IIlmatic, the debut album of rap icon Nas, was a defining moment in hip-hop history. When it was introduced to the world in 1994, it shook the music industry and swung the rap pendulum back to its birthplace in New York City, after years of west coast domination.
Today, people living in low income neighborhoods still struggle with many of the racial and economic challenges that the artist rapped about 20 years ago. According to data released by the NYPD, Queensbridge – the housing project where Nas grew up - saw the highest number of Queens-related stop and frisks in 2011. “The struggle is real,” said the rapper about life for those living in places like Queensbridge. “That means that we have to challenge, that we have to become swifter, we have to become smarter and get above and around that.”
When asked about how we’ve progressed as a society in the way we think about color, the rapper quipped “Nas–and hip hop–is as American as apple pie,” adding, “The whole world is evolving, and if you don’t understand that you have to change your ways, you become like a dinosaur.”
To mark the 20th anniversary of the release of his debut album, the artist debuted a new documentary, “Time Is Illmatic” at the Tribeca Film Festival. He joined NOW with Alex Wagner on Thursday to discuss the album’s landmark success, and the evolution of hip-hop and race in America.
Watch the interview here