Review – Nas: Time is Illmatic

Nas Time is Illmatic Poster

Nas Time is Illmatic Poster
In 1994, American rapper Nas released his debut album, Illmatic.  What he recorded there would go on to influence the genre, and beyond, for years to come.  This is the story of his early years leading up to the release of Illmatic, what influenced it, how he got there, and what it means.

I freely admit that I am all but ignorant of hip hop culture.  I went into this documentary not having any idea who Nas is, let alone having heard his music.  After watching the film I had heard some of his songs, yet I still didn’t really feel like I knew who he is.

There are three types of documentaries.  There are documentaries made to expose people to new ideas, people, concepts, stories, history, and more.  There are documentaries that are made to convince people of a certain viewpoint, exposing a wrong doing, or serving as propaganda.  Then there are documentaries like this one, clearly made for an already interested audience in order to give them a more in depth look at their interest.  There is nothing necessarily wrong with this third type, but it’s not the type that I think are the best.

For a documentary to really succeed in my eyes, it needs to hold my attention and make me interested – for at least the duration of the running time – in something, even if it’s nothing I had considered before.  Not seeming to hold to any logical progression half the time, and assuming an interest going in, Time is Illmatic feels messy and skips the part where it gets my attention.

Featuring some great live vocal performances and raw, emotional, moments, there are successful elements here, but they never really come together.  I’m told how important his music was and is, and told about his trials and tribulations, and life in the projects.  I’m told about all of these things much more than I’m really shown, leaving a bit of a “alright, but why should I care,” stale taste in my mouth.

However, despite my negative reactions, this is undoubtedly a trove of intimate details and stirring performances for those who do care already.  For those who get where he’s coming from, for those who grew up on his music, for those who still feel his influence – as doubtless many do – this is a film for those people.  If this is you, then enjoy this film with my blessing, it will surely mean something to you.  If it doesn’t sound interesting though, if you don’t know your Nas from your Illmatic, this is probably not going to win you over.

Mrs. Hamster did not screen this film

My rating: Three out of five hats



Nas: Time is Illmatic raps into a limited release, October 10

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