That’s not to say the music is disregarded – as the album, Illmatic, released in 1994 is rightly eulogised. It may seem somewhat celebratory at times, but there is a place for filmmakers to simply take the time out to appreciate something so creative that has connected with so many people, just as Shane Meadows did with Made of Stone. Considered to be one of the defining hip hop records, Illmatic is renowned for its gritty, honest social commentary. Given that fact, One9 has infused politics into this feature with a minimum contrivance, contextualising the record effectively by providing an insight into Nas’ background and neighbourhood – which is what informs and inspires the rapper’s lyrics so ardently.
One9’s structure is perfect too, as we begin by analysing Nas’ childhood, the area he grew up in and the lives of his close friends and family, allowing us to build up this knowledge and get our bearings, before he begins to marvel at the music – the songs, their conception and reputation. We go in with a sense for the time and place, therefore able to perceive the music in a far more enlightening manner. Nas is extremely open for the camera too, as honest as his lyrics have always been, not putting on a front. It can be moving in parts when he discusses his family, but the picture always maintains its uplifting nature, as the adulation for the album filters into all areas, as Nas speaks emphatically of his idols and inspirations, which includes his mother.
The access in this feature is generally rather impressive, as not only is the story mostly narrated by Nas and his brother, but by close friends, acquaintances and other musicians inspired by this groundbreaking record. You certainly don’t have to be a pre-established fan to appreciate this picture, as sometimes just seeing how much something can mean to others is gratifying enough. A bit like watching people open presents. Presents they like, anyway.