NAS: Time Is Illmatic

Hip-hop and rap. The music that for many is positioned as something that only degrades, corrupts, and destroys young minds.

It's often not considered to be music or anything positive, until you mention names such as NAS, KRS One, LL Cool J, Run DMC, Eric B & Rakim. Then came the women: Roxanne Shante, Sister Souljah, MC Lyte, Queen Latifah...

These legendary names have not only helped commercialize this genre of music, but have brought it to the forefront of global music and even acceptance. They have paved ways for today's artists and have made it "chic" and acceptable for white MCs to come forward.

This genre is now respected as an art and a business by the general market and popular audience (you can read between the lines).

But has the message changed from what once was a form of revolutionary expression to young black men who were sad, angry even, by the circumstances of their lives, community, and black culture?

If many of you hardcore haters of rap and hip-hop can muster up the strength to do some research and look into the lives of these pioneer artists, you will see that they were and are no different then the other figures that saw the pain of an era and wanted to do something about it: Marvin Gaye, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley and John Lennon to name a few.

These young people used their words, their exposure to music from their parents and ancestors to create a platform for themselves that would be heard by young people like them.

But they proved smarter than the adults by putting emotion into music where the message would be more widely accepted among their peers. Although for some it was hidden in the beats and rhythm of the music. The lyrics were far more powerful than we then could have imagined. They made political statements about housing conditions, education, health care, police brutality, gang violence, sexual abuse, drugs, war, racism, classism, crime and even things that their local politicians chose to ignore or bury beneath the cities until it started to impact the suburbs.

I believe it was their therapy to deal with the life they were forced to live, the conditions they had to accept and the less-than-standard living conditions. The frustration of our youth was and will be expressed in some form, whether it be in music, writing, film, violence, drugs, etc. We can choose or it will be chosen for us. Their issues will be faced with somehow.

In this article I am going to zero in on one particular artist that proved to be dear to me for several reasons. NAS!

The boy. The son. The man. The father. The artist. The public figure.

NAS stands for so much to our displaced youth who came from the projects, who may have been raised in the projects like him. He is a beacon of hope to them, an example of perseverance, one that did not allow the dismay or sadness, hopelessness that the projects bred, to infect him with so much pain that it would kill his spirit.

NAS is a symbol of hope for so many who come from broken homes, single parent households, those who are caught up in the system or on the edge of madness and insanity. Yes, I mean madness & insanity. You need to be one or the other to survive this world and its definition of "normal."

How can anyone be normal, being forced to live in the conditions the projects provides? Is it even living? How do you raise "normal" children to be happy, hopeful and determined? With love, determination, passion, family and a whole lot of praying, I can tell you first-hand.

NAS painfully expressed to us in this documentary the breakup of his parents. The death of his best friend. The daily absence from his father. The pain of all those other people and the challenges and defeat they deal with.

How do you feel hopeful? How do you want to go on?

NAS seemed to have buried it in the one thing he was gifted and taught to appreciate: music.

He admits that if it wasn't for the music, he may not have been here with us free or alive. It is music, the rap, the poetic expression of all the horrors, pain, struggle, confusion, love, hope and accomplishments that gave birth to NAS the artist, the musician we see today.

But he is not without blemishes. He never professes to be. But what he perfectly admits is that he values all that he experienced in his life has made him want to give back and go back to his roots. The people.

The controversy that surround his life, family, work and even not completing high school, did not prevent him from achieving greatness.

Points to walk away after seeing this movie for me were:
  • Family First.
  • Drive.
  • Community.
  • Hope.
  • Giving back.
  • Go back and save others whom will listen.
This film is an extension of the NAS we know, and an insight of what we always wondered about him. Still I walked away wanting to know more. I thought of my sons, my daughter, my time living in Astoria Projects, cleaning the streets of Queens Bridge Project. What would I be, where would I be if I didn't have my parents, my dreams, my drive, the push, the determination to get out? My son's passion for music and acting now has fueled my interests to look into this genre of music to understand a little more about this life of a young gifted "black man" living in America and the internal pain they go through that is often suppressed. So
NAS: Time Is Illmatic
is perfect for me, as well as those young black children in Ferguson and across the world to know that their struggle is not new but there is hope! Erik Parker and One 9 chose to capture a figure that impacted so many some 20 years ago. They may just have brought in a tool that will give hope to so many in our darkest hour. Bravo! Let the lyrics and music of NAS cause you to think and aspire your way to the top. On October 2, hope is coming to a theater near you. Get your dose of medicine so you can fight.