Music: Damian Marley and Nas

May 21, 2010 5:09 PM, By Blair Jackson



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Damian Marley (left) and Nas in Henson Recording Studios (L.A.)

Damian Marley (left) and Nas in Henson Recording Studios (L.A.)

If you are surprised that Damian Marley—youngest son of reggae legend Bob Marley—would collaborate on an entire album with New York rap royalty Nas, then you probably haven’t been keeping up with the ever-shifting musical adventures of the many Marley siblings. While all of the Marley children who became musicians honor their late father’s legacy—incorporating his songs into their performances and frequently working together on various “family” projects and tours that inevitably draw on Bob Marley’s strong influence—they have also worked hard to carve out individual musical identities; none more so than Damian (aka, “Jr. Gong”), who was just two years old when his father died of cancer in 1981. On his groundbreaking and very successful 2005 album, Welcome to JamDistant Relativesrock, Damian Marley brilliantly fused hip-hop, dancehall, R&B and reggae in fascinating ways. That project was awarded two Grammys: Best Reggae Album (his second in that category) and Best Urban/Alternative Performance for the title song. That album also marked the first time Marley and Nas worked together (on the song “Road to Zion”), and that laid the groundwork for their eclectic new album as a duo, Distant Relatives.

And this truly is a collaboration: Both were involved in the writing of all 14 songs on the album, and each’s imprint is very strong throughout. That said, Marley, who produced all but two tracks that were helmed by his older brother Stephen Marley, had a greater hand in shaping the music on the album, and the core band—drummer Courtney Diedrick, bassist Shiah Core and keyboardist Phillip “Winter” James—is his. A number of high-profile guests also appear, including Stephen Marley, Somali rapper K’Naan, the ubiquitous Lil’ Wayne and veteran reggae singer (and occasional hip-hop collaborator) Junior Reid. Snippets of reggae pioneer Dennis Brown, who died in 1999, also appear prominently on a modern reworking of his classic tune “The Promised Land.”

There’s a strong social consciousness flowing through the raps on this album—Nas brings “street” with him wherever he goes, and Damian Marley, like all Marleys, is a committed advocate of the poor and the oppressed—but there is also a unifying concept to the project, Marley notes: “There’s an African theme throughout the album, whether it be lyrically or musically,” he says by phone from L.A., where the album was being mastered. “Some of the songs use samples from African music, and the riddims of some of the beats are reminiscent of African music, which was something new for Nas to rhyme over.”

Indeed, the first track Marley and Nas worked on (along with K’Naan) at Henson Studios in Hollywood was a tune called “Africa Must Wake Up.” At that point, Marley and Nas believed they were just working on an EP, but then over the course of the next year-plus, it developed into a full-blown album that was recorded at Henson and several studios in Miami (where Marley lives), including Hit Factory/Criteria, Circle House and the Marleys’ Lion’s Den studio. Tim Harkins (Korn, Spinal Tap) did the bulk of the engineering in L.A. and Hit Factory, while Marc Lee (Akon, The Game, Damian and Stephen Marley) handled most of the other Miami sessions. It was mixed at Circle House by longtime Marley family associate James “Bonzai” Caruso (Nas, Madonna, Mary J. Blige).

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