Release Date: May 18, 2010
Record label: Republic
Genre(s): Rap, Reggae
No one sounds like Nas. A raspy authoritarian with an impossibly disciplined flow and a shrewd eye for detail, he took us to the very root of American prejudice with 2008’s poignant, sobering Untitled. At the dawn of the Obama era, we needed smarts and objectivity in our hip-hop. Nasir Jones gave us both.
Expanding on the collaboration begun on the track Road to Zion on Marley's 2005 album Welcome to Jamrock, Distant Relatives traces hip-hop's roots to Africa via Jamaican dancehall and reggae, which explains why the fusion of rapper Nas's blistering raps and reggae royal Marley's compelling, world-weary deliveries sounds so natural. It's thoughtful, sincere, weighty stuff, tackling subjects from African poverty to the diamond trade without sounding preachy or schmaltzy. Nas is at his best addressing "those who get left behind" on Strong Will Continue, while Marley has inherited his father Bob's knack for simple phrases that hit home, notably Tribes At War's "Everyone deserves to earn, every child deserves to learn".
The Nas and Damian Marley collaboration Distant Relatives came together as a way to earn money for schools in Africa, but before any corny “charity album” misconceptions get in the way, know that this is one purposeful monster and a conceptional bull's eye that fully supports its title. Actually, it all comes together in the album’s first few seconds as Marley and Nas loop a sample of Ethiopian jazzman Mulatu Astatke for “As We Enter”’s effective and infectious beat. Rapidly trading the lines (Nas): "I’ve got the guns"/(Damian): "I’ve got the Ganja"/(Nas): "And we can blaze it up on your block if you wanna” just raises the excitement level to a “Welcome to Jamrock” or “Nas Is Like,” but when the following “Tribes at War” creates a cinematic big picture of Africa crumbling while its people are unwillingly scattered across the globe, the album turns compelling.
Few best-of-both-worlds collaborations work as well as Distant Relatives, which pairs Nas’ incendiary rhymes with the keening hooks and global rhythms that Bob Marley’s youngest son favors. Together they vent assorted complaints — war, poverty, Nas’ divorce battle with Kelis — in righteous tones that only occasionally lapse into preachiness. B+ Download These:As We Enter, which samples Ethiopian jazz master Mulatu Astatke at amazon.comSlow-burning Friends at amazon.com See all of this week’s reviews .
Two heavyweights leave their egos at the door Read enough pre-release commentary, and you might begin to think that Distant Relatives, Nas and Damian Marley’s new collaborative album, is unprecedented, transformative, and revelatory—not because it features great music, but merely because it exists. And it’s not just Universal’s press kit doing the talking: During an on-stage discussion at the Grammy Museum last year, Nas and Marley made clear that this would be an entirely new and unique record. And last December, the National Geographic Society hosted a panel in D.C.
Five years ago, Nasty Nas and Damian “Junior Gong” Marley hooked up for “Road to Zion”, a one-off on Marley’s debut LP, Welcome to Jamrock, that clearly towered over everything on the album but the title track. Over a dreamy Ella Fitzgerald sample, the two dropped the sort of Pan-African philosophizing that Nas has long been known for, but they did it in a very natural and humble way that betrayed a strong union between the two performers in both inspiration and purpose. The lead single on Distant Relatives, “As We Enter”, provides a strong contrast musically with its uptempo tribal propulsion and back-and-forth verses from the two artists, but in every other way signals more blazing chemistry.
At the end of the 1998 Hype Williams film Belly, Nas, playing a reformed outlaw named Sincere, leaves behind the violence and betrayal of his old life and moves to Africa. That's it. Just Africa. We don't learn where in Africa he moves, or what he does when he gets there. We just hear "Africa ….
Though most people who had a working pair of ears last year could hum you the chorus to Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind,” far fewer seem to know that the song was originally slated to feature a verse from Jay’s former arch-rival Nas. The two reconciled onstage in 2005 after a heated Olympiad of diss tracks and interview insults, but the beef served two major purposes while it lasted: not only did it give post-Pac/Biggie hip-hop heads something fresh to talk about, but it also reminded them that Nas was someone worth talking about in the first place. When Jay-Z called him out on having only released one worthwhile record in his ten years as a rapper on 2001’s “Takeover,” it seemed like the critics weren’t the only ones who really heard him.
On his collaboration album with Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley, Nas saves most of his intensity for Strong Will Continue. [rssbreak] The song's final verse is a fiery tirade that boils down his TMZ-headline-grabbing last couple of years - police profiling, cheating, alimony, dating, questions of artistic relevance - with a barrage of references to Geronimo, Louis XIII, Toni Braxton, Bruce Lee and his newborn son, Knight.
A collaboration that fuses traits with few discernable flaws. Mike Diver 2010 When Nas confirmed this collaboration with Damian Marley, he mentioned how hip hop and reggae are intertwined. Documented history agrees: hip hop exploded from the projects of New York only after taking inspiration from Jamaican sound system culture. (Jeff Chang’s Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop book of 2005 explores these roots.) This set’s title is a nod to a mutual lineage that stretches back to Africa – its artwork features an image of Menelik II, Emperor of Ethiopia when the country defended itself from invading Italian forces in the late 19th century.