Bringing together the best from both worlds, Distance Relatives casts doubt on the validity of the saying “you cant have your cake and eat it too”. 6 years ago(it’s worth going back), rapper Nas alongside reggae artist Damian Marley released the revolutionary album under Republic Records. Both bearing musical genes; Nas’ father having been a jazz maestro and Damian’s arguably the greatest figure in the reggae genre, Distant Relatives was bound for success from the inception of production.
The three cover arts are a sneak peak into the pan Afrikan content of the whole album.
Distant Relatives Cover Art
The choice of guest appearances is also worth a nod. K’naan, with his distinct high pitched voice adds an Afrocentric touch to songs such as “Tribal War” and “Africa Must Wake Up”. His blend of English and Somali Languages further accomplishes this seemingly sole goal of the album. Stephen Marley, Bob Marley’s fourth child and Damian’s elder brother also features in the album. It takes keenness to recognize transition from Stephen Marley’s vocals to Damian’s in “Leaders” and “In His Own Words” due to their indistinguishable voices which trace back to Bob Marley. Or maybe it’s just me. Lil Wayne’s appearance in “My Generation” must’ve been a surprise especially to his hitherto fans, who at that time were disillusioned in his drifting away from the witty lyrics he came to the scene with. When as winds his verse with the line “When you finish reading revelations, thank God for my generation” you cant help backpedaling your hate for him. Other appearances include the late reggae artist Dennis Brown in “Land of Promise” which vividly samples his 1979 hit “The Promised Land”. He also does the outro for “Dispear”. Joss Stone features in “My Generation” and Amadou and Mariam in “Patience”, which heavily samples “Sabali” by the aforementioned Malian couple.
Press play and I’ll bet you will approve of the immediacy and energy with which Damian Marley says “As we enter” in the similarly titled first song off the album. The energy continues through the song as Nas and Damien Marley rap along in an alternating, almost conversational manner. A Swahili would discern the most conversational bit when Nas asks Damian “Habari gani” then Damian responds with “Mzuri sana” which are Kiswahili pleasantries. The energy and fast tempo find their way into the second song “Tribal War” which features K’naan. The song addresses the wanting unity amongst the African Community, both in the motherland and overseas. The distinct African drumbeats incorporated in the track help get the message home all thanks to Damian’s superb production. The tempo slows in “Only The Strong Will Continue” but the positive message is retained with both artists encouraging strength, iron will and optimism. However, Nas stains the song in his last lines of the final verse where he lets bitterness get the best of him in reminiscence of his divorce with ex wife Kellys. The line “see a nigger disappearing with the baddest honeys in the whole spot” adds salt to injury as he wrapps up, or is it rip apart an otherwise inspirational song. The song “Leaders” comes next. Featuring Stephen Marley, the song describes the kind of leadership Afrikans should embrace. Nas further pays homage to fallen leaders such as Malcolm X. He apparently describes, in awe, the controversial leader of The Nation of Islam; the honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. The Stephen Marley production seems skewed towards the reggae sound than it is towards hip hop but Nas’ bars manage to dovetail and impress. “Leaders” sounds strikingly similar to track eight of the album; “Land of Promise” in which they visualize an Afrika that enjoys the same living standards as some bubbly states in the US. Land of Promise samples the late Dennis Brown’s 1979 song “The Promised Land”.
From this point of the album there aren’t much surprises except for Lil Wayne’s featuring in “My Generation”. The tempo is variant all through the album with songs such as “Nah Mean” exhibiting the speedy 1980s and ’90s New York boom bap sound that was synonymous with that era of hip hop. Nas seizes this sound that he grew up around to deliver exemplary bars that remind you of his debut album “Illmatic”. Songs such as “In His Own Words”, “Patience” “My Generation” and “Africa Must Wake Up” pick from the slow, almost soothing tempo that was left behind by “Leaders”. Perhaps during production, Damian and Stephen figured the slow tempo would vividly bring out the vital messages of hope, patience, change and emancipation respectively. It’s interesting the mystical and cosmic questions that Nas asks in “Patience”. Questions such as “Who wrote the Bible? who wrote the Quran? and was it a lightning storm that gave birth to the earth and then dinosaurs were born…?. These only reveal Nas’ thirst for knowledge. His intellect has always manifested in his works. I marvel at Damian’s ability to rap in the same song which is one of my favorites off the album. And did you know that one can brag without coming off as corny? listen to “Count Your Blessings” from the album to find out.
With production majorly from Damian Marley and a little hand from brother Stephen(both from a musically royal family), it is impossible to go wrong with Distant Relatives. Nasir Jones’ prowess is an icing on the cake. In the twilight of the last song from the album- Africa Must Wake Up, Nas wraps this gift of an album in a ribbon of expository speech that shrinks the content of the whole album into a few comprehensible words. He explains how they compiled the album to inform the world that regardless of race or proximity, in his own words, “We all come from one place and that’s Africa. That’s right you too. Me and you, the whole world, we’re all family. We just spread out all over the place, so to all my distant relatives, let’s take it back home”. Distant Relatives is definitely worth anyone’s while. Needless to say, the trinity of Patois, African Languages and English is the shit!