Illmatic is one of those rare texts to have established itself as a classic within two decades of its release; it’s a hip-hop touchstone and unquestionably one of the greatest records ever released. It’s understandable, then, that Nas: Time is Illmatic, One9’s documentary of both the artist and the album, takes an uncontroversial, conventional approach to the subject.
Time is Ilmatic is never going to live up to the vitality of the album itself nor capture Nas’ personal and political experience with the same poetry. Composed of archival footage and talking heads organised in roughly chronological order, the documentary is at its most effective telling the story of Nas’ rise from hungry young rapper to critically-acclaimed superstar – its retelling of his youth is overshadowed by the man’s own lyrics.
Overall, it’s a good documentary, driven by a deep understanding of hip-hop culture. It does trend towards hagiography a touch too often, worshipping the idea of Nas as often as it provides a portrait of the real man. A greater documentary might have looked more carefully at Nas’s (relatively disappointing) post-Illmatic career, or delved more deeply into questionable assertions such as his father’s pride at convincing his son to leave school.