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'Distant Relatives' draws listeners closer

Considering that Nas and Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley have collaborated onstage for a while, it’s about time they lay down some tracks. “Distant Relatives” is their long awaited album.

Nas and Marley begin with the upbeat and appropriately titled hip-hop track “As We Enter.” Marley’s impressive vocals make his presence known and serve as an introduction for a series of songs with melodic reggae choruses.

The duo brings a jungle sound to “Tribes at War” and surprises listeners by opening with a busy violin featured throughout the song. Keeping in line with traditional reggae, they push respect and humanism on this track, and the addition of hip-hop star K’Naan gives the album extra credibility.

A piano gives “Strong Will Continue” an inspirational, soulful energy. The powerful pair preaches, “Only the strong will continue / Do you have it in you? / Come, we’ve got a journey to go.” It’s a shame Nas lets the song go to waste at the end by ranting about unfaithful wives and his relationship with ex-wife Kelis, once famous for attracting boys to her yard with milkshakes.

Marley recovers the album on the next track, “Leaders,” which has more of a funk reggae groove. It sounds like the background music at a cocktail party straight out of a television commercial, but the velvety bass riffs in the chorus keep listeners tuned in.

Nas brags about always looking out for his best buds on “Friends.” Marley backs him up with a compelling chorus that reminds listeners that while “your car and clothes will fade,” your friends will be around for life. Their support for their friends proves the strong musical bond these men have.

Marley shines on “Count Your Blessings,” which offers up a smooth island vibe. Like many classic songs by the Marley family, this track encourages not getting bogged down by stress and giving thanks for all you have.

“Land of Promise,” featuring Dennis Brown, kicks off with a brief riff from spirited horns that sound like a mariachi band stepped into the studio for a five-second visit. This track has more of that roots reggae sound that Damian Marley fans crave.

Nas and Damian get treated to guest vocals from Stephen Marley on “In His Own Words,” a rather uncharacteristic song for the Marleys. It starts off with an acoustic guitar, chimes and handclaps before Nas lays a hip-hop beat over the guitar. It’s a light and spiritual track.

“My Generation” is the track listeners have been waiting for. The song features a children’s choir, soul songstress Joss Stone and the man who needs no introduction, Lil’ Wayne. It’s a hip-hop/R&B song that has a hook with a great call to action.

The album closes out with the catchy “Africa Must Wake Up,” a song in which Nas and Damian draw awareness to issues in the large continent. K’Naan contributes his glory again on this track. The guys encourage people to look toward Africa’s future and to come together.

These guys bring to the table an almost perfect blend of hip-hop, rap and reggae throughout the album. The strength of this collaborative effort proves Nas and Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley are certainly two artists to respect.

Reach Lenni at

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