Nas celebrated the 20th anniversary of his famed debut LP Illmatic at Albany’s Palace Theatre on Friday October 3, the unofficial kick-off of the tour. The previous night he played at Rochester’s Main Street Armory, but it was not the full show, as the film “Time is Illmatic” was not shown at the venue. Albany got the full treatment and the crowd loved it. Fans spanning from teenagers to 50-year-olds packed the sold-out show and made their way to their seats as the lights dimmed at 9:15 p.m. and the film started.
This film not only gives the history of the album, but Nas’s family history. In the beginning of the film Nas states how “he just wanted to be something” and throughout the story, every person interviewed said how they knew Nas would rise out of the Queensbridge housing projects to do something special. Growing up in the projects was hard for Nas and his brother Jabari, especially after their mother kicked their father out of the house. His father, Olu Dara, was a jazz musician when he was younger and made sure that Nas learned the importantance of music and as a child he played with the instruments that were laying around the house, slowly sparking his venture into rap. Fannie Ann Jones, his mother, raised him and his brother afterwards and the brothers both expressed a lot of grief over her passing.
As the film went on, some in the audience got a little restless, but a vast majority quietly sat in their seats, watching and listening to the tale of how this great record came to fruition. Notable names in the hip-hop community, such as Kendrick Lamar, Erykah Badu, Pharrell, and J. Cole, all held the album in high regard and how it has always been apart of their lives since it came out in 1994. The great Dr. Cornel West also spoke how the album not only was great for hip-hop, but also how it was great for young black men to hear a man not just rap, but also send a message and talk about his feelings. Illmatic is notable for how Nas expressed his anger against the crack epidemic and the poor neighborhoods of Queensbridge. He wasn’t just rapping to make a living, Nas was rapping to be heard. The film’s archival footage of a young Nas rapping in front of New York crowds is astonishing to watch as he takes over everyone’s attention in a matter of a few verses.
The movie ended with Nas talking about how the album was his philosophy and a way of life. Despite dropping out of school in the 8th grade, Nas was happy to state that he was still teaching himself lessons and rules about life on his own and didn’t drop out and disappear into jail or death, like many of his friends did along the way. Once the film ended, the crowd began to roar as the screen lifted up and “The Genesis” began playing. Nas slowly strode out to the stage to one of the most raucous crowds that the Palace Theatre has ever seen. Many people walked down the aisles to the stage, people were standing on chairs to take pictures, and there was even a woman on her boyfriend’s shoulders for a song. The whole scene, although chaotic, was just another part of the celebration for the album and no patron got out of hand.
Nas was all smiles for the hour or so he was on stage. Going through the entire album front to back, Nas gave everything he had into the songs. “N.Y. State of Mind,” “The World is Yours,” “One Love” and “Represent” really drove the crowd crazy. During the performance, he thanked producers and collaborators of the album as well as those who inspired him to make the record. Only being a short drive to New York City, he continued to thank Albany for coming out and embracing the album. He thanked those who made the trip upstate for the last New York show of the tour. A double shot of “Hate Me Now” and “Made You Look” closed the evening out after he finished up Illmatic.
With the whole evening over it felt like the crowd wanted more, but walking off stage with his entourage and dj, Nas left the building and nothing but smiles could be seen on people’s faces. History had been served and embraced by Albany. It’s not every day that you get to hear a legendary album played front to back and get the history behind it. Nas’s Time is Illmatic Tour is one for the record books and is not to be missed.