Nas and Jack White joined forces for a live, revamped hip-hop take on Memphis Jug Band’s 1928 blues song “On the Road Again” in a clip from PBS’ historical documentary project American Epic. The Illmatic rapper adds his unique flow to the genre mash-up, backed by bluegrass instrumentation and White on acoustic guitar.
“The Memphis Jug Band – it sounds like something today,” Nas says in the clip. “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 … 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.”
The all-star performance will feature in the American Epic Sessions concert film, which airs Tuesday, June 6th on PBS. The associated three-part documentary series, American Epic, premieres Tuesday, May 16th.
White, T Bone Burnett and Robert Redford executive-produced the series, with Redford narrating the project. The documentary traces the birth of recorded American music in the 1920s, when record companies traveled the country with the first electrical recording rig to find new artists and markets. None of those machines survived, but audio engineer Nicholas Bergh reassembled one from original parts, and that rig was used to record all the music for The American Epic Sessions.
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The film will also feature performances from Beck, the Alabama Shakes, Avett Brothers, Los Lobos, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Steve Martin, Edie Brickell, Rhiannon Giddens and Raphael Saadiq, among others.
Two official soundtracks – American Epic: The Soundtrack and American Epic: The Collection – will be released physically and digitally on May 12th via White’s Third Man Records. The Soundtrack includes a 15-song anthology from the doc, with “restored” songs from Memphis Jug Band, the Carter Family, Charley Patton and more. The Collection will feature 100 “restored” tracks from the era on a five-disc set.