Time Is Illmatic: Jones Family Values

Nas Time
By Tamika N. Stewart

Yeah!! I finally saw “Time Is Illmatic,” and it is definitely a must see if you are a lover of Hip-Hop, American culture, and history. The documentary was promoted as a behind-the-scenes look at the legendary rapper Nasir Jones’ (Nas) making of the classic album, Illmatic. It was great to see interviews with legends like Marley Marl, Pete Rock, and Q-Tip as they chronicled the roles they played in the making of the classic album. Admittedly, I was hype to see this film, but beyond the phenomenal footage and music, what was most memorable and poignant to me was witnessing Nas and his brother Jabari (“Jungle”) as they continue to heal from their parents’ divorce years ago.

The Jones family seemed to have most of what they needed financially, and Nas enjoyed the benefits of living in a two-parent home with both parents working. The brothers credit their home environment to the hard work and dedication of their mom and dad, whom despite the fact that they lived in Queensbridge Housing Project, a community that is marred with violence, poverty, and crime, created a peaceful, fun sanctuary inside their home. But like so many families, when the patriarch, Mr. Olu, left the family home, things went left pretty quickly.

When families separate, the children are always left fractured from the disruption and consequently, each child will have his or her own unique experiences, thoughts, and reactions to their parents’ split. Nas and Jungle experienced their parents’ separation quite differently – then and now. Nas said in a rather matter of fact way, ‘his dad left,’ and he went to visit him at his new place. Period. Jungle, on the other hand, said when his dad left, he didn’t think he was going to ever see him—that he kept looking for him to come back to his family home.

Those very statements illustrate how two children understood separation very differently, and how they expressed their feelings about their father moving out, even over 20 years later. It’s likely that Nas, being the elder, quickly took on the role of protector and provider of his younger brother and didn’t have time to “get into his feelings”- Instead, he had to get to work and take care of business (hint…Illmatic). Jungle, who had the courage to express some really painful feelings, seemed to take the separation of his family much harder. As the audience laughed at his hyperbole and banter (and drinking) in the film, I was somewhat uncomfortable, because I could see that this man was still hurting. When a family separates, nothing ever really remains the same, and as Jungle spoke, I could feel his emotions jump through the screen when he described the changes that unfolded.

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There was not a huge discussion about why Nas and Jungle’s parents separated, but my heart ached for Nas’ mother, Ms. Fannie, who had to make the difficult decision to leave the father of her children. It was clear she loved her children and put her needs a distant second. This was best illustrated when she told Nas and Jungle to love their dad despite their personal issues because “he is still your father”. In that simple directive, she gave them permission to love their father unconditionally, despite their mistakes. This was truly a selfless act, and more parents need to be mindful of separating adult issues from those of children, so they can be shielded from the rawness of divorce.

Although Nas’ mother died in the early 2000s, I believe she positioned her children and their father for this time of healing and re-commitment, and the catalyst was this movie. Of course, Time Is Illmatic is great for the Hip-Hop community, too, but if you really pay attention, you’ll see it was even better for the Jones family. As adults, it’s important to heal the wounds we get as children. This film illustrates that it’s never too late to strengthen your family and heal from the past by taking risks, being honest, and telling your story. The Jones family took a huge risk by sharing their intimate details, but by the film’s conclusion, you are so glad that they did.

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