Damian Marley and Nas: Roots, Rap, Reggae!
“Both of them are street guys, who have respect for one another,” says Marley’s manager, Dan Dalton. “They’re not guys who bullshit. Both of them don’t really talk to fill space. They’re the kind of guys who don’t feel like conversation has to be going on for things to be cool. So things started slowly, and pretty soon, the bottles of wine came out, and they started having conversations about politics and history.”
Those conversations spilled into their respective rhymes, which name-check everything from AIDS in Africa and murder in the Congo to Frost/Nixon and Jack Nicholson. With Marley as musical director and the driving force behind the album, they tackle big ideas, and the disc can feel like you’re tuned into CNN in one verse and a personal text message in the next. On “Count Your Blessings,” Nas anticipates the birth of Knight: “Can’t wait till he gets here… Like Bob did with Damian/ The world will embrace him/ Girls will chase him/ Foresee they will not break him/ And when I’m not around/ You look for God/ And thank him.”
On “My Generation,” he spits, “Cause music is the way to convey to you what I’m facing/ Placing my life in front of your eye for your observation/ Now if you can’t relate then maybe you are too complacent/ Athletes today are scared to make Mohammad Ali statements.”
“Nas’ vocabulary is crazy,” says Marley. “Just speaking to him, or listening to his lyrics, you learn words, you learn history. And it makes you have to rise to the occasion, and make sure you’re on the same level as him when it comes around to what you’re saying in the lyrics, and how sharp your rhymes are.”
Marley’s ample, quickly evolving talents are on full display. His musicality, his distinct cadence and sound, the utter ease with which he bends and toys with his hooks and verses—speeding them up, slowing them down, rapping them or singing them—and his mastery of rhythm and time—singing in front of or behind the beat at will—makes listening to Distant Relatives a joy. If Nas’ rhymes are smart and clever, Marley’s are thoughtful and, well, deep.
On what is maybe Distant Relatives’ most memorable track, Marley sends a shout-out to the rural tribes of Africa, over a somber sample of blind Malian couple Amadou & Mariam’s Damon Albarn-produced “Sabali.” He sings: “Some of the smartest dummies/ Can’t read the language of Egyptian mummies/ An’ a fly go a Moon/ And can’t find food for the starving tummies/ Pay no mind to the youths/ Cause it’s not like the future depends on it.”
“He’s like water flowing naturally with grace like a river of pure talent,” says Stewart. “Working with him was an honor, and what was beautiful is he didn’t realize that.”
Says Nas, “I learned a lot from him: how to keep things peaceful, how to take a lot of matters into your own hands, no matter what’s going on around you. His whole vibe, his whole style is like, ‘Everything is good,’ without him saying those words.
“When we were recording, I remember going home at night with a beautiful feeling, just excited, like, ‘Yo, this new project, this is it—this is it.’ Every song felt special. If you turn that shit up loud, and you listen, you can imagine what we felt while we were recording. It just felt like I was putting my foot on another planet.”
Like that Sumfest set from last summer, Distant Relatives is something of a new dawn for both Nas and Jr. Gong. Both are contemplating a second album together, as they perfect a live show they’ve been working on since before that morning in Montego Bay, one that mixes songs from the new album with each artist’s hits and a couple of covers from the Marley patriarch. For Damian, it’s his father’s greatest theme that unifies Distant Relatives: “To me, the album is a move toward that common cause—that one love.”
The Howlin’ Brothers take to the Relix rooftop and share a song they wrote with Warren Haynes.
Beth Hart shares the opening track from her latest album, Bang Bang Boom Boom, live at Relix.
Jamie Lidell sets up in the Relix boiler room and delivers a tune from his 2005 album Multiply
Duane Trucks is happy to announce his new project, King Lincoln. Watch them perform “Coffee” live and acoustic at Relix’s Online-Video Coordinator’s loft in Williamsburg.
Here’s another song from Crystal Bowersox’s new record All That For This, live at Relix.
WYATT share a song in the famed Relix boiler room.
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Warren Haynes performs a solo, acoustic version of “Railroad Boy” and explains how he adapted the traditional Celtic song for Gov’t Mule, backstage at the Hangout Music Festival.
Australia’s Alpine recently made their NYC debut at the Relix office with this song from their new album A is for Alpine.
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
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