Nas made history by becoming the first rapper to take part in the PBS series Finding Your Roots, but the hip-hop star wasn’t quite prepared to come face to face with the harsh realities of slavery.
Many stars have decided to trace their roots with the help of Harvard University scholar, author and filmmaker Henry Louis Gates Jr., but none of these experiences could have prepared Nas for what he was going to discover.
The Illmatic rapper discovered the 1859 bill of sale of his third great-grandmother, Pocahontas, who was sold to a Southern slaveholder.
The rapper was featured on the Television Critics Association panel, where he discussed his feelings about finding the document.
“First, I was enraged when I looked at the bill of sale,” Nas said. “I was like, that guy that owned property owes me some cash. My people made him really wealthy, so maybe I should find his family and talk.”
He went on to say that he never thought he would really learn much about his family’s past and pointed out how disgusted he was at the fact that his ancestor was being treated like nothing more than a piece of property.
“I thought I would never know anything about my family past my grandparents, and I was willing to just accept that because I had no way of finding out,” he said. “So when I saw the bill of sale, I had to stop and deal with that for a moment. This is a sale of a human being. This was business here in this country.”
While he didn’t reveal if he actually plans on searching for the property owner’s family, he did say that he isn’t done investigating his past.
He told the crowd that he is now “on a mission to find out more.”
As for how the discovery will impact his music, he said that he hadn’t made any plans to write specifically about the experience, but he does believe this discovery will naturally influence his work.
“It will probably happen on its own. … I cannot disappoint these ancestors now,” he said. “I have to represent.”
The series will also trace the ancestry of stars such as Jessica Alba, Tina Fey, Sting, Derek Jeter and chef Ming Tsai.
Gates said that he feels like “Santa Claus giving people a gift” when he is able to give them new information about their ancestry.