Album Review: Nas & Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley – Distant Relatives




It’s a match made in heaven…or Zion, depending on your preference. In one corner is Nasir Jones, aka Nas, who is one of New York City’s most prophetic and poetic MCs to ever step up to a microphone. Then there’s Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley, one of the Marley children, who has established himself as a force within the modern reggae community. So when you take a fantastic and quick-tongued reggae artist and throw in the mix a political rapper with a rhyme etiquette that can’t be matched, you know the results are going to be awesome. Case in point, Nas and Damian Marley’s aptly titled Distant Relatives.

This record has been in the process of conception for about two years and is just as politically charged as Nas’ last protest of a record. While still incorporating the gritty, hip-hop elements we normally associate with the music of Nas and the optimistic summertime jams we hear from Jr. Gong, they create this form of neo-African reggae-hop that will surely be mimicked by artists for the next few years. It’s not quite reggaeton, but it’s not quite rap either.

A horn fanfare ignites the record on “As We Enter”, while Nas and Marley trade back and forth on the microphone discussing the concept of kicking off a revolution. This is more a call to arms than it is a call to rally. Both these artists already have an army, and with the right soundtrack, they could easily turn some heads to listen to the wise words they are speaking. After all, they are claiming, “Nas and Jr. Gong are going to turn it out.” “Tribes at War” features K’Naan, with a catchy synth line and Afro-Cuban drums that sound very jungle-esque. Marley sings out, “Each and everyone deserves to earn/Every child deserves to learn,” which is really what the record is all about as a whole: getting what’s yours through unity. Nas raps about how various sectors of the black community are always fighting one another, and how all we need to do is bring everybody together peacefully.

“Leaders” features Stephen Marley and is a slow, funky, almost sexual groove. Jr. Gong sings for a majority of this soothing tune, as it is more light funk than it is hip-hop, but Nas still brings it back at the end to spit a verse of eloquence which gives shout-outs to all their deceased leaders. “Count Your Blessings” is an upbeat number with acoustic jams and a mellow chorus from Jr. Gong. “Dispear” is a rally song, making one envision a protest scene taking place in a politically charged film. In a narrative that describes aspects about Marxist sociology, class struggle, and the oppression we face as a society, this music makes me want to rise up against the government in a way I haven’t felt since The Battle of Los Angeles.

The album only goes back more to the duo’s roots. “Nah Mean” contains some of the most powerful reggae on the album as well as a beat reminiscent of the Illmatic days, as Nas spits verses of fire that would make Dylan run and hide for eternity. “I could spit a razor out boy,” Nas shouts, and the guy fucking means it. But Damian Marley shreds it on the mic just as much as Nas with his reggae calls to action, “Make you feel like you’re living in the dream/Nah mean?” “My Generation” shocked me, mainly because it featured a verse from rap’s newest problem child, Lil’ Wayne. Actually, Weezy spits a great verse on this song, as Nas and Jr. Gong discuss that our generation will make the change. “Education is real power/I reach them like Bono/so get rid of your sorrow,” Nas informs us, while Weezy states, “I got a message for God and heaven’s too crowded.”

This is how we generate change, bringing the people together through something more important and powerful than a Facebook petition, an email chain, or just signing a piece of paper. When an artistic document gets into the hands of the mainstream, which it will, it’s only a matter of time before people start actually deciphering the lyrics. Then change can happen. Obama’s campaign slogan was simply “Change”, and our country is ready for it. With a leader who is mentioned on this album many times as a positive force, and a record that feeds us truth rather than mainstream rap/reggae nonsense about marijuana and balling out, maybe we can finally see some change in our popular culture for the better.