Album Review: Nas & Damian Marley – Distant Relatives

Nas & Damian Marley – Distant Relatives
Republic: 2010
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Be honest. When you first heard about the Nas and Damian “Junior Gong” Marley collaboration, you didn’t know what to think. An MC who has had his beat selection scrutinized like no other (sorry, Ras Kass) teaming up with the youngest son of Bob Marley? The artist responsible for Illmatic teaming up with a three-time Grammy winner for his work as a reggae musician. Nasir Jones over reggae beats. It seemed, at least initially, like the project couldn’t possibly deliver.

But we didn’t think of the positives. At least not right away. Both Nas and Junior Gong craft songs questioning the inequality in today’s world; both artists speak out for those who too often don’t have a voice. Both artists are in the upper echelon of their respective genres. And then there was the little matter of Nas over live instrumentation. This I have to hear.

Any apprehension I was feeling towards this product is all but erased on the album’s opening cut. For lack of a better term, “As We Enter” is straight fire. Nas and Damian Marley go back-and-forth over an uptempo production (courtesy of Junior Gong himself). The rap-reggae trade-off is seamless, as the chemistry between the two is evident from the outset. As Nas says, “my man’ll speak patois/And I can speak rap star.”

Marley’s track for “Tribal War”, which features K’Naan, is significantly slower and more in keeping with a traditional reggae sound. Heavy drums, background chanting and Junior Gong’s vocals combine to create the perfect backdrop for two more outstanding lyrical performances. Both Nas and K’Naan touch on heavy topics – and both MCs deliver. It’s an outstanding track that showcases just how effective, dope and powerful the Jones-Marley combo can be.

For most of next track, “Strong Will Continue”, Marley rides the almost pop-reggae beat perfectly, while Nas seems to lag behind (perhaps it’s the preachy vocals in his first verse that create that sensation). That all changes with about one minute left in the track – when Nas unleashes an exceptionally personal verse that is highlighted by his questioning Kelis’ fidelity during their marriage. In light of everything he has experienced this year with his very public divorce, the verse is shocking, but exceptionally well crafted.

Damian’s brother Stephen both guests on and produces “Leaders”, a track that definitely falls in the mature category. The ode to their leaders/heroes/idols deals with both Junior Gong’s and, more specifically, Nasir Jones’ growth as men – and their descriptions of leaders certainly reflects the growth. The production itself is another down tempo track, but Stephen’s singing ties it up nicely. This maturity is evident on the very next track as well. “Friends” is a very traditional reggae track and, as such, Junior Gong rides it like a pro. Not to be outdone, Nas delivers a phenomenal lyrical performance and the code of ethics he addresses in his second verse is fairly straightforward and, for many, accurate.

The album’s first real misstep is “Count Your Blessings”. The production, again courtesy of Junior Gong, is definitely made for the radio – or the newest R&B sensation. While some guitar makes it in for Nas’ verses, the song is forgettable.

On “Dispear”, Junior Gong hooks up a double-time drum pattern and delivers an outstanding performance. Nas’ sped-up style suits the track. He actually sounds quite comfortable with the new delivery. “Land of Promise” features an absolute monster of a bassline that Marley attacks right from the outset. Again, Nas steps his game up to match his collaborator in terms of style and delivery. Unfortunately, the message, at least coming from the artist formerly known as Nasty Nas, is caught up in the show.

Stephen Marley’s second contribution, and guest appearance, “In His Own Words”, is another misstep. The track is just the kind of production that Nas has been attacked for in the past. There’s too much syrup; too much rhythm ‘n’ blues; too much pop. Having said that, Junior Gong sounds very comfortable and confident on the track, but Nas just sounds out of place.

Fortunately for the listener, the memory of the last track is erased with “Nah Mean”. The highlight of the album features the most hip-hop instrumentation of the project and also highlights the lyrical skill of both Junior Gong, who plays nicely on the “Nah Mean” title, and Nas, who matches his co-host stride for stride and introduces some of his street tales/lyrics into the mix.

After the high of “Nah Mean”, the album closes with three sub-par tracks. “Patience,” Stephen Marley’s third contribution to the project, is another track with double-time drums that is dominated by Junior Gong – until the final minute. Unlike “Strong Will Continue”, Nas’ contribution to this song isn’t as noteworthy. “My Generation” suffers from too many elements. The gospel-type chorus courtesy of Joss Stone stands in contrast to the bassline and guitar track that Damian, Nas and Lil Wayne flow on. And don’t even get me started on Lil Wayne – it is as bad as you think it is. “Africa Must Wake Up”, which also features K’Naan, is an ambitious track that contains a lot of instrumentation – and a verse from K’Naan in his native language. But it doesn’t live up to its own ambitions.

The same cannot be said for the album. Distant Relatives is unlike any other project released this year. Quite frankly, it will be unlike anything else released for the next couple of years. That is both a blessing and a curse for the album. The tracks that succeed do so spectacularly; those that do not end up being forgotten or, worse, skipped. Fortunately, the tracks that do succeed outnumber those that don’t – and Distant Relatives is a record that should not be missed by hip-hop fans.

★★★½☆

3.5 out of 5
[audio:http://potholesinmyblog.flywheelsites.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/02-Nas-Damian-Marley-Tribes-At-War-Featuring-Knaan.mp3|titles=Nas & Damian Marley – Tribes At War (Feat. K’naan)]

19 thoughts on “Album Review: Nas & Damian Marley – Distant Relatives

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  1. this album jst took my breath away nas knaan marley are dopest

  2. Through Nas’s collab with Jr Gong I now have a little more understanding of Jamaican music. Slowly I’m working through it all and have been sent a link to this book. Am excited by the long journey of discovery.

    Pogus Caesar’s new book MUZIK KINDA SWEET = it features rare archive photographs of legendary Reggae artists including: Burning Spear, Mighty Diamonds, Augustus Pablo, Jimmy Cliff, Junior Delgado, Prince Alla, Dennis Brown and a host of others – a must for all lovers of Reggae.

    Article from The independent http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/pogus-caesars- muzika-kinda-sweet-2080071.ht

    muzik kinda sweet on photobucket

    http://photobucket.com/images/pogus%20caesar%20muzik%20kinda%20sweet/

  3. ABSOLUTELY LOVE THIS ALBUM!!!!!!!!!……5/5…….THE BEST ALBUM THIS YEAR……..NO DOUBT!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Nicholas Candiotto|

    Not surprised with the amount of discussion this project has generated. Nas has a way of bringing that out – and it might be the result of debuting with a certified classic album in Illmatic. afan is definitely on the mark when he says it’s more of a Damian Marley album. Jr. Gong definitely sounds comfortable throughout the album; to me, Nas appears to be the odd man out on some of the tracks. When the two artists are in sync, the results are fantastic. Unfortunately, I don’t think they’re in sync for every track. I do hope that there will be a sequel…

  5. i hate the C word

    but i agree.

    This is a Classic.

  6. Love Music|

    Great album. Stop the hate, most don’t feel it cause they don’t feel the message behind/in the music.
    They lack the understanding to see that Jr Gong Aka Damien Marley is going the same place his father was going, to the heart of Africa our heart and soul as a people will not heal till we heal our home land.

    SOOO if you are not feeling quite African you wont feel this album, the production is flawless, cept for a few personal notes on Nasir part the album Had one aim teach. Learn something, see something.

    Land of Promise…. one of the dopest tracks ever check the visuals. I listen to this album with my sons there is minimal profanity and educating uplifting tracks, even Wayne who gets a positive verse in, my students, i’m a teacher, love that track.

    Super solid album, mad diverse, vary your listening and realize the need for more of this…when will we see another…instant classic. peace and love

  7. @david reyneke

    whats corny about this music???

    obviously your not into reggae…….

    theres nothing corny about the songs on this record i think your showing a lack of respect to reggae music.

  8. David Reyneke|

    There was a lot of corny music on this album. Some bangers, but a lot of corny nonsense. Great review.

  9. this joint is definitely a 5/5 to me. With the exception of Joss Stone’s awful wailing on Our Generation, I’ll be replaying this joint often. As far as Africa Must Wake Up goes, I think it’s my favorite cut on the album. Heartwrenching.

  10. i just bought this album and i love it so far!

  11. where do i start……

    first off i will start with saying that im from a caribbean background so my whole life ive been raised with reggae music. and maybe i appreciate and understand this album more then others….

    This album is years overdue.

    it could have come out in the early 90s. maybe back then having KRS-One & Shabba Ranks or even Notorious B.I.G and Supacat….

    Hip Hop especially in the early 90s had a obsession with caribbean music. The West Indian answer to hip hop was called ragga back then.

    with legendary artists Buju Banton and Shabba Ranks on heavy rotation.

    Artists from KRS-One, Dr Dre, Snoop, Heavy D to Queen Latifah featured Jamaican Chanting, speaking or music throughout there albums.

    Later on Biggie and puffy and Supacat were making tracks together.

    but there was never a successful full Hip Hop/Reggae fusion album until The Fugees released the classic ‘Score’ album.

    Ever since then ive always wondered who would do it.

    There are many Caribbean Hip Hop artists and producers in America.
    most from Jamaican background but some from the other islands aswell.

    Biggie, KRS-One, Busta Rhymes, Kardinal Offishall, Pete Rock, Fat Joe, Canibus, Heavy D, Pras, Wyclef Jean, Foxy Brown, Shyne, Slick Rick and Chip Fu just to name a few….

    So when this album was announced i really wanted it to be more reggae then hip hop and it didn’t disappoint.

    i absolutely loved this album. and it is definitely my favourite album released this year.

    i have to admit this is the first poor review ive seen.
    but nothing against your review though. it was a cool review actually. much respect….

    but ive seen scores ranging from 5/5 to 10/10 to 95/100 and i agree with these type reviews.

    i give this record 5/5.

    the reason being it is pretty much flawless.

    but this coming from someone who has listened to this type of music since i was born so i relate to it.

    tracks like Friends, Strong Will Continue, Africa must Wake Up, Land Of Promise, Dispear have that beautiful Caribbean feeling to it.

    and tracks like Nah Mean is one of the best straight Boom Bap hip hop track ive heard in years.

    for me there are no bad tracks on this album.

    the only track i question is Count Your Blessings which is a good track but does not match the rest of the album.

    the intro track is not my favourite track. but the rest of the album makes it sound better.

    yes lil wayne was a stupid choice but with those few problems i had will not make my score change.

    This is high level production at its best and makes Raekwons album seem like it was made in a garage in some blokes home studio.

    this album is quality but is not recommended for everyone though.

    If your from the caribbean you will love this album.
    If not then i hope you understand the album for its culture and what it means to people.

    This is bigger then just a normal hip hop record there is meaning behind this record and that meaning is Africa.

    Africa needs to wake up. We need to stop fighting each other and unite. Africa maybe poor because of European Colonialism, European Slavery and even our very own Dictators but we need to pull out of this together.

    And the fact is black people from America, Brazil and The West Indies are African and we should never forget that.

    This is more a Damian Marley album then a Nas album and its better for it…

    Classic.

    5/5

    10/10

    P.S

    Maybe a 4/5 in the back in the day standards. but in todays climate this is a classic in anyones book.

    peace

    afan

    sorry for the long comment. Don’t send no hate my way. i wont write nothing this long again so dont worry. but i needed to get my opinion off my chest…

  12. An honest review. I had higher hopes for this project, too.

    The dynamics are a lot harder with collab projects between two stars, though…they’re less able to create a big pool of tracks to build an album from, there’s more of an obligation to use whatever gets done. Which is a pity.

  13. I really don’t like As We Enter that much. It serves well as an intro and a hype track but it doesn’t go along with the album well at all in my opinion. And don’t disagree with this rating, but I probably would have given it a 3/5. Maybe my expectations were too high.

  14. Paul Christiansen|

    I’d put this closer to a 3/5 … and consider it a disappointment considering at no point did it live up to the mark set by “Road to Zion”. From the too frequent mis-steps (i.e. the accurately described “My Generation”) to the psuedo-conscious theme (do they actually say ANYTHING intelligent about Africa on the album? I don’t need them to spit prophetic or intelligent to enjoy the project, but they seem to waste time babbling on subjects they don’t seem well versed in just for the sake of making it a concept album).

    While nas and damian certainly have chemistry, i will still listen to my Damian albums and my Nas albums more frequently than this project … highpoints and patches of great music aside.

  15. yes indeed|

    This album is a 5/5 to me too! This album is GREAT! Nas and Damian did an excellent job!

  16. I agree with this also. I was pretty stoked when I first heard about this album just because “Road to Zion” was so epic. And then when the “As We Enter” when the short sample leaked and it gave me high hopes for the album. But to be honest, a lot of the rest of the album just didn’t cut it for me.

  17. Sorry, Condi, but I totally agree with the score here. It’s a very solid album but there are enough flaws to drag down the rating.

  18. CondoleezzaRice|

    Bullshit. This is the album of the year. 5/5.

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