Nas, Damian Marley Preview Album Collaboration On Rock The Bells Tour
Nas, Damian Marley Preview Album Collaboration On Rock The Bells Tour

Nas and Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley entered the studio early this year with a plan to do "an EP based on Africa," according to Marley. As previously reported, it's turned into a full length album, "Distant Relatives," which the duo has been previewing during their headlining run on this year's Rock The Bells tour though no release date or label has been determined yet.

"Once we started working on the music," Marley tells Billboard.com, "it was Nas who said to me, 'Yo, we should just make this a full album.' He really liked the energy, I guess."

Nas adds that "I just think it was me and Damian finding our way. When you have two different artists working on a record when they're used to doing their own thing their own way, it's not as easy as people may think. We just flowed, and the next thing we looked up and there were so many songs done or so many songs started and worked on...we just decided to keep it going. It's not reggae. It's not rap. It's different shit for each of us."

Nas and Marley -- who previously worked together on "Road to Zion" from the latter's gold-certified 2005 album "Welcome to Jamrock" -- are still putting the finishing touches on the album; Nas estimates it's about 90 percent done, Marley guesses a more conservative 75 percent, with songwriting contributions by Marley's brother Stephen and a guest feature by rapper K'Naan. They've already leaked part of one track, "As We Enter," and posted a trailer for the album online at myspace.com/distantrelatives. They plan to complete the set after their Rock The Bells commitment wraps in early August, but meanwhile they're treating audiences to "As We Enter" and other album tracks such as "Strong Will Continue" and "Africa Must Wake Up."

"I like to come out and tell the people live in person, 'Yo, the album is coming' and give them a little bit of music to start to get excited about it," says Marley, who was in the early stages of his own next album when "Distant Relatives" started. "I think it also will help with the finishing of the album because we're seeing how things work."

Nas, meanwhile, thinks the tour is helping to put the project in perspective for the duo and for the audience. "I know people are kind of like, 'What's happening? What's Nas doing? What's Damian doing? Is this really happening?' " Nas notes. "So just being out here on the road we get a good feel from people about this whole thing."

Nas and Marley say they're planning to tour more once the album is released.