In 1989, Ice Cube joined forces with New York’s legendary Bomb Squad to record AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted and make a statement about national unity. Two decades later, Nas and Damian Marley, the sons of Olu Dara and Bob Marley, respectively, have hooked up to make Distant Relatives, an even bigger statement about international unity and the interconnectedness of African-derived people throughout the diaspora. The ambitious project taps into the almost messianic sense of purpose coursing through much of Nas’ discography. It’s an Afrocentric manifesto sometimes loaded down by the weight of its noble ambitions. And sometimes Nas’ resentments undermine his aspirations, like when he takes a detour from uplift and inspiration to make bitchy comments about the alimony demands of his ex-wife Kelis on “Strong Will Continue.” Thankfully, Nas takes a less-bitter approach on “Count Your Blessings,” a sprightly invitation to appreciate life, in which Marley rhymes “assurance” with “new health insurance.” He’s similarly positive on the infectious “Nah Mean,” which finds a happy balance between Nas’ Queensbridge boom-bap and Marley’s rastafied reggae stylings. Nas and Marley’s less-than-transcendent but solid collaboration doesn’t exactly offer the best of both worlds, but heaven knows it towers above Jay-Z and R. Kelly’s similarly conceived, infinitely less ambitious and conscious The Best Of Both Worlds.
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