Album Review: Nas x Damien Marley – Distant Relatives

There are very few names in music who send a shiver down ones spine. But two huge names are coming together for a joint project to the delight of music fans from all corners of the earth. Nas and Damian Marley, is a “dream collaboration” many would opt for (after a Nas/2pac, Nas/Bob Marley collaboration and so forth). To call them visionaries is a little much, but as artists who strive to empower their listeners as well as bridge the gap between continents is a title worthy of both protagonists.  But as these two historic icons come together, can they produce something that won’t get lost amidst the new wave of musical trendsetters?

Fusing deep rooted reggae and classic hip hop, Distant Relatives brings the best of both worlds which sounds seamless at times. The emphatic opener “As We Enter” showcases “God’s Son” and the “Junior Gong” brilliantly trading verses over a kicking throwback beat. But we soon cross over to the motherland for the emphatic “Tribes At War” featuring Somalia’s K’Naan. The unison of claps, backing vocals and Marley’s emotive wailings create a historic anthem, with Nas delivering at his insightful best;

Man what happened to us? /
Geographically they moved us /
From Africa we was once happiness pursuers /
Now we backstabbing, combative and abusive /
The African and Arab go at it. They most Muslim.

Whilst the above is just one example of his verses, believe me when I say Nas seems to have had a fire lit in his belly. Although he’s still some distance from his “Nasty Nas” days, some of the verses on the album easily surpass a majority of mediocre rhymes he’s put out in recent years. This may be down to the fact that a sense of responsibility seems apparent on Distant Relatives as Nas and Marley trail through songs of encouragement and empowerment. “Leaders” pays tribute to those who stand tall in adversity whilst “Land of Promise” featuring Dennis Brown paints a vivid and magnificent picture of the mother land, Africa.

The beats often come hard and abrasive on DR with “Nah Mean” and  “Strong Will Enter” being standouts but its when the mood becomes chilled and reflective do we hear the true beauty of the album. The euphoric “Count Your Blessings” echoes some of the brilliant works of the late, great Bob Marley and the closing tracks, “My Generation” (featuring Lil’ Wayne) and “Africa Must Wake Up” wrap up the project with splendour.

This is the album which today’s purists, dreamers and backpackers wished for – an album which holds weight in both lyricism and musicianship. Yes, the mood is often reflective (which some like to call “boring”) but the power and unity of Nas’ rhymes and Marley’s tones make for a refreshing change to many of today’s phenoms being touted as “the next big thing”.

More than an album, DR seemingly stands as a once-in-a-lifetime project which hopes to withstand the test of time as a tribute to the past sounds of roots Reggae and Hip Hop. The artform is currently going through a renaissance period with Reflection Eternal, Jay Electronica and others leading the campaign. But Distant Relatives for now clearly stands as champion in bringing back the glory years to Hip Hop.

–Henry Yanney

Distant Relatives is out now Republic/Universal.

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