One of the most positive musical surprises this year for yours truly has been the recently released Distant Relatives, which sees reggae scion Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley and hip hop veteran Nas teaming up for an Afrocentric album on the theme of our common heritage.
Far from an assured success, the collaboration and the thematic focus the two have selected make for a remarkable consistent album, containing moments of vocal fire as well of spiritual oomph. The maturation Marley exhibited with last year’s remarkable Welcome to Jamrock continues on this recordâ€”his vocals are more varied and self-assured than everâ€”while Nas has not been this consistent on a whole album for many years.
Musically, the album could have been a little more adventurous, sounding perhaps a little too polished, but it is skillfully and melodically composed by Damian and his brother Stephen and carries the amazing vocal performances perfectly, with nary a weak track and only one or two instances of ill-advised sentimentalism.
I caught up with the two of them on their tour stop in Copenhagen the week before last, a few hours before a fantastic, sold-out show at Store Vega and got the chance to ask them some questions for Rapspot.dk. I was joined by my buddy, DubCNN’s PTA. Since we were in his hotel room, we started talking to Marley, but Nas showed up about half-way through.
Matthias Wivel: How did the album come to be? What made you decide to work together?
Damian Marley: The album came to be because we were respecting and being fans of each other’s music. I invited Nas to be on the Welcome to Jamrock album, on a track called “Road to Zion”, and he had invited me to do some work with him on the Hip Hop Is Dead albumâ€”unfortunately, the song that we did together didn’t make it onto that albumâ€”so we always had an interest to do more work together. And then our management teams came up with the idea to do an EP of four songs based upon Africa. And when we started working on that EP, it became an album, so that’s how it happened.