Went and checked the latest Nas Doc. “Time is Illmatic“. Just wanted to give it a quick shout out and pass along my recommendation. If your a hip hop fan, (whether your in the Jay-Z camp or the Nas camp or the just don’t give a fuck camp) it’s a must see. Def brought me back to the golden era of hip hop (early 90’when hip hop really came into it’s own). Street shit, head nod beats, rare groove breaks and all…that grimy NYC life…that “Project Hallways” type shit.
But it also harkened back to the time just before that which was a bit more innocent and fun…(Nas mentions it)…the time before crack. Not sure if it was coincidental that the trailer that came on before the doc. was for a movie about how our Government was involved in bringing crack and cocaine to the US…The Iran contra scandal and all that?
Anyways, the main plot of the doc. is about the beginning of Nas’s career and what made him. How Illmatic came to be. It was really cool to go back in time and see that. But there was also a sub-plot. There was something else that I feel like Nas and the people who put this doc. together wanted the viewer to take away from this, which was what was “in the air” that brought about Illmatic? What kind of environment could create a scenario apon which these “street tales” could be produced? And when I say produced I am not talking about Primo’s beast here but rather the social and racial injustice and atrocities that were and still are a direct result of “the projects”. What was Nas feeling? What was he trying to communicate? Nas is/was an “inner city griot” telling tales of what was going on around him in his community and by the end of the doc. you learn just how bad shit was in Queensbridge. This was highlit by Nas showing a picture from the liner notes of the album of about 20+ people from his neighborhood. He makes sure to let us know that these were just people from the neighborhood that were there the day he did the photo shoot…a random sampling of kids and adults, friends and foe’s. He goes one by one pointing them out and we find out here that they are all either in jail or dead…every single one of them. It hurt my heart and served as not only a reminder of the poverty and violence that plagued our communities then (and still does) but also helped me quantify just what really made the golden era what it was for a lot of people. For Nas and some other really talented story tellers and musicians it was a way out of the ghetto and for his audience, the main intended audience of individuals who could most directly relate because they came from the same place that Nas was coming from, it was therapeutic in a way I suppose, “Escapism“.
But it is right at this point in the doc. where the viewer unwittingly, or at least in my personal case I was unwittingly brought to what I believe was to be the third intention of hip hop, which was that hip hop was also supposed to serve as a critique on the poverty, violence and institutional racism that was going on in America. Further more I believe this intention was lost or at least was never actually realized to it’s fullest potential. This is the part that really got me down which was coming to the realization that the general public (and I am including myself in this) has glorified these “street stories” instead of seeing them as horrifying. We were all supposed to hear these stories and come to a better understanding of what was going on in the inner streets of America. This reminds me a bit of Claude Browns classic novel “Manchild in the Promised Land“
In this Story Claude Brown tells the tale of a young boy growing up in Harlem before, during and after drugs are introduced to the inner city. And shows one man’s way out. It’s great because he shows the dark side without glorifying it and you get inspired by someone who makes it out of this horrible situation. We were supposed to be alarmed and wanting to do something to change things…I left the movie wondering what happened to this third “element” of hip hop. I use that word specifically because we all know that there are 4 elements of hip hop (breaking, rapping, djing and grafitti). Maybe there should have been a 5th?, “Educating”. We all got caught up in the “party and bullshit era”, I would argue we are still there and forgot about the conscious raps and the political raps. Intelligent Hoodlum changed his name to Tradgedy Kahdafi, Public Enemy plateaued, the days happy raps groups like UMC’s and the Pharcyde are long gone…
When I started this blog post out, it was supposed to be a little quip on the Nas doc and was supposed to invite people to go view it. And I still want heads to do so. But this has since turned in to a full on essay and I plan to expand on this by starting a new “thread” on our blog called “Glorify vs. Horrify” which will be dedicated to the Education that was supposed to have been more prevalent in hip hop. For now I leave you with Illmatic and challenge you when you are listening to not only nod your head but really listen to the lyrics and imagine this world and use the same creativity and intelligence we used to create hip hop to try and destroy the USG’s (United States Ghetto’s).