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GREAT PERFORMANCES: Nas Live From The Kennedy Center: Classical Hip-Hop (on KPBS 2)

Nas at the Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C.
Courtesy of 13th Witness
Nas at the Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C.

Airs Friday, Feb. 2, 2018 at 9 p.m. on KPBS 2

Witness a symphonic rendition of Nas’ debut album "Illmatic" with the National Symphony Orchestra.— (on KPBS 2)

Two decades after the album’s critically acclaimed release, hip-hop artist Nas teamed up with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., to stage a symphonic rendition of “Illmatic,” one of the most revered albums in hip-hop history.

The new concert film GREAT PERFORMANCES “Nas Live From The Kennedy Center: Classical Hip-Hop” captures the energy and nostalgia of this collaborative performance and premieres nationwide Friday, Feb. 2, 2018 at 9 p.m. on PBS.


Released in 1994, “Illmatic” is the seminal debut album from Nas, and has long been considered one of the greatest hip-hop records of all time. 

The album is a densely textured, deeply lyrical portrait of life in the largest public housing project in North America, the Queensbridge Houses, located in the Long Island City area of New York City, home to nearly 7,000 people.

“It’s crazy, you know, I wrote this in the projects in New York City. Here we are in the capital of America, Washington, D.C., and, you know, a bunch of white people with strings and all that, playing this album, and they [sic] feeling it,” says Nas in exclusive behind-the-scenes footage captured during on-stage rehearsal before the concert.

Alternating between candid reflections from Nas, photos from his youth, backstage footage and a symphonic performance of “Illmatic,” the program gives an inside look at the inspiration behind Nas’ music and his early life growing up in New York City.

The combination of Nas and the orchestra reinvents the sound of some of his most popular songs, like “N.Y. State of Mind,” “The World Is Yours,” “Memory Lane (Sittin’ in Da Park)” and “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” to create a classical hip-hop journey.


“This was the first time, as a classical orchestra conductor, I was going to branch out into the realm of doing hip-hop music and rap music. And the idea of finally tackling this genre was something I was really looking forward to do,” says National Symphony Orchestra Principal Pops Conductor Steven Reineke about this innovative collaboration.

This performance was recorded live in March 2014 as the centerpiece of the One Mic: Hip Hop Culture Worldwide festival at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., home of the National Symphony Orchestra.


Episodes of GREAT PERFORMANCES are available to stream on demand the day after broadcast for a limited time. Extend your viewing window with KPBS Passport, video streaming for members ($60 yearly) using your computer, smartphone, tablet, Roku, AppleTV, Amazon Fire or Chromecast. Learn more and activate your benefit now.


GREAT PERFORMANCES is on Facebook, and you can follow @GPerfPBS on Twitter. #NasPBS

Nas is on Facebook, and you can follow @Nas on Twitter.


GREAT PERFORMANCES is produced by THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET. A Mass Appeal production, “Nas Live From The Kennedy Center: Classical Hip-Hop” is directed by Jason Goldwatch and executive produced by Nas, Anthony Saleh, Peter Bittenbender and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. For GREAT PERFORMANCES, Bill O’Donnell is series producer; David Horn is executive producer.