Rating: 4/5 stars
Pros: Rapping about Africa and black unity? Right in Nas' wheelhouse.
Cons: Nothing you haven't heard before.
Bottom Line: Nas & Marley are a great musical tandem.
Strong Will Continue
In His Own Words
"Distant Relatives", Nas' recently released collaboration album with the reggae singer Damian Marley, sounds like the album he always wanted to make. Rather than drumming up controversy with an eye-catching title ("Hip Hop Is Dead" or "Untitled" -- originally a racial epithet), there's an outline of Africa on the cover and a nod to the shared roots of blacks worldwide. There is little effort to chase trends, with only one big-name guest (Lil' Wayne) and Marley handling the entirety of the production.
After first working together on 2005's "Road to Zion", the duo share an easy musical chemistry. Both emphasize socially conscious teams, and the slower pace of Marley's music blends well with Nas' lyrically intensive style.
On songs like "Strong Will Continue", with Nas and Marley going back and forth over slowly building drums and snares that merge into a reggae chorus, the blending of the two styles feels natural. Indeed Nas sounds more comfortable over Marley's reggae-tinged guitars than the club-influenced sound of modern rap.
He's content with who he is, someone who "survived spiritual wars, see my welts / walking through the valley of the shadow of death / New York to Cali for money, power and respect." On one level the album is a celebration of survival in the music industry without sacrificing artistic credibility, as Nas pats himself on the back for "having more value cuz I rapped about more than just a gun."
There's nothing too groundbreaking about what they are saying -- the economic injustice of modern society and the necessity of overcoming negative cultural messages. But as they outline on the gospel influenced "Count Your Blessings", both are happy to be be able to say it at all.