LL Cool J & Puff Daddy Learn About Their Complex Family Trees & Are Deeply Humbled (Video)

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Having launched in 2012, the PBS television series Finding Your Roots merges genealogy and celebrity in a reality show which documents notable people tracing their ancestral heritage. Hosted by well-known public intellectual Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the show provides its guests with research-based documentation about where their respective families originated and allows them to discover things like which country their oldest ancestor occupied, the history of their surnames, and other bits of historical knowledge. Past guests of the show include modern Jazz musician Branford Marsalis, Samuel L. Jackson, John Legend, Keenen Ivory Wayans, Erykah Badu and – perhaps most notably to Heads – Nas.

Hip-Hop returned to the February 16 episode as LL Cool J and Sean “Puffy” Combs were featured. In episode 7 of season 3, the two icons are invited to go back in time in an effort to shed light on the experiences of past generations of their respective families. In a segment from their episode, Combs can be seen learning about his father Melvin Combs’ tenure as an enlisted soldier in Korea. However, it’s the even more extensive history in his family that brings with it a really moving experience, particularly when he learns the name of his third great-grandfather, who was not born into slavery as so many African-Americans in the 1800s were. Similarly, LL Cool J learns the names of his North Carolina ancestors, and he learns of the extreme difficulties in effectively tracing the histories of those who were enslaved. As LL reads the name of the man presumed to have owned his great-great grandfather, the pain is poignantly clear to see. By the end of the episode, however, both men wax grateful at having been afforded this incomparable experience.

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