When Nas and Damian Marley announced that they would take the “Road to Zion” one step further by releasing a collaborative album, I like several fans was uncertain of the outcome. Both men are incredible artists, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to comprehend that their styles are vastly different. For nearly two decades, Nas has embodies the spirit of New York Hip Hop while constantly reinventing himself with newsworthy albums, for greater or worse. The youngest of son of Bob Marley, Damian “Junior Gong,” brings an interesting perspective to Reggae music with a pop-like approach and a painstaking vocal delivery. Incredibly, Damian with the accompaniment of brother Stephen Marley managed to reformulate some of the vibes from their father’s recordings and channel them into brilliant frameworks for Nas to wrap his vocals around. Distant Relatives manages to take a light-heartedly conscious approach to bridge the gap between Reggae and Hip Hop with honest lyrics and smooth instrumentations.
From the moment “As We Enter” drops, it’s apparent that there’s something unique happening on this album. Shifting from a Jamaican dancehall vibe, African drums kick in accompanied by some of the smoothest vocals Damian Marley’s ever delivered (“Tribes at War”). It goes without saying that Africa is a focal point of discussion constantly referenced throughout Distant Relatives. There’s very little to complain about throughout the course of album. One point would be the dull preaching on “Strong Will Continue.” Thankfully it does not tarnish the collective and goes relatively unnoticed. “Leaders” produced by and featuring Stephen Marley is perfectly laidback and meaningful song, which pays homage to notable revolutionaries. Damian’s production skills are highlighted on “Friends” and may leave you asking, “why couldn’t Damian oversee some of Nas‘ other releases?” On the song, Nas sounds like he’s twenty-one again vividly dropping knowledge while lashing out at backstabbers (“what happened to the honor? /you’re dealing with some sensitive Pre-Madonna drama/Teflon love for all my dudes that’s solid“).
Distant Relatives takes a slightly more upbeat turn with the jazzy “Count Your Blessings.” Regardless of where this song fits in the mix, it illustrates the undeniable chemistry between Nas and Damian Marley. Just as soon as the album detours from its World feel, we’re undertaken by “Disappear.” Despite Nas dropping smooth lines such as “I go off Shiite bomb” this is one of the most forgettable efforts Distant Relatives has to offer. “The Land of Promise” (originally titled “The Promise Land”) is a solidly executed reggae jam. While Damian namedrops spots all over the world from Arizona to Senegal, Nasir makes proclaims, “if these are the last days/and one-hundred foot waves come crashing down/I’ll get some hash and pounds/pass around the bud and watch the flood.“ “In His Own Words” is a little too poppy for its own good and suffers from an oversized production. At times when it appears Damian steals Nas‘ thunder he takes it right back. Such is the case on “Nah Mean” where Nas kicks it into that Illmatic flow, swiftly delivering, “don’t let us make a nine scream/nah mean/at your racial policing regime/spiritual like the Elohim.“ Stephen Marley returns to provide a spaced out instrumental on “Patience” as Nas ponders, “who wrote the Bible, who wrote the Qur’an?/And was it a lighting storm that gave birth to the Earth, and then dinosaurs were born?” Lil Wayne’s placement on “My Generation” is a little unfitting, but overall a well made song. Distant Relatives closes perfectly with the Afrocentric “Africa Must Wake Up” which marks the second appearance of K’naan.
The chemistry between Nas and Damian “Junior Gong” Marley elevates Distance Relatives above most the year’s releases in terms of quality. There are very few flaws in the any aspects of the album. Damian Marley proves himself as a musical powerhouse serving as the primary producer, composing an array of original pieces, while providing some carefully layered vocals. Likewise, Nas does not seem to have lost a step and definitely plays a notable role in the project. The result of Distant Relatives is something unique and proves to be a rare case in which crossover experimentation works effortlessly.
Nas & Damian Marley “As We Enter”