Album Review: Nas & Damian Marley – Distant Relatives
It’s not that often that a giant of rap and a reggae legend get together to collaborate on a shared headline album. Usually it’s for a one-off track with a ‘featuring’ connection to the title, but when U.S rapper Nas and Jamaican reggae star Damian Marley decided to do just that, the result – Distant Relatives – is the offspring and a musical bridging of a continental gap between harmonious Jamaican calm, African/Caribbean soul and gangster battle rhyme.
With the strong backgrounds of both artists brought together the album is very culturally and globally promoted as well as strong. Lyrically the record touches on topics you would expect from an album merging mainstream rap and reggae – friendship and family, race, politics, war and unity.
The album has both heavy African influences as well as taking inspiration from the streets of Jamaica and mainstream America for that high profile commercial sound.
These factors make it topically and musically more assessable to a global audience and the numbers making up Distant Relatives are individually evident of that.
Opening number As We Enter is the obvious emphatic biggie on this record. It’s the first single taken from the album and the best to showcase the strength of what the guys are about to undertake. It’s main style is hip-hop with a beat heavy overtone of reggae giving it an edgy feel.
Dispear is primarily an African infused number with a strong female vocal opening and complimenting production whereas Kingston soaked closer Land of Promise would make Bob very proud of his sons achievements. This track is full-on chill out reggae perfectly suitable as the soundtrack for a sofa and smoke filled room session (of regular ciggies…of course).
A little more melodic and mainstream radio friendly Count Your Blessings has a summer acoustic bluesy feel to it with some quality vocals delivered by Marley, while Nas is in fine form cutting in between the verses with encouraging rap flows in short spurts. This is Marley’s song and Nas courteously gives way to him to own the track with his memorable but subtle additions to the number.
Their approach to the songs vocally and lyrically on the record really do create a distinct sound. It’s Brooklyn and Kingston mashed together perfectly.
Still with it’s hip hop slang the genre envelopes the ‘lets stick together’ stance that spliff-friendly reggae is renowned for promoting. One of the more heavy tracks to demonstrate this is Friends with a strong message of community. Chorus lyrics ‘Your real friends won’t do you wrong, real friends don’t change’ is sung by Marley with ambitious optimism.
This is a record that really does solidify Damian Marley as a genuine artist in his own right, casting aside the pull of his iconic surname to succeed on his own merit. He has delved into a new combination of mainstream reggae and hip hop and it’s a style that suits him perfectly not just vocally but as an incredible and versatile performer.
Saying this Nas is also standing in his own brick boots with this record and confidently flows over the heavy reggae beats with ease and gives the rapper more credibility in my opinion that any of his previous work. It’s a strong album for both artists and displays a multi-mix of well combined and versatile genres to create a record that is fresh and interesting.