PBS curated a massive ode to classic 1920s American music called The American Epic. “Over a four-part series, a companion book, a soundtrack featuring 100 remastered songs, an educational outreach program, and a historical archive, American Epic rescues this history,” the website explained.
One part of the four-part series is called The American Epic Sessions, where Jack White and T Bone Burnett brought together some of music’s best artists of new and old to record a song of there’s like they did in the 1920s. “The system consists of a single microphone, a towering six-foot amplifier rack, and a live record-cutting lathe, powered by a weight-driven pulley system of clockwork gears,” the description of the episode said, and artists typically had around three minutes before the pulley system was finished. After that, the recording you had was the recording you had — there were no edits.
The American Epic Sessions episode saw the likes of The Alabama Shakes, Elton John, The Avett Brothers, Raphael Saadiq, Beck and plenty others record music on the system. One in particularly who piqued interest was Nas, who recorded a version of Stillmatic‘s “One Mic” with piano-led arrangement from Jack White.
If rap and hip-hop was around during Prohibition, this is what it would sound like. That’s hella passion on one scratchy recording.
Watch the performance below.