Album Review: Nas & Damian Marley, Distant Relatives

Nas & Damian Marley

Distant Relatives (released May 18, 2010)

One of my favorite things about music is the feeling you get when an album completely takes you by surprise – those albums that you don’t expect much from but completely blow you away. These days, that’s an extremely rare occurrence.

But it’s just a great feeling when that happens.

I didn’t expect much from Distant Relatives. It wasn’t long ago that I ranted about my distrust of collaborative albums, and I’m not a huge reggae fan, either. Sure, I like a song here and there, but I certainly wouldn’t say it’s a genre I embrace, or one that I’m extremely knowledgeable about. It’s like when people claim to be hip-hop fans and the only rap song they know is “Baby Got Back” – when your range is that limited, it’s hard to embrace other aspects of the genre.

Have no fear, Distant Relatives welcomes you with open arms.

I, like most people, expected two things from this album: Nas bragging over Jamacian riddims, or essentially a Damian Marley album with Nas’ verses tacked on to every track. Not so. Distant Relatives is a true collaborative effort, and a vibrant, and sometimes solemn, celebration of the Motherland.

Yeah, Nas has been known for talking that off the wall, back-to-Africa stuff  for years now but he has found his muse in Marley, who produced most of the album. And I must say, I walked away with much more respect for Jr. Gong. He more than holds his own.

His scratchy chorus on “Count Your Blessings” (I’ve got love and assurance/I’ve got new health insurance/I’ve got strength and endurance/So I count my blessings) might seem sappy on the surface, but it’s sung with deep sincerity. It provides authenticity. The same goes for the second single “Strong Will Continue.” But don’t write him off as just a hook man – his verse on “Nah Mean” boast as much lyrical dexterity and viciousness as Nas’. 

Nas, of course, is as sharp as ever, rampaging through the chants and bongos of “Dispear” and drops one of his best verses in years at the end of “Strong Will Continue,” where he criticizes himself for running around with married women and wonders aloud if his ex-wife was doing the same thing during their marriage.

The album does begin to drag about three-fourths of the way through. And although well-meaning, “My Generation,” with Joss Stone and Lil Wayne (who ain’t half bad when he’s coherent and stays on topic), is the only only track here that slightly drifts into “corny” territory. I think the children’s choir pushes it a bit over the top. But the album’s closer, “Africa Must Wake Up,” more than makes up for it. The weepy strings and Marley’s pleading vocals makes for a tremendous rallying call for change.

Distant Relatives is the true representation of hip hop on its best day – a celebration of culture, struggle and hope for the future. Label it reggae, rap, whatever you want – simply call it powerful.

Best tracks: “Africa Must Wake Up,” “Nah Mean,” “Dispear”

4 stars out of 5


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