Album review: Nas and Damian Marley’s ‘Distant Relatives’


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During the early ’90s, reggae-rap collaborations were ubiquitous, with the likes of Mad Cobra, Shabba Ranks and Bounty Killer blending their ragged dancehall patois with break-beats and raw raps. But as hip-hop assimilated into the mainstream, it ignored commercially marginal genres like reggae and jazz in favor of R&B and Top 40. Accordingly, “Distant Relatives,” the much-delayed union of Nas and Damian Marley, represents the first big-ticket pairing between the disparate worlds in recent memory.

The idea of unification threads the project, with Nas claiming on the coda of album finale “Africa Must Wake Up,” “we’re all distant relatives … whether you’re from China, Africa, Afghanistan or Israel.” Recorded with a live band and an array of guest spots including Joss Stone, Lil Wayne and the Somalian-Canadian rapper K’naan, the album vacillates between the dreary and dynamic. When hewing to upbeat burners like “Nah Mean” and the Ethio-jazz exoticism of “As We Enter,” Marley and Nas are at their best, trading verses with artisanal ease.


Yet leadened by reductive philosophies and crippling self-seriousness, the record often feels overly ponderous. On the catchy but clumsy “Patience,” Nas squanders a haunting Amadou and Mariam sample by asking a line of questions worthy of the Insane Clown Posse’s infamous “Miracles.” (“Was it a lightning storm that killed the dinosaurs? Who made up words? Who made up numbers?”)

Nas and Marley have created an intermittently novel and vexing record, one that proves that the two genres need not be so distant, provided they can avoid didacticism.

— Jeff Weiss

Nas and Damian Marley
“Distant Relatives”
Two and a Half Stars (Out of four stars)

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