Nas performs “Illmatic” Live from the Kennedy Center

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WNET Thirteen’s Great Performances presents Nas performing “Illmatic” with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center on February 2nd on PBS.

Nas at the Kennedy Center

As you can see in the trailer for the movie, Nas is amazed by his own success. It’s been decades since he broke through, riding the popularity of his guest appearance on “Live at the BBQ” to a record deal and several acclaimed albums. Even after all of that, however, Nas is still in awe of the journey he made from Queensbridge to the Kennedy Center.

Thankfully we get to share in Nas’s journey. The film mixes footage of early Nas, his neighborhood, the concert and interviews conducted then and now. The concert film premieres on PBS on February 2nd at 9 p.m. The film will be available to stream the next day here.

Illmatic

Not that long ago someone asked me what hip-hop albums should they listen to all the way through. I sort of dodged the question and gave them five albums I liked from 2017 instead. If I had a chance to redo the question I would put Nas’s “Illmatic” at the top of the list.

You have to remember that “Illmatic was a debut and that Nas was 19. Actually scratch that; no matter his age or where he was in his career “Illmatic” would be absolutely essential. It only adds to the lore that he happened to be young and just starting his career.

Many hip-hop albums, especially mainstream hip-hop albums, are good for two or three bangers, a love song and a few other decent tunes. “Illmatic” is that pure. It’s nine great songs, no skits and no frills. Perhaps no opening track in the history of hip-hop has better set the tone for an album. “NY State of Mind” was Nas’s updated version of “The Message” with a sparser beat and more vivid poetry. Nas deftly recreated the Queensbridge Housing Projects over the course of the album while reinventing the way people did hip-hop.

It was a helluva debut.

So if you haven’t listened to “Illmatic” go do that now. And don’t miss the concert film of Nas’s performance next month.

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