To celebrate Black History Month, hip-hop legend, producer and entrepreneur Nas pays homage to a long tradition of Black musicians and storytellers who continue to empower us today in this compelling open letter and video.
Music has scored my life since day one.
Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5 – WOW. That music really touched me. And the theme music to Marvel cartoons like the Amazing Spider Man and Iron Man – we used to sing those songs in kindergarten. Most kids have flashing memories of being served lullabies by their parents when they were shorties, and in this regard, I humbly fall, eyes closed, into that plush “most kids” box.
I was blessed to have love from both of my parents, and it just so happens that my father’s love for music took him around the globe via his own sonic excursions, both live and recorded. Pops would come back with mad loot (cash money, that is) from around the world. It was a testament to his globetrotting and a cool little nod to me that said, young blood, when you’re ready, the world is yours.
We had oodles of instruments at the family crib, many of them with origins in the Motherland. 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. Black culture was an everyday thing in our household and in the streets that flowed through the great maze of our beloved Queensbridge: the housing projects that taught me and my comrades a plethora of lessons that were harsh, harrowing and humble.
I messed around a little with the guitar that was in the living room; Pops would throw me and my brother a couple of chords here and there. But, keeping it 100, the next Wes Montgomery I was not. The hollowed-out hole in Pops’ acoustic guitar wound up being a cave for my main man Bat Man. The sound that would reel me in was the sound that
I heard reverberating off of the rust-bricked buildings that protected us like the illest castles in Scotland. That whistle part of Eric B and Rakim’s “My Melody” would bounce
from building to building as cars and people jamming boomboxes out their windows pumped the tune in unison; and those radical harmonics lead you to the park where DJ Marley Marl would be spinning that same song (which was easy for him to do since Marley produced said cut and more in his apartment just up the block).
It was a higher consciousness, with all of us in sync and on time like the hands of Big Ben. It was an echo of freedom, the notion that someone who looked like me could have a platform to say what was important, and more importantly be funky. It was another cool little nod that would say to me, young blood, when you’re ready, the world is yours.
I was raised to understand that every month was Black History Month. That every day, my ancestors, contemporaries and everyday dreamers like myself can, shall, and continue to make history.
Our music has been a relentless advocate for our story, which plays a crucial role in the American narrative: Red, white and blues, baby.
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. Bumps in the road can’t stop this. Some might argue that this here scribe is talking a whole lotta jazz but anyone fly enough and culturally astute enough to listen will hear what we’re saying.
We are here. From the beginning. For forever. From science labs to spaceships, from jazz riffs to higher consciousness, we continue to rise.