Nas and Damian Marley, son of Bob Marley, have teamed up for an unforgettable Hip Hop album in Distant Relatives. Africa is the focus of the album with mentions to issues like poverty and warring tribes among other things. Proceeds from album sales will go to a project to help build schools in Africa. It’s an especially honorable deed in the often materialistic world of Hip Hop music.
I’m also excited to see a mainstream album also fall into the socially conscious sub-genre of Rap. This kind of “Thinking Man’s Hip Hop” is usually only found in Underground or Indie Rap. More than just a good cause, Distant Relatives is also excellently-produced and entertaining. It does a great job of fusing Marley’s reggae with Afro-centric beats and Hip Hop elements found in Nas’ music.
Distant Relatives kicks off with the upbeat opening track, “As We Enter.” It’s an excellent track with dueling verses from the two artists. It serves as a nice showcase of the duo’s chemistry. Next, “Tribes at War” introduces us to the theme of the album with lyrics that touch some of the turmoil that consumes Africa. I feel that many don’t understand the complexities of the Continent’s tribal and political issues and I was intrigued when I found this subject matter on the album. Unlike the opening track, “Tribes at War” ties in African music with authentic-sounding drumming, chants, and a choir in the background. It even features the Somalian-born rising Rap star, K’naan.
“Dispear” is one of the most compelling tracks on the album from both a musical and lyrical standpoint. It’s got a sense of urgency, lyrics delivered at a dizzying pace, strings, horns, piano, and metal-clashing sound effects. Nas raps in the chorus that his mind is his modern day spear as the pair detail wrongs based on social class and mentions to Shaka Zulu and Maasai people. For me, “Dispear” may be the highlight of the album as it shows that this project from Nas and Marley is unique and sounds like nothing else.
“Count Your Blessings” is a warm, positive song that reminds us to be thankful. The anti-braggadocios track is a welcomed departure from what I expected to hear. However, it sounds a little ironic for a guy like Nas to tell us to be thankful for what we have when much of his music over the years has been about wealth and materialism. Then, on the thought-provoking “Patience,” Marley and Nas cover a wide range of matters from existentialism to imperialism.
“My Generation” raises the tone with an optimistic view of how this generation, today’s youth, will make things better. It’s sung by a choir of children and unfortunately over-sung by the soulful Joss Stone. Stone’s vocals get a little overbearing and the song ends with the kids’ applause, only it sounds more like the kids are being terrorized rather than cheering. While not the greatest song, it’s only a small nitpick.
Other than an a cappella freestyle-like verse from Nas at the end of “Strong Survive,” the album’s subject matter and honorable cause really lift it a notch above most mainstream Hip Hop. The overall production, lyrical delivery, and excellent fusion of Rap, Reggae, and African music compliment the theme perfectly. Nas deserves a pat on the back for sharing the wealth for a change and not making another album about himself. I highly recommend Distant Relatives for Hip Hop fans or music fans with a wide variety of tastes.