Nas & Damian Marley – Distant Relatives [Review]

Nas and Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley began recording Distant Relatives in 2008. The album was originally supposed to be released as an extended play with their leftover tracks from their last albums. However, the duo decided to release a full length after working with each other. The two developed chemistry during last summer’s international Rock the Bells tour where they performed Distant Relative songs: “Strong Will Continue” and “Africa Must Wake Up”. This brings hope to the album because they had time to build a friendship between each other while headlining the festival. Not many artists can create a successful cross-genre album. Let’s hope that Nas and Damian have the musical talent to do so.

1. As We Enter
Produced by Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley
Distant Relatives starts with the first released single, “As We Enter”. This song gives you that great introduction feel into the record. Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley & Nas show how well their chemistry is right away. They share bars throughout the entire track, and their Hip-Hop & reggae lyrics mix perfectly.

2. Tribes At War
Featuring K’naan; Produced by Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley
Damian starts to display his production skills on this track. He starts the album with a heavy drum beating that really creates the theme of the song. About twenty seconds in, Junior Gong deepens the song even more with the chorus, “Every man deserve to earn, and every child deserve to learn…Cause every man deserve a turn, like Babylon deserve to burn.” After the dreading chorus, Nas gets into the first verse of the song. Nas speaks on the dark history of Africa, and details how it’s getting worse. If the song couldn’t get any deeper, K’naan steps up to the microphone, and lays down one of the best verses on the entire album:

“I drink poison, then I vomit diamonds
I gave you Mandela, Black Dalai Lamas
I gave you music, you enthused in my kindness
So how dare you reduce me to Donny Imus
Timeless, in case we never been acquainted
Flyness, who made it, it gets duplicated
Mindless, violence, well let me try to paint it
Here’s the five steps in hopes to explain it
One, it’s me and my nation against the world
Two, then me and my clan against the nation
Three, then me and my fam’ against the clan
Four, then me and my brother with no hesitation
Go against the fam’ until they cave in
Five, now who’s left in this deadly equation?
That’s right, it’s me against my brother
Then we point a Kalashnikov, and kill one another”

Damian Marley does the last verse, and I’m glad to see that he isn’t holding anything back. He speaks the truth, and lets us know that people will go to war over anything: colors, money, land, oil, and even god.

3. Strong Will Continue
Produced by Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley
This is probably the first song most people heard off the album. It was leaked last year, and helped build much anticipation for the record. Damian does another beautiful job building the beat as he sings the chorus. Nas and Damian both drop two verses. What makes this song work is that both artists can adopt their musical style into the song. This is only track three, but it sounds like they have been recording with each other for years, and have already found that musical link. However, Nas takes the track on the fourth verse (added verse), and shows us why he is considered the best rapper of all time,

“I pray I face greater, I speak life
I’m still madder as a rapper, not doubtin’
Even Toni Braxton signed a deal with Craig Kallaman
How and the hell am I supposed to stay comfy
When I pay child support alimony monthly
Got Maseratis and Ferraris
Only like a woman who’s a rider, but only hoes want me
Single life, crazy, niggas wives on me
I say stay faithful, they say they man corny
So I’m stuck with some married women, so fine
Cheatin’ while they husband rushing on the 40 yard line
Wonder if this is what my ex did the whole time
Good niggas seem to always end up with some hard time
Hope not, if a pimp slippin’ in the whole plot
Ain’t nuthin’ to a G in a two tone drop, kid
And it don’t stop, see a nigga disappearing with the baddest hunnies in the whole spot, yea”

4. Leaders
Featuring & Produced by Stephen Marley
Damian’s brother Stephen is added to “Leaders” where he handles the production and does the chorus. Stephen does a great job on the hook, and his diverse style shows how talented the Marley family actually is. Yes, they all do reggae, but they all have their own style, and this track shows it.

Nas drops the first verse, and paints the picture for what he believes is a leader, “Never puts cash or ass before friendship, he laughs last as some die young, he is still existing. Somehow he got around the pitfalls of the system, when he walks we watch, when he talks we listen, leaders”. On the second verse, Junior Gong drops a similar verse to Nas’, “Mi love you like a father, mi ready and my willing, Anything you a talk is law in my dominion”. Nas changes it up on the last verse when he criticizes the wrongly deaths of the world’s leaders, “I can see myself back at the Autobahn, Malcolm on the podium, shells drop to linoleum, Swipe those, place ‘em on display at the Smithsonian, next to only gems that were left behind by holy men”. You can’t make a song much truer than this. It makes me wonder if they help each other with their verses.

5. Friends
Produced by Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley
Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley really gets the chance to shine on “Friends”. He covers the chorus five different times (three of them including new lyrics). Then, he also gets the chance to do three separate verses as well (including one bridge). Junior Gong shows that Nas is not the only one who has talented lyrics, “Your real friends will serve you long, your car and clothes will fade. Your real friends won’t do you wrong, real friend don’t change”. They may seem like simple lyrics at a glance, but Damian’s lines are on a whole different level. How can something so simple be so true, and find a way to show a great understanding on life? Nevertheless, Nas still comes through on both of his verses, “You ain’t a G and if you was, I don’t recall, who would roll with ya’ll, bunch of fucking know it alls whose dough is small, Look what’s it come to, our rapport’s good no more, we was good before, ‘til I saw what type of dude you took me for, We had a chance to take paper down, what I took was more, because of hatred – opportunity wasted”.

6. Count Your Blessings
Produced by Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley
Six tracks deep and I have to say that every track so far is a standout. Nas and Damian display their chemistry once again on “Count Your Blessings”. This song is nicely mixed as Damian covers the choruses and Nas does all the verses. The track starts with a real mellow feeling as Damian sings about his joyful blessings. The beat switches up with acoustic guitars when Nas lays down his verses. They share the microphone without it ever feeling forced or off-balanced. I like how Nas compares him and his son to Damian and his dad. Damian definitely has his own style, but there are times when it’s not hard to tell that his lyrics are heavily influenced by his father’s. This is one of those times…“And there’ll be no need for tissues, cause there’ll be no further issues, if you’ve got someone who miss you, man count your blessings, And I’ve got love and assurance ,and I’ve got new health insurance, and I’ve got strength and endurance, so I count my blessings… ”

7. Dispear
Produced by Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley
“Dispear” starts with a beautiful African choir mixed in with some light strings. The drums couldn’t get any stronger as Junior Gong and Nas speak about the causes of despair. This includes everything from supremacy to misleading references by the media. The highlight of the track comes halfway through when the song goes into an intermission. Next, Junior Gong adds in a bridge which is followed by a verse that features powerful lyrics, “Despair was a tool that was used to enslave man and mek manservant, Escape from despair and desperation becomes more urgent, Mankind needs to cleanse and wash out dem soul with spiritual detergent”.

8. Land Of Promise
Featuring Dennis Brown; Produced by Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley
“Dispear” ends with an intro by Dennis Brown that leads into “Land Of Promise”. He speaks on his love for the promise land (Africa) that falls perfectly into another short intro by Damian. Vintage reggae horns create the beat as Damian uses a Dennis Brown sample for the chorus. Junior Gong starts the first verse where he compares cities in the United States to cities in Africa, “Imagine Lagos like Las Vegas, the ballers dem a ball, Angola like Atlanta, a pure plane take off”. After the chorus, Nas starts the verse similar to Damian’s where he describes his promise land, “Promised land I picture Porsches, Basquiat portraits, pink rings realistic princesses, heiresses’ bunch of kings and queens”. Although, his best line comes later in the song, “If these are the last days, and 100 foot waves come crashing down, I get some hash and pounds, pass around the bud, then watch the flood, Can’t stop apocalypse, my synopsis is catastrophic”. The song is finished by Dennis Brown samples (the chorus twice and a verse). Brown’s verse shows that there is a lot of work to be done in the promise land, “There’s plenty of land for you and I, buy and buy, lots of food to share for everyone, no time for segregation”.

9. In His Own Words
Featuring & Produced by Stephen Marley
Stephen Marley covers the chorus and does a superb job on the production. His singing really works with the acoustic guitars and the rhythm of Nas and Damian’s verses. Nas and Junior Gong share some of their religion beliefs that make this the most spiritual song on the album. Nas highlights the track when he speaks on has view, “Through my perspective, I can see Jah reflection in the highest definition, getting high with bredrin, then I ask him why is Africans dying from circumcision, they lack proper surgeons and suffer malnutrition, underestimate the wealth of their own wisdom, it’s like it’s been exchanged for this penicillin”.

10. Nah Mean
Produced by Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley
At this point of the album, I’m convinced that Nas and Damian can make anything work. They proved that their styles can sound good on any type of beat. On Nah Mean, Junior Gong and Nas flip verses on a track that is definitely reggae fusion (electronic, Hip-Hop & reggae). Damian does three verses, but his best performance comes between the bridged chorus and his third verse. The musical vibes sound so well together that I’d imagine this being a lot of people’s favorite song.

“We celebrate like I finished probation (boy boy), notty head with no chaser (boy boy).”

11. Patience
Produced by Stephen Marley
Stephen Marley does his last produced song on the album and slows it down tremendously compared to the last track. He starts “Patience” with a sample off of Amadou & Mariam’s “Sabali”. Sabali means patience, and the sample really helps build the theme of the song. Damian displays his singing and lyrical abilities on here. It may be hard to understand him, but what he speaks of is so honest and truthful. Here is the complete second verse to help explain myself:

“(Huh) We born not knowing, are we born knowing all?
We growing wiser, are we just growing tall?
Can you read thoughts? Can you read palms?
Can you predict the future? Can you see storms… coming?
The Earth was flat if you went too far you would fall off
Now the Earth is round if the shape change again everybody woulda start laugh
The average man can’t prove of most of the things that he chooses to speak of
And still won’t research and find out the root of the truth that you seek of
Scholars teach in Universities and claim that they’re smart and cunning
Tell them find a cure when we sneeze and that’s when their nose start running
And the rich get stitched up, when we get cut
Man a heal dem broken bones in the bush with the wed mud
Can you read Signs? Can you read Stars?
Can you make peace? Can you fight war?
Can you milk cows, even though you drive cars? (Huh)
Can you survive, AGAINST ALL ODDS…Now?”

I honestly think that Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley and Nas are par to par on this album. Are there any bad verses on the album yet?

12. My Generation
Featuring Joss Stone & Lil’ Wayne; Produced by Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley
I was highly impressed when I heard this for the first time. I didn’t know what to expect when I saw the guest appearances, but Joss Stone and Lil’ Wayne came correct. I’m going to post the entire song because everyone did a brilliant job. Although, I unquestionably think Nas took the track with his ill verse (now you know why they used to call him Nasty Nas). They should make this their next single if they really want to push some numbers.

Joss Stone – Chorus (2x)
My Generation will make a change, This Generation will make a change

Junior Gong
Now mi love fi see the schoolas dem a graduate
A study hard and save the party for the holidays
Diplomatic with dem Diploma, And them bound fi great
Because dem nah pick up no matic and a perpetrate
And then I love the energies whe dem a generate
My Generation it so special it will make a change
Because the elders sew the seed and it a germinate
So anytime dem see the progress dem a celebrate
Because we rising up despite of the economy
And then a we a star the show like the astronomy
And how we keep on breaking through is an anomaly
Because we keep remaining true without apology
The mission ha to carry through and finish properly
Say Gambia to Guadeloupe Paris to Napoli
Say Zambia to Honolulu back to Tripoli
And everybody want a future living happily

Joss Stone – Chorus (2x)

Can you blame my generation, Subjected gentrification
Depicting they’re frustrations, Over ill instrumentation
Cause music is the way to convey to you what I’m facing
Placing my life in-front of your eye for your observation
Now if you can’t relate then maybe you are too complacent
Athletes today are scared to make Mohammad Ali statements
What’s up with tomorrow? Will you lead will you follow?
Improve you values, Education is real power
I reach ‘em like Bono, So get rid of your self-sorrow
Add some bravado, Get wealthy like Wells Fargo
It’s true that I am you, And I am proof
Surviving through, We do what we got to do
Yow we can break the cycle, Let nobody lie to you
Then maybe put our sons and our daughters in private school
Cause there’s a mission we gotta finish before we leave
This generation is destined to do historic deeds

Joss Stone – Chorus (2x)

Lil’ Wayne
If you weather that storm, Then that Rain bring Sun
Been a long time coming, I know change go’ come
Man I gotta keep it moving, To the beat of my drum
Last night I set the future, At the feet of my son
But they thinking that my Generation gotta die young
If we all come together, Then they can’t divide one
Don’t worry ‘bout it, Just be about it
Got a message from God, Heaven too crowded
But I say Hey Young World! You never looked better
And I heard change start with the man in the mirror, Uh!
This Generation, I’m a represent
A generation led by a Black President
Now how’s that for change? Who knew that could change?
I don’t even look at the flag the same, Heak, Uh!
So when you finish reading Revelations
Thank God for my Generation

Joss Stone – Chorus (2x)

13. Africa Must Wake Up
Featuring K’naan; Produced by Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley
This is by far my favorite song on Distant Relatives. Everything about the track is beautiful. Junior Gong sings about getting through the struggle in Africa. He sings on a subject and tone that is reminiscent to his father, Tuff Gong (Bob Marley). You would think that this is a cover to something off Bob Marley & the Wailer’s “Survival” album. Nas has two verses, and drops some knowledge about the history of Africa. K’naan puts the perfect touch on the last verse as he sings in his native land’s Somali language. You may not know what he’s saying, but it sounds in place with the song. Here is a translation for those who are curious:

(Somali) “Dadyahow daali waayey, nabada diideen,
oo ninkii doortay diinta, waadinka dillee,
oo dal markii ladhiso, waadinka dunshee,
oo daacad ninkii damcay, waadinka dooxee”

(English Translation)”Oh ye people, restless in the refusal of peace,
and when a man chooses religion, aren’t you the ones to kill him?
And when a country is built, aren’t you the ones to tear it down?
And when one attempts to tell the truth, aren’t you the ones to cut him down?”

After K’naan’s verse, the song features an electric guitar that couldn’t sound any better. Then, Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley finishes it with the chorus one more time. This is the perfect song to end an album.

Bottom Line:
After listening to this album non-stop for nearly a week, I have to say that this is the best album I’ve heard in years. I was hesitant to give this a perfect score, but I don’t believe in instant classics. I think all albums needs time to build before throwing them in that category. Although, Distant Relatives has many of the same characteristics as a classic album: production, lyrics, concept, and guest appearances.

The more you listen to Distant Relatives, the more you will appreciate it for what it is. I wish I can post every singly lyric to show how good this is on a conceptual level. The album has a message, but I don’t think that many people will hear it because that’s just how the state of music is right now. Nevertheless, I can say that this is a global album. I don’t think you have to be a fan of reggae or Hip-Hop to enjoy this. The biggest sporting event in the world is the World Cup, and this year’s host country is South Africa. I’m going to be the first to call it the unofficial album of the 2010 World Cup. Africa is a continent in the time of need, and some people quite don’t understand its struggle. Distant Relatives is the truth, and may help some people gain recognition of the problem. I must also mention that proceeds of the record are going towards different projects in Africa.

nappyPicks: This is a great album to play all the way through. There is something for everyone.

Download: Nas & Damian Marley – “Strong Will Continue”
Download: Nas & Damian Marley – “Africa Must Wake Up”
Download: Nas & Damian Marley feat. Junior Reid – “Ancient People” (Bonus Track)