Before Nas rose to become one of hip-hop’s most celebrated rap veterans, there were a bevy of black musicians who came before him who would go on to play a pivotal role in shaping hip-hop and music as a whole. In honor of Black History Month, Nas penned an open letter celebrating the work of black musical greats and how they had a profound impact on his life as part of Google Arts & Culture’s Black History Month celebration.
As a budding rapper, Nas recalled music being all around him when he was growing up in Queens, New York. “We had oodles of instruments at the family crib, many of them with origins in the Motherland,” Nas wrote. “It was through the blues and jazz and folk music that my father played that I learned the importance of our history — our African ancestry, our struggles here as black Americans and, ultimately, our great triumphs too.”
The rapper, who has long been lauded for his impeccable storytelling abilities, praised artists like Robert Johnson, Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan and Slick Rick for using their talents to highlight the black experience in their musical works.
“Our music has been a relentless advocate for our story, which plays a crucial role in the American narrative: Red, white and blues, baby,” he continued. “I would realize — through the education I received from my parents and my own travels — that Robert Johnson, Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan and Slick Rick were one in the same. Native storytellers who shined a light on our purpose, preserved our legacy and, without question, rocked the house. The conversation never stops and we all continue to push it steadily along, through our arts n crafts and even within the way we speak.”
Nas and Google also released an accompanying video with the rapper’s letter, in which vintage portraits of musical pioneers like Billie Holiday, Herbie Hancock, Nina Simone, Duke Ellington and more are spliced between his words with a bluesy arrangement lingering in the background, courtesy of Keyon Harrold.
Watch the video below: