Nas Teams With Jack White To Make Some Ill Street Blues (Video)

For any student of Rap music, its origins in other forms of African-American musical traditions is well known. Many scholars argue that the roots of the rapping tradition can be found in the call-and-response elements in Black church music and the dozens. Certainly, the arrival of a distinct Blues sound in the early 20th century can be easily traced to the birth of Rap decades later, and countless Hip-Hop artists have referenced and sampled Blues music in their own records.

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Nas, born Nasir Bin Olu Dara Jones, is one such artist. The son of celebrated Jazz musician Olu Dara Jones, the venerated MC has often included his father’s musicianship in his own discography, and has spoken at great length about the role Blues played in his family life. Born in Mississippi, a state credited as being a cradle of Blues, Jones, Sr., can be heard on his son’s IllmaticGod’s Son, and Street’s Disciple. Also, in 1998, the two collaborated on Olu Dara’s solo album, In the World: From Natchez to New York, on the song “Jungle Jay.”

With such an illustrious musical background, Nas is a fitting artist to appear on the PBS historical documentary project, American Epic. In the clip below, he and fellow musicians – including Jack White, who recently appeared on A Tribe Called Quest’s We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service and has worked with Hip-Hop artists including Black Milk in the past – visit the Memphis Jug Band’s 1928 song, “On the Road Again.” But before covering the record and giving it a contemporary Rap spin, Nas speaks to the song’s transcendence, nearly 90 years since its release. “The Memphis Jug Band – it sounds like something today. These guys are talking about women carrying guns, protecting their honor, chasing down some woman who’s done them dirty. This is not high-society Black folks. This is the down-under, street, wild Black folks that they’re singing about. And it’s the same as today – it’s the same as Rap music today.”

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He continues, “This music from Memphis: They were rapping about street life and gangsta life and hustling – just a dark side of the world. It just goes to show me that rapping is a natural, poetic thing. It’s always been here. As long as there was English and Black people, there was Rap.”

Along with the May 16 premiere of American Epic, the three-part documentary, PBS will air a companion concert film, which will include Nas and White’s Blues session. That will air on June 6.