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Excitement was mounting at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art on Tuesday night, as celebrities took a trip down the red carpet and memory lane with the premiere of Time Is Illmatic, the Nas documentary from One9 and Erik Parker.
“I actually have a tingling sensation, it’s kind of weird.” said Today‘s Tamron Hall. “I truly see this as a work of art. His creative process, what he delivered, what he continues to deliver. It’s almost as if you want to talk into this cave of artistry and just be wrapped around it.”
The film, which first premiered in April at the Tribeca Film Festival, documents the events surrounding and leading up to Nas’ landmark 1994 album Illmatic, and opens at 40 theaters nationwide starting on Oct. 2. Nas has been celebrating the album’s 20th anniversary with a re-mastered release of the album and special Illmatic-only concerts in which he performed it in its entirety.
The Queensbridge-bred MC said that the whole reflective experience has been a good time, though it’s made him feel like “an older guy.” Rumors of his next release being a follow-up to 2002’s Lost Tapes were neither confirmed nor denied — “At some point we’re going to get to that,” he said — but what about a return to acting? Said Nas on the topic: “Possible. Very possible.”
For many in attendance, the MoMA screening was an opportunity for some reflection of their own, both on how Illmatic impacted music and their own lives. “I remember eighth grade, going to my first Nas concert and just saying, ‘Wow, he’s really amazing and his lyrics are so dope.'” recalled LaLa Anthony, a self-proclaimed Nas psycho-fan, on the red carpet. “And I’ve just been a fan ever since. Imagine, eighth grade until now, loving somebody’s music so much.”
For those involved in the making of the Tribeca Film release, the final product comes as a welcome shock. Pete Rock, who produced “The World is Yours,” says it’s a completely unexpected milestone. “I’m very excited for Nas. This is big. Creating this album, we knew it was going to happen, but for it to go this far? To become a movie? It’s huge.”
Nas’ brother, Jabari “Jungle” Jones, whom Nas said was the star of the film at its Tribeca premiere, said that he’s happy with his rawer portrayal in the film. With multiple projects ongoing, he didn’t know which interviews would end up where. “I didn’t know this one was going to be this big. I’m going to watch this for the rest of my life. This is our history. I can play this for my kids. Their kids can watch this.”
As Time is Illmatic prepares for a wider release, One9 says that he and Parker have much larger plans for their work. “We want to take it to the education system — to reach educators in high schools, a college course,” the director said. “It’s a really poetic album,” Parker added, but one shouldn’t “get distracted or caught up in just that, just the art he created, without exploring the people he spoke to and for with that album. We want people to take away an understanding of the people in Queensbridge who didn’t have a voice. He was their voice.”
With such heavy emphasis on retrospection, Nas’ next move seems up in the air. Some hoped he would return to acting, while others, like Lala, simply want more of the same. “If you look at all his albums, he just continues to evolve and stay current with what’s going on in the world. There are a lot of things happening in the world right now. Just as long as he continues to evolve and stay current, he has no issues. There aren’t too many people that can touch him in the lyricist department.”
Also on hand for the evening, which included an afterparty at Lavo, were fellow New York MC Busta Rhymes, Michael Strahan, frequent Nas collaborators AZ and DJ Premier, hip hop pioneer Fab 5 Freddy, Sway, DJ Marley Marl, J. Crew’s Jenna Lyons, and Nas’ daughter Destiny Jones.
Time Is Illmatic opens on Wednesday in NYC and L.A. and hits select theaters nationwide for special one-night-only screenings on Thursday before becoming available on demand on Friday, Oct. 3.
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