In 1994, a relatively unknown hip-hop artist named Nas released his debut album Illmatic to mediocre sales. Over the next seven years, the album rode a surge of critical acclaim to platinum status in 2001—cementing itself as a landmark in East Coast hip-hop. Twenty years later, Nas is telling fans old and new the story of his creative roots in the documentary Nas: Time is Illmatic, out this week.
Today, the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival opener is in limited release in New York City and Los Angeles. The doc, directed by One9, is described as “a thrilling account of Nas’ evolution from a young street poet to a visionary MC.” The 71-minute film offers an intimate narrative of the forces in Nas’ early life that shaped him as a music artist—from his childhood in Queensbridge N.Y. to his young adult years on the ’80s hip-hop scene—as well as firsthand insight into the time and place that bore Illmatic. “We knew we couldn’t tell the story of Illmatic without telling the culture around it,” One9 explained to Vice.
Time is Illmatic features interviews with Nas’ biggest influencers, including his brother, the father who left his family, and the producers on Illmatic: Large Professor, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, L.E.S., and DJ Premier. The filmmakers (mostly Nas’ friends) also spoke with the people that now count Nas as a profound influencer, like Alicia Keys and Pharrell Williams. Time is Illmatic will screen tomorrow night only in a number of other cities. It will be available for download on iTunes/OnDemand on Friday Oct. 3.