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Distant Relatives by Damian Marley and NAS

Distant Relatives by Damian Marley and NAS

Distant Relatives by Damian Marley and NAS

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You can’t fault the amount of great music this will bring to new ears.


In the nineties and zeroes the global communication routes enabled by the internet led to a blurring of the lines of demarcation between forms of dance music around the world. “Genres” which had always intersected began to intertwine; reggae started to sound like hip hop and R&B and vice versa; while artists guested on the big rhythms of the day regardless of whence they came. Today, as a new decade begins, the long-awaited collaboration from prodigal rap prodigy Nas and Bob Marley's deejay son Damian feels like a culmination of these trends.

Of course, the links connecting rap and reggae go back even further. The precise relationship between the two at their inception has been the subject of much - rather precious - debate from both sides. Certainly, KRS One was using the sound system tapes of the 80s to inform his own works. Tippa Irie, one of the mcs KRS was checking, has been furiously linking and recording with hip hop’s finest, while New York has consistently looked to its Jamaican population for inspiration for its club scene. Yet there's something special about this concept album, whose message is “we are all linked", that has led to almost universal critical approval. It seems to strike a balance – not just between reggae and rap – but between artistic endeavour and mass appeal.

Damian’s vocals form the most upfront and obvious hooks - grabbing the chorus of catchy anthem Strong Will Continue and the hardnosed Nah Mean - with Nas often content to rhyme shotgun on the bridge. But the New Yorker has his moments too: taking the front end of Leaders, getting personal regarding his alimony payments to Kelis, and wresting the spotlight on the jaunty Count Your Blessings to reflect on his unborn child.

Add three guest spots apiece for Damian’s half brother Stephen and Somali-Canadian rapper K’naan, and you have a maelstrom of American, Caribbean and African voices and sounds. Opening track As We Enter features an overdue sample of trendy Ethio-jazz bandleader Mulatu Astatke’s Yegelle Tezeta while Nah Mean purloins the intro to Angolan singer Sarah Chaves' Kurikuté. Reggaeheads will be familiar with Land Of Promise, the duo’s do-over of Dennis Brown and Aswad’s Promised Land, which dreams of Africa becoming as wealthy a continent as America. The all-too-timely message of Tribal War, written by Damian’s father’s one-time 12 Tribes compatriot, Little Roy, becomes the chorus for Tribes At War. Even KRS himself is channelled by Nas who turns his famed “Suicide” phrase into “Genocide” during Nah Mean.

A too-good-to-be-true combination with such lofty ambitions could have resulted in an overblown mess - yet somehow it works. But should you disagree, you can’t fault the amount of great music it will be bringing to new ears. Brattish self-obsession and melancholic navel gazing have dominated the mainstream for too long. This album proves there is another way...

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Read comments (1)

Posted by Dee on 06.10.2010
Love...Love...Love the album. It has been on repeat in my truck and ipod for weeks now. I think I'm about to scratch it. Lol

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