A Conversation with the Producers of Nas' 'Time is Illmatic' Documentary

Last week HYPETRAK caught up with Nas to chat about his Time is Illmatic documentary — a film which celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Queens rapper’s Illmatic LP. In this latest segment, producers One9 and Erik Parker shed some light on the production of the documentary. The two speak on how their different backgrounds in street art and music journalism had helped bring to life themes touched on in hits like “N.Y. State of Mind” and “One Love,” while also noting the influence of Illmatic on hip-hop and how it gave a ”voice to the voiceless.” Check out a snippet of the interview below and head to HYPETRAK for the full piece.

When was the first time the idea of the documentary came up?
EP: I was a music editor for VIBE in 2004 and I was working on the story for the 10-year anniversary ofIllmatic, and when that story came out we did an interview with Nas, what people thought about Illmaticand that sort of thing. But it just didn’t have enough weight to tell the story of Illmatic as I thought it might needed it to be told, so I got with One9 here and a few other friends who, One9 is a big fan of Illmatic, and comes from the same kind of world view and perspective that I do but he’s a visual storyteller, a visual artist, and I have a journalist background and we all got together and started shooting interviews. Booking interviews and just started interviewing people about Illmatic.

What made you decide to produce it?
One9: We decided, you know, Illmatic really deserved a legacy story. Something that was bigger than just a music doc — we didn’t wanna make a music documentary, we wanted to create and be able to tell a story that spoke to generations. It was bigger than a hip-hop doc, really. It was a story of survival, a story of being really historical with different cultural backgrounds. His father’s generation, the history of Queensbridge — something that deserved to be bigger than TV. We wanted to tell a long-form story of family, culture, history and legacy.

How did you approach it conceptually?
One9: Initially, Erik and I, we both come from different backgrounds. I come from a street art background, Erik is a music journalist and writer so we both took the best of our talents and looked at how do we both tell stories honestly. So we looked at Illmatic as 10 songs that looked at different issues and the main things we looked at was how can we tell the story of the history of Queensbridge houses? How can we tell the stories of the drug invasions? How can we look at the prison industrial system? They all had themes in Illmatic. “N.Y. State of Mind” looked at a bit of that New York history, looked at how drugs were coming in to Queensbridge. Nas told us he learned the definition of ‘fiend’ from crackfiend from the crack invasion, so he broke those down into categories. “Life’s a Bitch” looks at the family being torn apart; “One Love” looks at Nas’ friends being locked up. So he looked at bigger issues, and then we also deconstructed it from a music standpoint on how it related to him and how he penned those lyrics.


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