This Black History Month, Nas chose to honor the musicians who shaped — and continue to shape — black culture. The iconic rapper teamed up with Google to create “We Continue to Rise,” an open letter and video paying homage to the legends whose music embodied blackness in all its forms.
“I was raised to understand that every month was Black History Month,” he wrote. “That every day, my ancestors, contemporaries and everyday dreamers like myself can, shall, and continue to make history.”
The letter goes on to describe the unique hold music had on Nas’ life from day one. His father, a musician himself, decorated the house with instruments and surrounded his son with with the notion that music was an extension of black history and culture. The young rapper came to understand that black music, from jazz to folk to funk, tells a story.
In the accompanying video, Nas reads part of his letter, set against a montage of black artistic icons. The section he reads touches on the importance of music and how it gave him a deeper understanding and appreciation of his culture.
“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 says.
Nas wraps up the letter by naming those that influenced him directly. Individuals such as Robert Johnson, Sarah Vaughan and Slick Rick are just a few of the storytellers who inspired him by centering black experiences and preserving black culture, regardless of genre.
But he also emphasizes that these kinds of figures don’t exist solely in the past. Instead, Nas emphatically states that, like those that came before, modern black musicians continue to make history and shape culture.
“We are here. From the beginning. For forever,” he wrote. “From science labs to spaceships, from jazz riffs to higher consciousness, we continue to rise.”