Documentary explores the origins of Nas’ life and his landmark 1994 album, currently celebrating its 20th anniversary

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“Nas: Time Is Illmatic” is a loving tribute to one of hip-hop’s most celebrated albums, Nas’ 1994 debut album “Illmatic.”

The set has achieved a near mythic quality in hip-hop circles, and “Time Is Illmatic” treats its subject with honor and reverie. Maybe too much so: If there’s a dissenting voice about the album’s merits or anyone who thinks it didn’t move the Earth, they’re not heard from here. If it’s not a puff piece, it’s at least a promotional tool; it’s surprising it wasn’t included with the 20th anniversary reissue of the album that came out earlier this year.

What’s important to fans of Nas and the album is that “Time Is Illmatic” is a well-made and well-shot companion piece to the album, telling the story of Nas’ early life and the circumstances that led to his birth as a hip-hop legend. “Time Is Illmatic” isn’t as concerned with the recording sessions of the album as it is about the Queensbridge housing projects where Nas grew up, the rapper’s childhood and his relationship with his parents.

Director One9 frames his story via interviews with Nas and his brother, as well as Nas’ father, jazz artist Olu Dara. Other hip-hop luminaries weigh in with their thoughts on the album, but the film concentrates on its origins rather than its legacy.

In the most resonant scene, a group picture in the booklet’s liner notes is revisited, revealing most of the people in the photo are now dead or in jail, save for Nas, who is still a thriving hip-hop artist. In that way, the film is an advocate for the arts as a means to escape the horrors of street life.

agraham@detroitnews.com

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‘Nas: Time Is Illmatic’

GRADE: B

Not rated

Running time: 74 minutes

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