Watch Jack White and Nas Cover 1928 Jug Band Tune ‘On the Road Again’
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Next Tuesday (May 16), American Epic, a four-part documentary about the growth of American music in the ’20s, will premiere on PBS. Today, the network shared a clip from the series in which Jack White, one of its co-producers, teams up with Nas to record “On the Road Again,” a 1928 single by the Memphis Jug Band.
As Nas explains in the video above, he was able to see the connection between the rural folk blues of the ’20s and hip-hop. “It sounds like something today,” he says, “and these guys are talking about women, carrying guns, protecting their honor, chasing after some women who’s done them dirty. … And it’s the same as rap music today.”
After you see Nas, White and other musicians cutting the track around a single microphone, Nas continues. “They were rapping about street life and gangster life and hustling,” he said. “Just a dark side of the world. It just goes to show me that, like, rapping is a natural poetic thing. It’s always been here. As long as there was English — and black people, you know what I’m saying? — there was rap.”
The historical music featured in American Epic, both a 100-song box set and a 15-track distillation, arrives tomorrow. On June 9, American Epic: The Sessions, on which Nas’ take on “On the Road Again” appears along with similar reinterpretations of vintage songs by such names as Beck, Elton John, Alabama Shakes and Los Lobos, will be released. White and co-producer T Bone Burnett used a period-correct recording system in which a pulley system powered the machinery, restricting the songs to three minutes in length, with no opportunity for overdubs or edits.
The first three parts of the telecast, which also names Robert Redford as its narrator and one of its producers, focuses the history of American music in the ’20s, while the fourth chronicles the newer recordings. You can learn more about it at PBS’ website.
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