Nas Returns to Stage and Screen for 20th Anniversary of Rap Classic ‘Illmatic’

by Chanelle Berlin Johnson 11:45 AM PDT, October 21, 2014

Twenty years after the release of Nas' classic debut, Illmatic -- widely considered one of the best and most influential rap albums ever made -- the rapper is making a victory lap tour with shows that are half movie premiere, half concert.

Directed by One9 and written by Erik Parker, the documentary Nas: Time is Illmatic is more than a look back at a famous moment in music -- it's a heartfelt look into Nasir Jones' family and New York City in the late 1980s.

FLASHBACK: See 19-Year-Old Kanye West Freestyle Rap

A young, lyrical genius from Queensbridge, in 1994 Nas made an album filled with rage and longing for a better life, chronicling the conflicting emotions felt by a community rife with poverty, drugs and crime in the city's housing projects. Nas' rhymes didn't only paint a vivid picture of what his life was like back then, they also ultimately offered hope with tracks like "The World Is Yours" and "One Love."

At a recent Los Angeles performance, Nas shrugged off sound problems by getting back to basics: "Cheap equipment, that's what hip hop was born on!" Nas said to a packed house at the Orpheum Theatre on Saturday.

In the film from Tribeca Films, Nas acolytes from Q-Tip and Alicia Keys to Pharrell Williams and Kendrick Lamar all describe how they became obsessed with Illmatic -- and the impact it had on their own music.

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The concerts are also giving Nas a chance to give back a little to his long-loyal fans. At the end of "Hate Me Now," he switched the lyrics to "You can love me now" and smiled at the audience before adding, "You have no idea how much I love you."

Nas: Time is Illmatic is in theaters now and available on demand and iTunes.

For another flashback to hip-hop history, watch a 19-year-old Kanye West freestyle rap back in 1996: