When Damian Marley and Nas collaborated on the track "Road To Zion" in 2005, fans got a glimpse at the natural chemistry the two artists have. Finally, after years of speculation, they've released Distant Relatives, a full-length album featuring the duo on every track.
03:00PM ET May 26, 2010
Contributor: Mathis Bauchner
A Rocky Williform Company
Things get off to a raucous start with "As We Enter," the high-energy lead single, with Nas and Jr. Gong trading lines back and forth throughout each verse. Nas handles the entire chorus himself. It's perhaps the most "hip-hop" sounding track on an album that has much more of a reggae feel. Not that Marley hogs the mic. Both artists approach the project relatively ego-free. Neither seems determined to dominate the sound of the album which is critical for a collaborative work.
That's not to say the album itself doesn't have a distinct sound. Damian's brother Stephen Marley produced much of the album, using live instruments throughout the recording process, and Nas' flow blends perfectly with Jr. Gong's vocals.
The duo delves into more serious issues throughout the album, perhaps most importantly the situation in Africa, a topic many other musicians have shied away from. "Africa Must Wake Up," featuring the Somalia-born artist K'Naan, calls for a more introspective approach to the issues at hand. "Tribal War," also featuring K'Naan, reflects on the violence that has plagued Africa for centuries.
Nas and Marley offer optimism as well. "My Generation" shouts out the revolutionary potential of today's youth. Lil' Wayne contributes one of his humbler verses to the track, avoiding incessant wordplay as he immerses himself fully into the song. "Land Of Promise," another African-themed track, opens with a horn-filled intro and has Jr. Gong namedropping countries throughout the continent, linking them metaphorically to locations in the United States.
There is of course a tremendously joyful aspect of reggae as well, and Marley provides a touch of that on the track "Count Your Blessings." The song borders on excessively fluffy at times, but Nas' sharp verses and Marley's thoughtful lyrics keep it grounded.
But Distant Relatives is at its best when it's also at its most serious. "Strong Will Continue" is a motivational call to action anchored by a powerful baseline and a touch of piano. "Leaders" acknowledges the power of the title figures. Nas' verse about an ambiguous made man is one of the albums finest.
As happens when listening to reggae, Distant Relatives occasionally blends together too well, so that one can drift from track to track without hearing the individual message of each song. More often than not, however, Nas and Marley's lyrics are too poignant to be ignored. They've taken this album as an opportunity to make a statement with their music, weaving the sounds and cultures of hip-hop and reggae and connecting them with larger issues. The result is a groundbreaking collaborative effort, one that adds yet another esteemed chapter to the careers of these two already much accomplished artists.