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In 2010 came an exciting collaboration project for a couple of leaders in their own fields. With "Distant Relatives", the New York Hip Hop MC Nas and the Jamaican Reggae and Dancehall star Damian Marley come together in the same way that they did with the single "Road To Zion" to show how well their styles work together with an earthy sound which reunites them through their African roots. The album features production from Bob Marley's sons including Stephen, and Damian and is all overlooked by former EPMD member Erick Sermon. The guests include K'naan, Dennis Brown and Lil' Wayne.
1. "As We Enter"
The album gets off to a great start as we're presented with what was the debut single from the album. I thought it to be a great way to let them get their names out there in a very commercial manner as this one doesn't have all the depth that the others on the release do and so instead throws you right into the mix of the record with a fast-paced track which has a manageable structure for the mainstream world with all the quality that fans of theirs will want.
2. "Tribes At War"
With this track we're taken into a tune which turns things much more over to the Reggae end of the music as we move into a sort of cover of the classic hit "Tribal War" (a George Nooks song originally). I felt that it was done well with a nice hook delivered by Damian before things are handed over to Nas and then from that point the biggest Somali-Canadian export in K'naan is able to show what he can give over the African percussion with his interesting approach up over the beats on this tune as African Diaspora is explored.
3. "Strong Will Continue"
I thought that the chorus on this track was extremely engaging and brought you in from the very start of the track. It's a great place to set things off from and made it a nice choice in another single on the release. I thought that this one was quite a dense on a features rather in-your-face beats and so it may not appeal to all, but the way it's put together with the straight-forward rhyming and harsh beats means that the messages are expressed clearly.
I thought that this one was amongst the best tracks on the release. There was little faulting it as its a very laid-back piece and gets very smooth production laid-down on it in order to make you feel at ease when you hear it. From this point the vocalists (who in this case also include Stephen Marley) make for a solemn track which has them appealing towards those in control to ease up on those who have it hard.
Although I was into this track, I felt that the direction taken on this recording woudln't appeal to as wide an audience as those which led up to it. Here Nas gets no say on the track at all, and see that Damian Marley takes things in a contemporary Dancehall direction (one which has come to embrace Reggae much more than it seemed to in the nineties) and so it seems to still fit in with the mix of this record.
6. "Count Your Blessings"
I saw this to be amongst the best that this album had to offer. Its one that I really can't see a single person having any issues with whatsoever as its an ultimate uplifting, feel-good record. It has lots of funky production given on it and from there Damian Marley comes up with a solid and catchy hook which guides you in to allow Nas to do his thing with his typical socially-conscious rhyming to top the tune off.
It seems that by juxtaposing the last one with what's given here it makes the effect of the tune much more impactful upon the listener as this time around things are turned around towards much darker themes and a much richer, soulful Reggae sound. I thought that this one was pulled off extremely well to make it stand out as one that must be taken notice of due to the political messages carried along with it.
8. "Land of Promise"
I personally felt this to be their single best collaboration since they first came together in 2005 for a track off Damian Marley's breakthrough "Welcome To Jamrock" (to which this album is only his second). This track features the single-heaviest bass drop I can remember hearing and ensures that it bridges the gap for those who don't see the roots in Dub Reggae which effectively made the sounds of Dubstep.
9. "In His Own Words"
Stephen Marley has a vocal role on the hook to this one and I felt that it set up the course of the track nicely. From that point, we're offered a nice mix of the typical flows out of Nas as he comes to hit listeners with line after line of thought-provoking lyricism that you'll have to go back and listen again to get everything out of, and form there Damian attempts to reflect this in his toasts - in some cases forcing you on single thoughts for a good few lines whilst he's still going off.
10. "Nah Mean"
I thought that this was a heavy track and one which stuck out a track which has Damian Marley showing why exactly he's the only one of the Marley's to step into Dancehall - because he does it so well. When the beats are in perfect order as they are here, it makes it easy for him to go off in a style which reflects the late nineties Dancehall style when there was another rush towards Hip Hop beats as backing and it stands as a banger of a tune from the two of them.
The pace to the music is shifted once more as with this one we're given a track which has them moving towards some slow and winding material. I thought that it was done well as the tempo reflects the 'patience' explored by the two musicians as they come to explain why it's so hard on those who aren't able to get all the privileges that those from economically-stable places do.
12. "My Generation"
What's given with this track sounds to be a very typical example of what you'd expect from an album of this sort when world's are brought together. Here it's set off by children singing the hook (with a little help from Joss Stone) and so suggests the generational themes running through the tune, and then has the two main artist, with help from Lil' Wayne flowing about how this specific generation must make changes to save the world in the future.
13. "African Must Wake Up"
Although "My Generation" sounded to be a good place to leave things off, I thought that it was nice that this one closed the record off. Here we're given a lengthy, slow-moving tune here and one that seemed to bring suitable closure to the record. K'naan gets another appearance here and it seemed to suit the direction of the music as this is a long one which uses the African-edged percussion to its advantage in allowing it to roll on endlessly without it tiring.
I was impressed by what results came off this album as it could have gone quite wrong, but the two ensured that it came out in a way which made good compromises to ensure for the best results. I felt that there was something for everyone here, and although Nas fans may have trouble finding his intense lyrics as they're found spread out in strange places through the record, it seems to work nicely as an overall project.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 As We Enter
2 Tribes At War - Nas, Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley, K'NAAN
3 Strong Will Continue
4 Leaders - Nas, Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley, Stephen Marley
6 Count Your Blessings
8 Land Of Promise - Nas, Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley, Dennis Brown
9 In His Own Words - Nas, Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley, Stephen Marley
10 Nah Mean
12 My Generation - Nas, Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley, Lil Wayne, Joss Stone
13 Africa Must Wake Up - Nas, Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley, K'NAAN