Nas teamed up with the National Symphony Orchestra for a live performance of his album “Illmatic” back in 2014, but only those present in the Washington D.C. venue were lucky enough to see it. However in less then three weeks’ time, we’ll get the chance to watch that concert ourselves.
The Legacy of “Illmatic”
“Illmatic” came out in 1994 and remains to be one of the East Coast’s most influential hip-hop albums. It revolves around the daily life of urban poverty—a life that Nas personally experienced while growing up in Queensbridge. Nas shifted his focus from his rap generation’s usual theme of love and sex, and turned “Illmatic” into his stream of consciousness. Critics praised his ability to create such a vivid image of his Queensbridge surroundings and his feelings jumping from helplessness to optimism. In a 2012 interview, he explained his inspiration behind the album’s theme. “I want you to know who I am: what the streets taste like, feel like, smell like. What the cops talk like, walk like, think like. What crackheads do — I wanted you to smell it, feel it. It was important to me that I told the story that way because I thought that it wouldn’t be told if I didn’t tell it.”
Nas celebrated the album’s 20th anniversary in March 2014 with a special performance of “Illmatic” with the National Symphony Orchestra. Poorly-recorded videos of the concert can be found on the interwebs, but PBS and Mass Appeal finally came around to release “Great Performances — Nas Live From the Kennedy Center: Classical Hip-Hop” next month. The music documentary will not only show footage of the performance but will also take a look at Nas’ magnum opus and behind-the-scenes of the anniversary concert.
“It’s crazy, you know, I wrote this in the projects in New York City. Here we are in the capital of America, Washington, DC, and, you know, a bunch of white people with strings and all that, playing this album, and they feeling it,” Nas reflects during the film. Throughout the film, the rapper narrates his album’s legacy on the music industry and for himself.
“Great Performances — Nas Live From the Kennedy Center: Classical Hip-Hop” premiers February 2 on PBS. The documentary will be available to stream on PBS online after its premier.
Featured image from Hella Decent