Nas & Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley, "Distant Relatives"
It's tempting to focus primarily on the messages of the collaborative debut between rapper Nas and reggae royalty Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley. "Distant Relatives" centers on Africa as the origin of and link among civilizations and the struggles of those who live on the continent or descended from it. The lyrics are alternately thoughtful and well-worn, with only moderate provocation. But the themes are communicated best through the music, a dynamic hybrid of the genres each artist has mastered coupled with African- and African-American-derived rhythms. On the track "As We Enter," Nas and Marley seamlessly but distinctly trade rhymes like "I got the guns," "I got the ganja" over blends of African, funk and hip-hop beats. Heavy reggae and jazz dominate "Nah Mean," while "Count Your Blessings" is a thankful jam that somersaults from R&B to rap to disco. Children's gospel choirs and Joss Stone make somewhat unnecessary appearances, but musically the project impressively meets its goal of cultural connection. --Evie Nagy