Nas Speaks on ‘Time Is Illmatic’ Documentary, the Cultural Impact of ‘Illmatic,’ & More
Last night, the documentary Time is Illmatic by Erik Parker and One9 has celebrated its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. Released the same week of Illmatic's 20th anniversary and the day after the re-release of Nas's Illmatic XX, the documentary reconstructs the story behind one of the most impactful album releases in hip-hop history, highlighting its creational process, its circumstances, and its cultural impact. It also tracks the musical legacy of the Jones family, handed down to Nas from his jazz musician father, Olu Dara. We spoke with the LP's creator and protagonist, Nasir Jones, about his thoughts about this projects, his involvement in it, how certain elements of hip-hop continue to be underrepresented, a possible tour with Jay Z, and much more.
Can you outline your involvement in the documentary Time is Illmatic?
They were shooting the doc on me and it was getting worked on for a few years and at some point last year, I felt like I had to be involved. They had put a lot of work in it and I saw it, and so I thought it'd be something really cool, you know? So last year I did some interviews, me and my brother and a couple other people, added to it like that.
How do you feel about the documentary? What is your favorite part?
Aw man, I don't have a favorite part. I feel like overall they did a great job. I'm really grateful man, cause they did it with such passion that it kind of comes off as I think just like how the album is. The flow of the movie has that kind of flow that's really insane.
When did you realize that Illmatic would have the cultural impact it has now?
I dunno if I thought about it 20 years later, but I knew when it came out that it would definitely have a cultural impact. I probably wouldn't have put it out if it wasn't the way it was, you know? Cause it was so hard to get into the rap game back then, you know, so I had to really focus and work hard on my first record.
In the trailer for Time is Illmatic, you say that Illmatic came from the days of Wildstyle. Do you feel certain elements of the hip-hop culture (graffiti, breakdance, etc) are underrepresented in today's culture?
I felt that it was underrepresented back then and today's culture as well, so that's why I really wanted to put a light on it in my music and in that first album. So yeah, it's definitely a forgotten art right now but back then it wasn't even really long since Wildstyle came out when I put out Illmatic. It was like those eras were like worlds apart to most people.
What's the connection between Hennessy and Time is Illmatic?
It's because we're doing the anniversary of Illmatic. This drink, Hennessy, was one of the things I talked about on Illmatic on "Represent." I talked about fashion, I talked about life, I talked about the socioeconomic structure of society too on the album, and it's all reflected on the documentary.
You recently performed with Q-Tip (The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon) and Jay Z (here in Coachella). Is a joint tour a possibility?
(Laughs) At this moment, we just celebrating the 20 years and it makes me think about all those guys like A Tribe Called Quest came before me. I think this is 20 years for OutKast too, and you know, artists like Snoop has more than 20 years, you know? So it just makes me think about all of us guys in that class, and Jay and everybody, and it makes me feel joyous about this whole thing that we're around and getting on stage. So I'm just happy to get on stage with any of those guys from my class, you know?
Who are figures in the music industry today who you think are influencing the future of hip-hop?
Drake, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Lil Boosie, Chief Keef, it's a balance, you know? ScHoolboy Q, you know it's a lot of underground movements, independent movements. Dom Kennedy, Maino, you know so it's a whole different variety of stuff that's happening right now that's really influential.
There's a new sneaker boutique you're opening up in Las Vegas called 12AM RUN, what's the process behind that and what made you decide on doing a sneaker shop?
I mean that was an easy one, since I was a kid I used to go to the street in Long Island City and go shop there. It went from me wanting to have a closet that looked like a sneaker store, I've done that a long time ago, so the next step would be a sneaker store, you know? And that's how I look at life, I like food so there may be a restaurant coming one day. You know, it's things like that that I'm supposed to be doing, so it's just about life and culture, and fashion and lifestyle.
Can we expect some of your personal favorite sneakers to be available in the shop?
Oh yeah, like the Air Max 87, whew man... Of course Jordans, almost all of the Jordans are my favorite. And you know everything new that's happening. I used to wear Ellesse, Saucony, I used to wear a lot of different brands out there so yeah, I wanna bring my favorites in there.
Anything you can tell us/confirm on the next album?
It's only right. I wasn't encouraged or inspired until the recent days of promoting the reissue of Illmatic (Illmatic XX), so I didn't expect to be inspired by this but I wasn't inspired until this moment now so, definitely.
Interview: Peter Suh
Photography: Tyler Joe/HYPETRAK