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6 Big Takeaways From Nas’ ‘Time Is Illmatic’ Documentary Premiere

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    The premiere of Nas' brand new Time Is Illmatic documentary celebrating the 20th anniversary of Mr. Jones' classic debut LP Illmatic was last night at Manhattan's Beacon Theater, and the turnout proved to be star-studded. With legends such as Eric B., Marley Marl, Kool Herc, Large Professor and Pete Rock in the house, among a whole host of others, filmmakers Erik Parker and One9—who had been at work on the documentary for a decade—presented their feature-length entry into the canon of Nas' career. The film itself was exhaustive, diving not necessarily into the making of the album from a musical standpoint, but more from a cultural, societal and quasi-political one, following Nas and his brother Jungle through the Queensbridge projects that they called home and recreating the environment that produced such a masterpiece nearly 20 years ago.

    Nas, of course, followed up on the premiere with a performance of Illmatic in its entirety, accompanied by DJ Green Lantern and opening with a little assist from Alicia Keys playing "NY State Of Mind" on the piano. XXL was there to see it all happen, and these are the six biggest takeaways from last night's premiere. Represent. Dan Rys
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    The Sheer Number Of People Involved

    In the documentary alone, Parker and One9 snagged interviews with all the principals involved in the album—Nas, Large Professor, MC Serch, Faith Newman, DJ Premier, Q-Tip, Pete Rock, L.E.S., AZ, Jungle and Wiz—but also wove in conversations with Nas' father Olu Dara, Roxanne Shanté, Marley Marl, Swizz Beatz, Pharrell, Busta Rhymes, Alicia Keys and Dr. Cornell West. Then there were the sheer number of names who came out to support the documentary, beginning with Tribeca Film Festival co-founder Robert DeNiro, who introduced the film and said the words "this is the 20th anniversary of Illmatic," which made everything worth it. DeNiro was joined in the crowd by Kool Herc, Marley Marl, Eric B., Dara, Large Professor, Pete Rock, Newman, Wale, Fabolous, DJ Khaled, Illmatic photographer Danny Clinch, Keys and a whole host of Def Jam execs—and that was just who we saw there. The turnout was impressive.
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    Roxanne Shanté's Influence

    "Before the BDP conflict with MC Shan/Around the time when Shanté dissed the Real Roxanne/I used to wake up every mornin, see my crew on the block/Every day's a different plan that had us runnin from cops," Nas rapped on "Represent," and hearing Shanté's influence on the young Nasir in the documentary was a moment of lightness in a documentary that walked a tight line between laughter and lament. Nas told the story of Roxanne Shanté's growing influence with Marley Marl around the Queensbridge projects, and how she walked into his apartment building one day while he and his friends were rapping in the hallways. After inviting them out and seeing them laugh through their rhymes, she told Nas and his boys that if they didn't get their raps together she'd come back and beat them up. "She was bigger and older than us, and we believed her," Nas said in the film, to laughter from the audience.
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    The Story Behind Ill Will's Death

    Ill Will was one of Nas' best friends growing up, and one of the great fun moments early on in the film is watching old archival footage of music videos Nas (complete with a flat-top), Will and his friends made under the Queensboro Bridge. But Will's shooting death in early 1992 was a turning point for Nas, and one that made him more determined to get out of the projects and into the booth. In the film, Nas describes that day, how Will never smoked weed with him, but how Will finally took a hit as he, Nas and their friend Bo went to see Alien 3. On their way back, Will stopped on the block and began collecting money for a neighborhood barbeque; a corner kid, thinking Will was extorting him, took issue, and Will hit a girl standing nearby. The result was the shooting of Will and Nas' brother Jungle, who survived, though was scarred from the experience, literally and figuratively.
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    Nas And Jungle's Walking Tour Through Queensbridge

    Flat out, Jungle is the break out star of this documentary. Much of his interviews are done following him through the Queensbridge projects while he smokes a blunt, or drinks Hennessy out of a clear plastic cup, or bums a cigarette off one of his boys. Later, when Nas joins him in the projects, Nas sees his old friend Karate K, who Nas says used to clown him every morning if he came out of the apartment with his shoes messed up. One of the best moments in the documentary comes when Nas meets a little kid named Noah, no older than four or five years old, whose middle name is Nasir. The resulting moment is something you need to watch to appreciate.
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    Harvard Fellowship

    The movie is not so much a "Making Of Illmatic" as it is an exploration of the dynamics surrounding Illmatic, but the album frames the film, giving it a structure based on the tracklisting. But towards the end, as the film shifts to Harvard University and the inauguration of the Nasir Jones Hip-Hop Fellowship, he invokes a verse from God's Son to illustrate how far he's come. "I said, 'My people be projects or jail never Harvard or Yale.' I said that years ago," he says, referencing a line from "Book Of Rhymes." "And now look where we are."
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    The Performance Itself

    When Nas came out to perform Illmatic in its entirety, it was a crowning achievement, and one that Nas himself described as one of his greatest nights ever. The show opened with Alicia Keys playing the piano line from "NY State Of Mind," before Green Lantern dropped the beat and Nas emerged to run through the entire track list. He stopped occasionally to shout out people in the crowd—reminisce with Large Professor, thank Pete Rock, shout out Wale and Faith Newman—but one of his better lines was aimed at the Tribeca co-founder. "I wanna thank Robert de Niro," Nas said at one point. "He plays me in all his movies"

    Later, he brought up Jungle and Jungle's two kids, Malik and Jabari, to the stage for "Represent." Jungle, being his usual goofball, oddball self that we had just seen from the film, had the quip of the night: "I only came up here for the Hennessy." Illmatic indeed.

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Previously: Twitter Reacts To Nas’ Time Is Illmatic Documentary Premiere
Nas’ Time Is Illmatic Documentary Has Been In The Works For 10 Years
MC Serch Always Knew Nas’ Illmatic Was The Greatest Album Of All Time
Illmatic A&R Faith Newman On Nas’ Wild Early Days
Nas Says New York City Wrote Illmatic
Nas’ 20 Best Lines On Illmatic
The Making Of Nas’ Illmatic — XXL Issue 112

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