Nas performs classic album to sold out crowd at The Fillmore

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Photo credit: Arthur King

Last night, the Nas: Time is Illmatic Tour stopped at the Fillmore Detroit. The tour is partly in celebration of the 20th anniversary of Nas' classic debut album and partly to promote the release of the new documentary about the album, Time Is Illmatic

Back in 2004, director One9 and producer Erik Parker began collaborating on what would become a feature length documentary about the creation of Illmatic. One9, who has a background in street art, taught himself how to shoot and edit. Soon, they were setting up interviews with Nas' father, blues musician Olu Dara. After only having a brief clip to show for their work, they met with Nas, who upon seeing their progress, urged them to continue. One9 and Parker quit their jobs to focus solely on the film. The ten year process paid off when the nearly finished documentary was presented to Nas, who came up with the idea for the tour in conjunction with the 20th anniversary. The film shows the background from which Nas came and how that influenced his debut record. One9 described it as, "It's about more than just hip hop. It's socioeconomic."

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After the film ended, the screen vanished into the rafters revealing a DJ booth and a riser on the stage. A screen at the back of the stage played footage of the New York subway system. Just like that, the mood completely changed. The floor flooded with people as Nas came onstage. During the screening of the documentary, attention seemed divided between the film and the bar. At times, it was hard to hear the film over people barking drink orders at bartenders. 

Nasty Nas took the stage, breaking into "N.Y. State of Mind," changing the lyrics just a little bit to "Detroit state of mind." His presence on the stage was incendiary. His vocal attack was raw, yet precise. It was clear that Nas hasn't lost his touch in the twenty years since the album came out. 

Nas brought his brother, Jungle, out to introduce him to the crowd. As he was one of the most entertaining components of the film, he was greeted with applause. Nas then told a story of how Jungle chased him with a knife when he was 9 years old. Jungle simply replied, "He was bullying me." 

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As Nas proceeded through the Illmatic material, it was hard to deny that the songs still sound fresh and better than most of the hip hop that has followed. Nas performed with vigor, engaging the audience. In between songs, he would speak candidly about his lyrical content and the things that influenced the songs. It may have been the closest we'll ever come to seeing a VH1's Storytellers with Nas. 

During the Q-Tip produced "One Love," a phenomenon that is reserved for live performance occurred, Nas connected with the crowd on an emotional level. The vulnerability of the song's relatable content and his passionate delivery made an impression on everyone in the room. "Represent" got the crowd going wild, chanting "Represent! Represent!" Jungle remained at the side of the stage with a plastic, red cup in hand and a bottle of Hennessy in the crook of his elbow. At one point, Jungle made his way up to the riser to dance. Without missing a beat, Nas told his brother to "be careful." As the spokesperson for Hennessy's "Never Stop. Never Settle" campaign, he promotes responsible drinking.

During the final notes of "It Ain't Hard to Tell," Nas proclaimed, "Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes Illmatic." He then brought out One9 and Parker to thank them for their work in producing the documentary. After the crowd applauded the filmmakers, Nas asked the crowd, "Can I do one more before I go?" Of course, the crowd erupted with cheers, which only got louder as the opening notes of "Hate Me Now" played through the speakers. After the crowd calmed down, Nas began telling a story of a time he was in the studio, "with no groove." He then heard Jungle in the corner of the studio talking to himself, saying "I only need one mic." Nas gleefully admitted to stealing the line from his brother, then closed the set with "One Mic."

The only qualm with the set was the use of a backing vocal track, mainly because it was unnecessary. Nas put on an incredible performance. One of the reasons it will prove to be memorable is the intimacy between Nas and the crowd. He didn't crowd the stage with hype men. It was just him, his DJ and his brother Jungle. 

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