For being such an influential emcee in the game, Nasir Jones is a certified weirdo. Especially by Hip Hop’s standards. Hip Hop has always been about being fresh, on to the next shit, slick, nimble word play, always winning. In the public eye, NaS stays losing, especially here on these Internets. Since the lil homie dropped the classic that remains ‘Illmatic’, Mr. Jones has frustrated many a fan (me included) with his inconsistent output of work, some dope, some wack, and more than a few being, well, weird (anyone remember “Who Killed It?” from his ‘Hip Hop Is Dead’ album?). His personal life hasn’t helped dude’s losing image, especially with that nasty divorce thingie and post marital rapeage with Kelis that made headlines recently. When it was announced some time back that NaS and Damian Marley would be recording a complete concept album entitled ‘Distant Relatives’, I was like “meh”. Son of reggae king Bob Marley, Damian had that one massive street/reggae banger ‘Welcome To Jamrock’ back in 2005, but after that, not so much (that I know about). Not that I’m against conceptual rap related albums, just that with Nasir, I’m not really checking for that. And with reggae and Damian Marley? Nah son.
My low expectations were met when I heard the first single “As We Enter’”on the radio. Too happy, too tryna sound pop, too different, too U.M.C”s “Blue Cheese”. I passed. Had a friend send me an advance copy of the album a couple of weeks ago too. I slept, not wanting to have to go through the trouble of downloading the piece. Last weekend, my eldest son asked me if I had the cd. Raised by me to have Jay-Z eternally etched in his top whatever list, he had the opportunity of hearing “Ether” last week. “I’m not really feeling Jay-Z after hearing “Ether”, I want to hear ‘Distant Relatives’ pops” the boy said, so I obliged, downloaded my advance copy and threw it on in the whip.
Not expecting it, I was blown away by the power that is ‘Distant Relatives’. In an age of when the concept album is more than extinct, and when said concept doesn’t tread far from the fast food, microwave like subject of sex, drugs, money, cars and whose doper than who, ‘Distant Relative’ serves like a full, home cooked meal, delicious, nutritional, filling, and having one coming back for seconds. More based on issues of collective empowerment, ancestors of the crime against humanity that was the colonial enslavement of a Black peoples. A perfect mixture of boom bap, reggae and tribal type beats, ‘Distant Relatives’ took me way back past them days when reggae and rap made a perfect marriage, back past them days when reggae lords like Black Uhuru and Steel Pulse ruled supreme with the hard core, spiritual, Black nationalist albums that banged, past them days when Bob Marley had the entire game sewed up, ‘Distant Relatives’ took a nigga back to when we were kings, Afro-centric dope. So much am I enjoying this album that I felt compelled to drop this review.
As We Enter – Still not my favorite, especially how it doesn’t seem to have any reason to be playing on top 40 and urban radio. How does this fit with them radio station playlists? Still, as the intro cut to the album, and as a piece of the greater body of work that is the album, this song fits. So yeah, I like it better here. It makes sense.
Tribal War (feat. K’naan) – At first, this track comes off like a leftover track from the “Lion King” soundtrack, in how orchestral and how African it sounds. Marley haunting on the hooks “everyman deserve to earn, every child deserves to learn”. NaS spits about how slavery has us all divided, his flow intact, and all that “knowledge” rap he’s been spitting for years finally makes sense here. K’naan, whom I appreciate, but of whom I’m not a fan of, here, spits perfect. He should, knowing first hand what all that African suffering is like over in the motherland. Once again, another song that fits perfectly in drawing me into this album.
Strong Will Continue – Again, this one comes off initially like a song from the “Lion King”, but with more of a marching beat, like I’m walking in march step alongside an army, down Broadway, and being led by Marcus Garvey. Strong, uniting, serious, not at all corny. I’m on now, the state of Black people globally is dire, and won’t nobody help us but us. I feel that here.
Leaders (feat. Stephen Marley) – Think roots rock reggae mixed with some of that laid back UGK trill shit. This is that. Damian’s voice floating, in, out, potent like ganja smoke, and NaS in his element, flowing strong, about how, as lost as we’ve been here, since we first stepped foot onto the white man’s world, we’ve had our share of leaders, and how said leaders have been continuously slayed, assassinated, murdered, lynched. Powerful shit here B. Plus fires.
Friends – This one here has some of that Black Uhuru vibe that I briefly mentioned above. About real friends versus the fake snake kind. NaS sounds revived here, brand new, waxing on how his journey provided him with more than a snapshot of his fake friends, the back stabbers. I can smoke an el and listen to this here on multiple repeats.
Count Your Blessings – More Maxi Priest sounding than Marley, light, like that popcorn Carribean shit you might hear while away on vacay down in Montego Bay. Still, as the song progresses, as the message is about appreciation for what you’ve got, counting one’s blessings, it becomes less corny, more entertaining. Not a banger, and more rum punch than o.g. kush, but I’m liking this more after each lissen to.
Dispear – Kind of like that “Welcome To Jam Rock” joint. Urgent, driving, more dancehall than roots, a word play on the words “despair” and “this spear”. How there’s a war going on outside, especially for the middle class, the poor, the Black. As Marley sounds off on African warriors past, I’m feeling more and more like Shaka Zulu. A banger.
BONUS: A brief skit of Marley and NaS lion hunting, kinda like that interlude in B.I.G.’s “Warning”, when them two crooks is tryna run up in B.I.G.’s crib with heat drawn.
Land Of Promise – The track here is on some straight reggae, Niyabinghi, Bobo Shanti, Mansions Of Rastafari tip. Marley and NaS trade bars, re-imagining
Africa Ethiopia as a modern day center of commerce, a land of global influence, like how New York and Paris are. Not as weird as it sounds. And because of that, NaS sounds more at home here, as opposed to him sounding weird.
In His Own Words – This one is on some Bob Marley, ballad joint with Marley sounding like his late great pops. But once again, because of the album, the two artists on it, it makes sense, fits, NaS again sounding like he finally belongs, like he’s home again.
Nah Mean – This. is. that. shit. Like old school KRS at his “Bridge Is Over” best. Marley and NaS play with the ‘Nah Mean” hook, like Black Rob did on that “Whoah!” joint. Guaranteed scruntch faces. The boy Marcus Troy, Montreal’s blogger extraordinaire was in town this past weekend. As we were building, I asked him about ‘Distant Relatives’. He hadn’t heard it, like me, he wasn’t checking for it. I threw this on. He listened, heard it, then he overstood what time it was.
Patience – Haunting, spiritual, dope, global poverty, hunger, all the while Marley and NaS remind the listener of humanity’s cradle of civilization, how the move back to the future requires patience. How cowards and ignorant people fear the truth. Excellently produced track that’s sure to sound better after burnage of the kush. My soul needed this one.
My Generation (feat. Joss Stone & Lil Wayne) - Love this song. About this generation being the one to make the change. Could’ve been part of Obama’s campaign a year and a half so ago. Not that the message is lost, what with all the positivity going on here, just saying. Also, this might be the very first song ever where I’m not only tolerating Lil’ Wayne, he actually sounds good on this, and I like it.
Africa Must Wake Up – An incredible way to end this, a call to
Africa Ethiopia and all its descendant to rise up. Powerful and haunting, I keep this on repeat.
When NaS said he wanted to go back to
Africa Ethiopia back in that ‘Belly’ movie, we all thought he was bugging, only because he’s weird like that, and because of that, he was trippin. But he might actually not have been, only because he knew he was looking towards the future, and at what he needed to grow as a rapper, an artist, a soldier. We don’t ever think of Africa Ethiopia. The brainwash is deep. The Euro-centric narrative so completely influences my mind’s eye so that perpetual images of jungles, savages, warlords and machete’s is what I see. But we were once kings. And said Euro-centric narrative won’t tell that, won’t have that. Settling for him being the son of slaves didn’t seem to sit right with NaS. So he did an album with a fellow slave’s son. Who’s father was a king.
I know the brainwash might soon set in again, but like that home cooked meal, for now I’m good and clear with how much I too needed
Africa Ethiopia in my life, my sons and daughter too. NaS finally recorded the album he wanted to. This is the artistic maturation of NaS. This is his “Miseducation of…” album even.
The jokes will keep coming about how NaS stays losing. I can’t see this one selling domestically. That euro-centric narrative thing. I’m hoping, trusting it has more legs overseas, and will tap into Marley’s global fan base. Its a shame though, this is that album. This time around, NaS won.
This summer I’m playing shaka zulu. What role you playing?