“Tribal War” – Review Of Nas & Damian Marley’s Distant Relatives

05.27.10 7 years ago 99 Comments

Even though every review is a crew review to some extent, the familial vibes Nasir & Damian’s Distant Relatives almost begged for the veil to be pulled back and the inner workings of our deliberations revealed once again.

Why you ask? Because distant relatives are what we are; a rag tag bunch strewn across the map, banded together by our love of Hip-Hop. Add to the equation that any Nas album piques a vast array of opinions and a fertile ground for debate was laid at our feet. Just ahead you’ll see our ratings discussion which went on for days and probably still would be if Gotty™ hadn’t put his foot down.

J. Tinsley: The project sounded how I expected it to — real thematic. The beats seemed to fit Nas (yeah, crazy, I know) and he definitely had a few note worthy verses on this (i.e. the second verse on “Strong Will Continue”). I even appreciated what Damian Marley brought to the project with his style of music and presence. There are some real good songs on here, no doubt. But I can’t say every song was a classic.

TC: The album is kind of niche. Nas and Jr. Gong obviously have chemistry that dates back to the Grammy-Award winning Welcome To Jamrock, but what about the listeners that aren’t into reggae — at all? They chose the middle ground between Queensbridge scrap rap and Patois preaching, which I guess happens to be Africa, but, like a friend told me when they heard it, this album is for people who live in New York. Straight up.

And why the hell is K’Naan on two songs?

Patrick M: They were on Rock the Bells together last year. K’Naan’s got a killer Somali weed hook up.

David D: Really, the album trails off in the middle. It starts off with a bang then becomes a snoozer. I think it wasn’t enough of a Damian Marley album. They didn’t really seem to meet their perfect middle ground. And let’s not get it twisted…some of Nas’ lyrics are nothing more than pseudo-intellectual gibberish.

K1NG: I mean, yeah. Without songs that stand out amidst the rest, the album blends together to the point where it becomes slightly monotonous. “Count Your Blessings” would probably hit the charts as a smooth Damian jam if it wasn’t for the aggressive Nas verses throwing off the ambiance. The sense of forced collaboration seems to be a running theme that makes it an album that one must be in the mood for; increasing its longevity while softening its impact.

Patrick M: You know I was just talking with someone the other day about how Nas was better one on one guy than team player, and that he wouldn’t be able to function in a group. Therein lies the genius of Damian though, they have vastly different skill sets to bring to the table so Nas doesn’t have to have “Hip-Hop” chemistry. They can just let their different styles play off each other and focus on topical consistency instead of stylistic consistency.

S. Cadet: Hot97’s faithful followers strung out on “Lil’ Freak” and “Over” probably wouldn’t ride to most of the songs offered unless they were at the Labor Day Parade. In my opinion, it skews towards a (mostly older) niche that may hate that crap anyway. Basically, it’s mindful of its identity and serves its audience.

Hell, I like Nas and some Reggae but this album didn’t strike me as a planned attempt to bring in new ears to Nas’, Damian’s, or Reggae’s sound.

TC: They made the album that they wanted to make; the album that they were free to make which is fine. But how is this supposed to transcend outside of the intended audience?

Patrick M: I think you’re heavily downplaying the crossover appeal of Nas and the Marley name, TC. You don’t think some of these tracks could become summer anthems, particularly on the East Coast?

TC: What tracks? “As We Enter” been out how long? Did any of y’all even watch the video more than once? I know one of these joints got picked up by FIFA but I’d say that’s more of a management/marketing thing above all.

Patrick M: “As We Enter,” “Strong Will Continue,” and “Patience” stood out the most. Sad to say, they’re all at the beginning.

S. Cadet: I think albums can gear towards certain audiences since everything shouldn’t have to go broad. But you still have to gauge your reactions if a record exceeds your expectations. I wasn’t expecting this album to sound that great. But it wasn’t like I was counting down the days until it dropped anyway so…take that for what it’s worth.

Gotty™: I tried. Made it through approximately fives songs before I needed a nap. I wasn’t anticipating it, never bothered to listen to the leaks, none of that. I echo what was said in that this would’ve been fine as a Damian Marley album minus Nas. They included Nas…and it just sorta throws it off for me. It’s not bad, but nothing I feel like revisiting at the moment.

MZ: I think the vibe of the album caught me more than anything else. I don’t think it sounds forced from a musical standpoint, but it definitely falls off hard after “Dispear.” Why? Because I think they realized they weren’t really focusing on Africa. I’m not sure of the recording process, but from a sequencing standpoint you get that feel. So they overcompensate and that’s why we get Jr. Gong comparing African countries to U.S cities on “Land of Promise.” Get on Nas for throwing words together David, but Damian is pretty much doing the same thing.

David D: Good point sir. I also agree that this would have been better served as an album that focused on whatever. Because album carries on a nice pace right up until the last chord of “Dispear,” where the album comes to a screeching halt. It’s as if Nas decided that every inspirational song had to sound like “I Know I Can,” and made watered down retreads. Nas’ lyrics suffer from the same fate as his previous “serious” tracks in that, when you put the lyrics under a microscope, they really don’t hold up. First of all, much like Sincere from Belly, it appears as though Nas can’t name a single country in Africa. He’s better on tracks like “Friends,” where he can speak to what he knows.

Gotty™: And to think, there’s been a mini campaign for 5 Cigs for this one in the comments for about a week now…

Patrick M: You know that a small segment of the population is going to throw that out there for any Nas album. He and Foxy could release Best of Both Worlds 4 and they’d be all over that.

MZ: I think the 5 Cig talk is coming more from people being glad it didn’t suck. With lower expectations come a greater ceiling to impress. It’s between a 3.5 & 3, but for them I might lean towards the latter because they can do better. The first half showed the potential & the second half is our worst fears confirmed.

Patrick M: 3.5 or…3? I thought we already gave Nas some legacy bonus points by giving his last joint a 4. Holy shit did that album fall off! I’ll listen one more time but I’m leaning towards a 3.

MZ: I think that album had very little replay value versus falling off. Their relational connection is weed & brew, so they would’ve been better off making more songs like “Friends” & “Strong Will Continue,” letting the African references come up naturally.

TC: I think a lot of folks (still) get caught up in Nas being Nas and the fact he was born to rap. So naturally, he can flow to any beat. The production isn’t bad but it isn’t exciting. It treads in repetition like on “Nah Mean” and who’s really going to listen to “In His Own Words” outside at an outdoor concert?

David D: I think the last two songs are decent, but this was a 3.5 for the strong start anyway, in my honest opinion. Damian Marley met Nas halfway, and came up with a watered-down version of his debut album. “Tribes at War” and “Strong Will Continue” are vintage Damian, but sometimes it all seems really forced. Nas and Marley find a common ground on the album…but unfortunately that space is a step below what each of them is capable of. And…it’s boring. Downright. It’s bland.

Gotty™: Hold up. If this is 1-2 listens, which seems to be the case, why are we calling it a 3.5?

K1NG: It’s not 1-2 listens. There are definitely times when i will be listening to this in the future, it just won’t be a daily occurrence. Last night i was high in the woods sitting round a campfire, and it was the perfect soundtrack. (Laughs).

J. Tinsley: (Laughs) That’s some real high shit. Distant Relatives is a good album. Just that, good. Not to piggy back on what everyone else is saying, but it really should have been a Damian album with some Nas appearances sprinkled here and there. If this album was supposed to make me want to support Africa (I think that’s why they made it, right?), then, well, I was not motivated at all. To me, there is little replay value on this album. I tried giving it another spin yesterday and honestly couldn’t make it through the entire thing.

They were probably better off leaving it an EP like they had originally planned.

MZ: It was already a middle of the road album by the halfway point and the last few tracks, while a change of pace, don’t bring the rest of the album up as it was already a 3.5 by a hair.

David D: Overall, it’s a good album. But honestly, if we weren’t doing this review I wouldn’t be listening as many times as I am.

Gotty™: I’ll keep listening but…I don’t know.

Patrick M: After repeated listens, I guess I’ve soured on it as everyone else has. The instrumentals for these tracks, particularly the intros, are appallingly bad. Many of them end up building into better songs once the Damian and Nas get in. Their strong vocal capacities can literally turn shit to gold, or at least bronze.

I agree it has situational appeal and K1NG, I could see how it could um…fit that occasion. I still think there are moments where the potential for this pairing works. “Strong Will Continue,” despite it’s kind of 80s cheesy movie beat is pretty anthemic and Nas’ verse where he reflects on his Kelis split is more dimensional than anything off of…oh let’s say The Blueprint 3.

S. Cadet: Distant Relatives boils down to being a mostly precise record. What’s offered here is cohesive for the most part save for some awkward adult contemporary sounds strung about. Moreover, Nas’s flow compliments the album’s overt island sound better than I thought. But I couldn’t help but feel like he was playing the Mo Williams role throughout much of DR. Most of the album’s production sounds as if Damian could have held down the fort on his own. Yet, he invited Nasir to give it a more familiar sonance among rap heads. The pairing isn’t like mixing oil and water. However it’s not a perfect storm from my point of view.

In short it’s competent and the better tracks like “Tribal War,” “Dispear,” and “Land of Promise” give it some replay value. But we’d be gasping at straws if we tried to exalt it as a great LP.

TC: What does that say for the quality of the album leaks if not too many of y’all were too enthused to put a “Nas album” at the top of your rotation?

David D: It’s more of a case of forcing an inorganic subject matter out of a project that didn’t need it. You can’t just say “I’m going to make an album about Africa” and just start recording…just like you can’t wake up one morning and say “I’m going to Africa” and book a flight to “Africa.”

Patrick M: I just think this would have been better if it was straight Reggae with Nas chiming in. Right now it seems like it’s stuck between Reggae and Hip-hop and the chemistry’s all fucked up.

TC: I say it’s just really not all that appealing, period. Nas will always be Nas and Damian is pretty adept in his rapping skills; they cover inspirational and factual topics but on the music side, it’s just kinda “meh.” 55 minutes of Jamafrican Hip-Hop isn’t got to reach a lot of bases. It’s too niche. And songs like “Nah Mean” just have some pretty humdrum production. The whole album sounds like a World Hunger commercial truthfully.

S. Cadet: They don’t have to emulate more energetic artists to grab ears as they’ve been capable of making attention grabbing tracks on their own. It’s just a matter of sounding sleepy as hell no matter what the subject matter is about. They could’ve been rhyming about snorting coke while skydiving at Distant Relative’s pace and it’d still make my ears grow tired midway.

K1NG: I wanted this to be a 4 badly. It’s lyrically tight and musically adequate but I just can’t justify that when there is so much great music coming out for free right now that is just as good, if not better than this album.

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