by One9, Parker and Anthony Saleh, “Time Is Illmatic” traces Nas’ influences—including the music of his jazz musician father, Olu Dara—and describes the almost insurmountable obstacles he faced in creating his hip-hop opus.

Supported by the Ford Foundation’s JustFilms and the Tribeca Film Institute’s Tribeca All Access program, the documentary provides an authentic and passionate account of Nas’ personal journey from a young street poet to a visionary MC—a transformation made possible in large part by the support of his family and community.

If you missed the premiere, Nas performs “Illmatic” in its entirely at the 2014 Summer Jam on June 1 at MetLife Stadium.

I’m all in Tribeca Film Festival mode right now. Holla next week. Till then, enjoy the nightlife.