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This is a highly personal observation, and it will no doubt be blasphemy to some, but there’s something about reggae music that’s kind of…irritating. It’s a genre with limited range and it seems to be only produced by guys named Marley. You wonder, doesn’t anyone from this family want to get into another line of work? I guess when Dad’s coattails are that big, you might as well grab on for the ride. Be honest with yourself–how many reggae albums do you actually have in your collection? Maybe you’ve got a Bob Marley greatest hits CD buried in there somewhere?

Okay, so even though a lot of heads have a fleeting relationship with reggae, we’ve all had some affection for it because of it being part of the roots of hip hop. We may cringe a little deep down inside when a KRS-One or a Phife Dawg breaks into their rasta routine, but we nod and smile. It’s just a diversion from the main attraction.

Then along comes a full length collaboration with one of hip hop’s all time great MCs, Nas, and… one of the Marley brothers. Is it the one who married Lauryn Hill? Nah, that’s Rohan. It’s not Stephen either, though he did much of the production on Distant Relatives, a charity album that pairs Nas with Grammy winner and Bob’s youngest son, Damian Marley. The two of them are building on a previous collaboration, “Road to Zion,” and donating the money from the album to build a school in the Congo, maybe. Nas does have a pretty hefty tax bill to pay off.

In any case, true to the idea of “distant relatives,” we must confront the intersection of these very different, but linked, musical cousins.

On “Strong Will Continue,” a sort of inspirational anthem about moving forward and staying focused in life, we find out Nas is also weighed down by some child support payments right now: “How in the hell am I supposed to stay comfy/when I pay child support, alimony monthly?”

Nas drops some half-cocked “knowledge” on Distant Relatives. There’s vague talk of trouble in Africa and injustices to humanity, but it’s not always exactly clear what he’s talking about. Nas, after all, has always been better as a chronicler of social problems than a commenter on them, and he demonstrates this admirably on the thoughtful, “Leaders” featuring Stephen Marley and “Friends.”

Generally, Nas sounds great over the live instrumentation and reggae-tinged production here, which comes off sounding fresh in many cases. The lead single “As We Enter” and “Nah Mean” both bang. His lyrics aren’t always as dead-on as they have been on his most incisive songs, but the voice really stands out against these backdrops.

If you’re a hip hop purist, you might find yourself wishing this was more of a Nas album with some help from a couple of the Marley brothers, but Damian is very much a true partner on Distant Relatives. He often complements Nas well and on the album’s best songs he infuses the rapper, who has a tendency to drift from time to time, with an urgency in his vocal performance (check out “Land of Promise” featuring Dennis Brown).

If you truly love both reggae and hip hop, this should be a really satisfying listen, at least from a musical standpoint. The themes of social injustice and “we are the world” pathos may grow tiresome, depending on the mood you’re in. But if the wars in Afghanistan or genocide in Darfur have been on your mind and you want to listen to a hip hop/reggae collabo without feeling guilty, this will work.

The real low light is “My Generation” (featuring Lil’ Wayne), an insipid, children singing on the chorus, clap your hands gospel-ish track with Damian Marley rhyming a bunch of words together that rhyme, but don’t do much else. Economy/astronomy/anomaly. Uh huh. “My Generation” sounds like a leftover outtake from the Obama campaign.

We have to give Nas some credit on the big picture front. For a while now, he’s been a much more mature artist, who seems less interested in chasing the next big hit or trend, and more concerned with making the kind of music he thinks he should be making. Sure, he misses the mark occasionally, but with Street’s Disciple, the underrated and prophetic Hip Hop is Dead and the untitled “N word” album, he’s put together a very respectable, charged body of work in this most recent stage of his career.

Distant Relatives is a side project and shouldn’t be looked at as much more than that. But it’s not bad, even for the closeted reggae-haters among us.

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36 Responses to "Nas & Damian Marley – "Distant Relatives" – @@@1/2 (Review)"
  • alo says:

    Stefan Shumacher should be removed as a reviewer. Pizzo, you said that he has done many quality reviews on this site. Do you count the murs/9th wonder review? The one where he says that Murs doesnt have a smooth or infectious flow, and states that Lupe Fiasco is a “superior talent”. Are you even fucking serious? Murs is an extremely talented MC, and to put Lupe Fiasco above him on basis of talent shows Stefans ignorance. By having him on staff or doing reviews for you, that same ignorance is attributed to you and this site. He uses his reviews as a place to air his personal gripes against genres or artists. The reviews are what they are, im not saying that he got the stars wrong or whatever, but the reviews are filled with personal attacks and hate. Much of it directed at artists or types of music that are actually loved by many of the visitors to the site. Its a slap in the face to have an ignorant arrogant elitist like stefan talking down to your loyal subscribers. In this review, he went out of the way to attack reggae and the marleys, in the murs review he went out of his way to discredit and attack Murs. Is that what you want out of your reviewers? To attack the artists and releases, or to give an unbiased review? You are losing credibility with each review from him, cut your losses and kick him to the curb. With your other reviews you get one or two comments. With his reviews you get a lot more, and they are mostly from people who feel the same way as I do and think he has his head up his ass. Its more than not liking reggae, or not liking murs, or whatever. Its about being a professional and giving people an accurate unbiased review, not about putting down the artist and offering unrelated opinions. Your other reviewers are great, and none of them do this but stefan.

  • i'm at work and bored says:

    I don’t like reggae that much either but i like this album. and after reading the review, he basically said the same thing. people just need to relax.

    And yes, it’s really annoying when KRS-One breaks into his rasta routine but then again, he’s sometimes really annoying period.

    But i do like it when Phife does his rasta shit. He sounds tight

    But then again, none of these cats can fuck with Snow “Infoaaaaarmar, ^&%$^#%^$^%$##&$$% bum bum down!”

  • b00tman says:

    Mr. Schumacher, a very nice review over Nas’s allimony and career turns, Marley’s family tree and your personal taste of music. Oh wait the title wrote “Distant Relatives album review”
    What the heck!!???

    Sir, I would suggest that either you turn on your CD player, really listen to the ablum and give it the 5/5 it deserves because this is a classic and this is real music or share your personal observations with your gf or bf and withdraw this review!

  • S.Boogie says:

    Who is this cat? I agree the album is mediocre but the “reggae is annoying”…”most heads have a fleeting relationship with reggae” statements are bullshit. Good thing I’m old enough to overstand that because someone writes a review it doesn’t mean their an authority, just given space. Hope your good Mikey….Boog

  • Buddha says:

    I listened to the album over and over again and it grew on me. The thing I like about the record is it has all different kinds of music on the album not just Reggae or Hip-Hop. There are hints of rock music, African music, and R&B. There is live instrumentation. You have a blending of languages, countries, and cultures on this album. Sometimes we forget how vast the world still is. Just like Drakes album, this album blends styles. The reason why this album is not commercially successful is this album is too challenging for most. They are asking you to build, not just buy. They are asking you become to great. Too become great means to give it your all. Music is about emotion that is why it is hard to understand logically even if it was put together logically. I feel the “Despair,” the regret, the hate. He can’t tell you every step of the path, that is for the listen to discover in silence. How do you build a nation? How do you reconnect with your lost heritage? Like Ice Cube said, Hip-Hop today is about escapism. This is a sobering record even if it starts off talking about “Ganja.” Can you stay sober for a year and take care of your body and mind? Can you exercise everyday? Can you read everyday? Can you learn a new language? Can you build your own company? Can you provide your own income? This record is hard, too hard for some.

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