Thursday, May 13, 2010

Nas & Damien Marley - Distant Relatives: Album Review

*this review took a long time to write, if you use it, credit me* (c) Patrick Lane.

Release Date: May 18th, Universal Republic/Def Jam


‘Distant Relatives’ is a concept album which says that we are all brothers on this planet, it is also a reference to the relationship between the two men, who despite their differences share so many things in common. Nas and Damien Marley have a chemistry seldom seen in collaborating artists. Their flow bounces off each other, transcending cultural boundaries. This album is a spiritual experience. The songs serve a purpose; to enrich the soul.

Nas and Damien come from backgrounds which allows them to speak on issues in way’s other artists couldn’t. It gives an authentic feel to the lyrics which are seeped in history and politics. “As We Enter” opens the album with real swagger, the lyrics boast of the artist’s credentials while reflecting street ethics. “Tribes At War” sees the introduction of K’Naan, an African emcee who’s fast becoming one of the most exciting talent’s of his generation. The song has a military feel to it, which is a continuous theme on “Strong Will Continue”.

These are lyrics which promote the prosperity of the African people. The songs tend to criticise greed and corruption, “Leaders” features Stephen Marley and denounces political oppression. While “Friends” discusses the values of companionship. The most prominent message in the opening part of the album is the strength of warfare and knowledge in overcoming oppressive situations. The artists themselves act as guides to a better standard of living.

“Count Your Blessings” is an expression of a humble reality. It’s a positive mantra for the listener to focus on. It touches on positive thoughts in the face of adversities. Nas and Damien are clearly well educated and use their voice to champion the cause of the poor. “Dispear” is a revolutionary vision, a commentary on corrupt ruling classes and the power we can have through knowledge and action. The song plays like a call to arms for the oppressed to rise up.

“Land Of Promise” is about cultural empowerment, a dream for a better Africa. One where the kingdoms former glory is restored. This album looks to uplift the youth with messages real to everyday life. The gospel feel of this work makes the LP at times very moving. “In His Own Words” gives praise to God through tough conditions. The struggles of ghetto life are comforted through Marley’s lyrics “Jah told you, in his own words, I’ll see you through.” The artists although speaking on things real to them, speak for entire nations with their ideology.

“Patience” in the words of the artists is a discovery of the world before this world. There are so many layers to these lyrics that they can be studied at length with many things to be got from the messages. As Nas declares “this is for all the knowledge seekers in the world” the song questions whether science really has all the answers. One of the more criticised moves of the LP was to include Joss Stone and the dreaded Lil’ Wayne on “My Generation”, amazingly he dosn’t manage to ruin the song which exceeds expectations.

Although I would have preferred a feature from someone like Talib Kweli I can just about stomach his presence. Clearly the purpose of the music is to elevate their own race and heritage yet they are sure to be all inclusive in their message. As the human race holds its origins in Africa we can all be considered ‘distant relatives’. With that in mind, unity is a strong element of the music, ‘We are all sons of Africa’, proclaims Nas on “Africa Must Wake Up”. It features a return for K’naan and is the perfect ending to a classic album.

“Can you blame my generation? Subjected to gentrification!
Depicting their frustrations over ill instrumentation.
‘Cause music is the way to convey to you what I’m facing,
Placing my life in front of your eyes for your observation”


Nas on “My Generation”


Besides being award-winning artists in their own right, Nas and Damien Marley are sons of famous musicians. Nas is the son of jazz musician Olu Dara, while Damien’s father needs no introduction. The influences of such rich family trees can be felt through the sounds of ‘Distant Relatives’. Damien’s brother Stephen handles a lot of the production, with the two brothers working with Nas to create a hybrid of reggae and hip-hop. As the theme of the album is to honour Africa, plenty of African sounds mix with the already unique styles of Nas and Damien.

The lead single and opening track “As We Enter” is the most straight forward hip-hop beat, an up tempo club banger. “Tribal War” uses African chanting and drums, the first glimpse of the albums exploration into the sounds of Africa. A heart-beat with piano chords set off a chain gang vibe to “Strong Will Continue”. A heavy track that uses guitars for a big impact. In comparison, “Leaders” incorporates a more acoustic aesthetic to complement the drum filled opening of the album.

African vocals set the intro for “Friends”, which is darker than previous songs. Nas and Damien seem at ease over both dark and head-nodding beats which is a strength of their music. “Count Your Blessings” is a cheerful acoustic complementary to Damien’s smooth singing voice. The album at times has a frantic feel which adds to the cinematic vibes of the songs, as is noticeable on “Dispear”.

“Land Of Promise” is pure dub-step reggae which sees Damien Marley at his very best. His singing abilities allows him to switch between styles with ease. The versatility of the music makes for unpexeceted jewels. “In His Own Words” uses a gently strung guitar and hand claps with gospel vocals to create a spiritual piece. It plays as a heavenly glimpse of the positive sounds of ‘Distant Relatives’.

The album has no songs which you'd want to skip. The cohesive nature of the records makes for a fully immersing LP. This is all the more admirable given the changing nature of sounds which come together to form 'Distant Relatives'. "Nah Mean" is one of the more straigth forward hip-hop booming beats which complements the come down of "Patience". The songs set up the grand finale perfectly:

"My Generation" is simply quite a beautiful moment on the album, a choir of children accompanied by Joss Stone sing the chorus, while Nas and Damien rap over a slightly harder piano beat. Lil’ Wayne must have borrowed Nas’s rhyme book to write a genuinely inspiring ending verse.

The album concludes with “Africa Wake Up” featuring the return of K’Naan. A poignant message told through violins and laid back piano sounds. Nas describes this album as “world music”, a sound which crosses the boundaries of genres. With the help of Jamaican musicians and production by the Marley brothers, a fresh sound for 2010 will be a long time remembered.



The most anticipated hip-hop album of the year delivers. This is the best rapper alive combing with one of music's best creative sparks, a must have record.

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