Back in 2004, Nas bridged the gap with his father, jazz trumpeter Olu Dara, by showing hip-hop’s lineage with blues and jazz on “Bridging the Gap.”
“Blues came from gospel, gospel from blues / Slaves were harmonizing’ them ‘ahs’ and ‘oohs’/ old-school, new-school, no-school rules/ all these years I’ve been voicin’ my blues,” Nas raps on the genre-bending track.
Fast forward to 2017 and Nas continues to celebrate the rich history of blues and jazz on the new PBS documentary series, American Epic. The three-part series focuses on the origins of music and sound recording. For Nas’ episode, he salutes the Memphis jug bands of the 1920s during the Jim Crow Era. The legendary rapper calls the bluesmen street reporters much like the rappers of today who detail the street violence and poverty in their own neighborhoods.
“They were rapping about street life and gangster life and hustling, just a dark side of the world,” he says of the jug band frontmen. “It just goes to show me that rapping is a natural, poetic thing that’s always been here. As long as there was English and black people, there was rap.”
True indeed. PBS’ American Epic series will premiere on May 16, while Nas’ episode, featuring his modern rendition of “On the Road Again” with Jack White, will air on June 6.