Ten years ago today, May 18th, Damian Marley and Nas released Distant Relatives, a groundbreaking collaborative album between two of the most prodigious lyricists in their respective genres. The album has stood up well over the ensuing decade, taking its place in the highest ranks of both artists’ rich catalogs. As its title suggests, Distant Relatives was conceived as a way of building bridges between two major artists representing the kindred musical traditions of hip hop and reggae. It remains the first and only full-length project of its kind.
Described by The New York Times as “A Mash Up on Behalf of Mother Africa,” Distant Relatives was constructed around a diverse array of samples, ranging from classic reggae to dancehall/hip hop to Ethiopian jazz. A decade later, the wide-ranging genre known as “Afro Beats” occupy a place of power within the global music market, and artists like Burna Boy, Wizkid, and Stonebwoy are well known to listeners all over the world. But in 2010 the idea of a rapper from Queensbridge and a dancehall DJ from Kingston was a forward-thinking concept—though hardly out of character for two sons of respected musicians who had been raised with a deep and abiding respect for African culture.
In the lead single “As We Enter,” Nas and D trade intricate bars over a Mulatu Astatke breakbeat. “My man’ll speak patois,” Nas rhymes, “and i can speak rap star.” He concluded his verse with a Swahili greeting “Habari gani,” to which Damian replied “Nzuri sana,” as if they were two friends chatting on the streets of Nairobi.
“That’s the way Jah planned it,” said Damian when I asked how the project came together during a recent chat aboard the most recent Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise. The artists first discovered their creative chemistry while recording the track “Road to Zion,” which appeared on Jr. Gong’s Grammy-winning classic Welcome to Jamrock.
It was Marley’s manager Dan Dalton who suggested they get back in the studio to record an EP and the rest, as they say, is history. “We were both so excited,” Damian says, “we decided to make it a full-length album.” Check out the full convo on Boomshots IG:
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Today marks the 10th anniversary of #DistantRelatives the classic collaborative album between two lyrical giants of their respective genres, @damianmarley & @nas. During last December’s @welcometojamrockreggaecruise I had the opportunity to reason with Damian about the project. Check out this video highlight courtesy of @rgat and read more thoughts on the impact of ‘Distant Relatives’ over at @vibemagazine . 💥💣🔫#Boomshots
The pair would go on to tour the world together in support of Distant Relatives, an experience that left him creatively re-energized. “It was the conversations,” he reflected in an interview by Rob Marriott. “It was the music that we were choosing. Those things opened me up. They took me to a different place, and it freed me up from the bullshit. It kept my shit real. That’s how I approach everything now. I don’t waste time entertaining you with a verse.”
Although plans for a 10th anniversary tour were postponed by the Covid 19 pandemic, tonight would be a great time to run this classic project back and rediscover the thrill of two masters sharpening their lyrical swords.