Nas & Damian Marley: Africa’s ambassadors from abroad

Nas & collaborator Damian Marley

Nas & collaborator Damian Marley

Nas, a rapper from the Queensbridge projects of New York, and son of Jazz musician Olu Dara and Damian Marley, a reggae artist and last born son of reggae legend Bob Marley are an odd couple in the music business. The contemporary hip hop world, which Nas is a co-author of, is associated with flashy cars, expensive jewellery and loose women. Damian’s world on the other hand is rooted in Rastafarian culture which encourages vegetarianism and living a simple life. This leaves one wondering where and how their musical chemistry actually occurred.

After riding on the success their lullaby sounding hit Road to Zion, the two decided to step into the studio and record a full length album. And to make it even more unusual, the two pledged to donate a percentage of the proceeds to a project of building school(s) in Africa. The music project itself was to also be tailored in the same fashion as their first single, a fusion of reggae hip hop but with a strong African theme. The artists themselves admitted to not knowing the type of genre they were brewing during their time in the studio. Samples on their album included Ethiopian Jazz musician Mulatu Astatke’s Yègellé Tezeta and some of late Nigerian superstar Fela Kuti’s work. Malian blind couple Amadou and Mariam had a chorus from their song Sabali featured on the song Patience. Somali rapper K’Naan was also featured on a couple of tracks. The album’s tracks are all on point, from the sharp and powerful “Dis-spear”, to the strong message to the “Leaders” and the encouraging “Strong Will Continue”. Many of the tracks are family friendly.

Their Distance Relatives tour was also laced with the same image. Backed by Damian Marley’s band, the show featured major appearances by K’Naan and Nneka of Nigeria. The former ‘swagga-maniac’, Nas was seen at shows standing back to back with a Rastafarian niyabinghi drummer and African colours flag bearer was ever on stage playing his part. To this day, the album remains at the helm of the Reggae albums chart in the Billboard ranks. It is also favourably ranked in Rap and R&B hip hop categories. Several music critics have praised it as groundbreaking. This fusion of hip-hop and reggae has never happened at the scale Nas and Damina did it before, and it was an experiment that could have resulted in catastrophic results for both artists.

These two artists took a risk for the continent they love, and with the theme Distance Relatives, which they said implied that they are Africans and are calling out to their brothers and sisters back home to come together with them for an African renaissance.

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