Wow! What an album. A project working out to excellence if you ask me. After three solo-albums (Mr. Marley, Halfway Tree and Welcome To Jamrock) for his next release Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley teamed up with rapper NAS, continuing their succesfull collaboration on the track Road To Zion from the Welcome To Jamrock album. As Marley told Rolling Stone: "We're trying to have a sound that's reminiscent of both of us, but not exactly like either.", they succeeded in that; this album is the perfect example of crossover projects turning out to excellence. There's reggae and dancehall influences, hiphop influences and some soul and R&B influences too. Conscious, top quality lyrics all the way, in line with their intention of an album heavily revolving around Africa with their commentary on the continent and on global social issues. The album contains samples from various African musicians and proceeds will go to projects in Africa. Marley stated: "A lot of charity albums come off corny; we want this to be something you'd play in your car." Well, it's more than that, I'd play in the car, at home, on the bike, in the club and where not. Wicked vibes and superb production too, sound is heavy! NAS, who has been a big player on the hiphop scene ever since his first excellent and now classic debut album Illmatic, sounds right at home on the more reggae and dancehall styled backing tracks and Jr Gong likewise on the more hiphop-styled beats. Having both of them singing on each track as opposed to doing separate tracks makes this the special project it turned out to be. Damian's singing and delivery is perfectly timed and musically continuing where he left off with Welcome To Jamrock. NAS' flow and laid back yet strong rhyming makes this a very diverse set, a true winner for fans of dancehall, hiphop and if you ask me fans of just good music. Besides all that, as said, the album is lyrically very very strong too, lyrics that are included in the booklet and can be read at the distant relatives website.
The opening track, As We Enter, shows both on an uptempo beat based on Mulatu Astatke's Yegelle Tezeta, letting every listener know: the album just started, join us on this journey. Jr Gong starts "As we Enter, Come mek we take you pon the biggest adventure". Great opening, one of my favourite tracks on the album. Bass in full effect right from the start.
On the second track the two are joined by Somalian poet and rapper K'Naan for one of the couple of collaborations with other artists on the album. The track is called Tribal War and uses the vocal-melody-line of 70s reggae classic Tribal War by Little Roy (Earl Lowe). "Tribal war, we nuh want no more a dat, everyone deserve to earn and every child deserve to learn." A next track relying on a reggae classic, track 8 on the album, is Land Of Promise with riddim and vocal parts taken from the late great Dennis Brown's Promised Land, originally recorded with Aswad. The track is preceded by a piece of interview with Dennis Brown taken from the 6-part documentary on reggae called Deep Roots. Other collaborations on the album are with Jr Gong's brother Stephen 'Raggamuffin' Marley on Leaders ("This one’s for all the leaders,
leader, lets all change the world") with a soulful live-band backing track and on In His Own Words with a nice acoustic guitar opening to which a groovy hiphop beat is added when NAS starts his first of his two verses in the track ("I still give thanks for Him, have faith for Him, no matter what His name’s called"). Another guest appearance on the album is for Lil Wayne on My Generation, track 12 about making a change, which contains elements of the song Generation by oldest Marley brother Ziggy from his 1991 album Jahmekya ("Now mi love fi see the schoolas dem a graduate, a study hard and save the party for the holidays"). Besides As We Enter, Tribal War, Land Of Promise and My Generation also Nah Mean (#10) and Patience (#11) contain elements of older tracks. Nah Mean, a ruff track on a strong hiphop beat is based on Kurikuté by Sara Chaves and is among my favourite tracks on the album ("Yo Yo Mr. President, what you doing for my residence?, yo Mr. Minister, why you being sinister?"). Most sung sentences in this one are followed by a strong Nah Mean!, wicked track. Patience has a hook taken from Sabali by Amadou & Mariam and has Jr Gong with two verses of strong lyrics ("The average man can't prove of most of the things that he chooses to speak of, and still won't research and find out the root of the truth that you seek of") handing over the mic to NAS for the final 3rd verse on yet another slow, drumcomputer beat.
On Strong Will Continue (#3) the two are backed by a darker, slower beat with cello and heavier electric guitars lasting about 6 minutes commenting on being strong enough to face your battles ("It's a journey, some will get left behind, 'cause in life you can not press rewind, get it right, you only have one first chance, to make one first impression that lasts a lifetime"). Friends (#5) and Dispear (#7) are two tracks with sampled vocal intros. The first goes into a beautiful slow, almost nyabinghi styled track about true friendship ("Your real friends will serve you long, acquaintances will fade, your real friends wont do you wrong, real friend don’t change"), while Dispear goes into a hard dancehall riddim, two wicked tracks showing the diversity of this set. Count Your Blessings (#6) has a soulful sunny good-mood vibe to it with live instruments and gets funky for the pieces with NAS on the mic, where he amongst others chats about his at that time unborn son. A tune about being thankful for what you've got, great track ("I’ve got love and assurance, I’ve got new heath insurance, I’ve got strength and endurance, so I count my blessings").
The album closes with one of the most beautiful tracks on the album, a next track with K'Naan, called Africa Must Wake Up: "Africa must wake up, the sleeping sons of Jacob, for what tomorrow may bring, may a better day come". Excellent tune, great closer, lyrically perfectly in line with the album's intentions and in the closing part of this over 6 minutes lasting song NAS tells the listeners one more time with what philosophy they started this project:
"We want to thank you all, to anybody out there, this is NAS, Damian Marley, distant relatives, we're all distant relatives, no matter where you from, where you live, how near, how far, Africa, China, Japan, Afghanistan, Israel, we're all fam, we're all distant relatives, so that's why we came together, one of the reasons myself and Damian came together, cause we all come from one place and that's Africa, that's right, you too, and you, the whole world, we're all family, we're just spread out all over the place, so to all my distant relatives, let's take it back home."
As you can tell, I love it and wanted to share my enthousiasm with you all via this extended review. An excellent album, future classic if you ask me and more than worth getting. Hard to pick favourite tracks, but if I had to choose I'd say As We Enter, Nah Mean and Africa Must Wake Up. Don't miss this one. Go deh!
Support the project and quality music and buy it, get your copy now.
NAS and Damian Marley are currently touring the world with what I've read about it a very strong show supporting the album. Go see 'm if you can, dates can be found on http://www.distantrelatives.com .
(picture is taken from my own copy of the CD, gotta have the physical disc, not only to support the artists, but also to have the booklet with lyrics and info on used samples etc.)