Damian and Nas initially collaborated on "Road To Zion," the second single from Damian's acclaimed Welcome To Jamrock, which peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard 200, won the 2006 best reggae album Grammy and was eventually certified Gold by the RIAA (the album's title track was awarded a Grammy for best urban/alternative performance.) Damian's fearlessly chanted indictment of the Babylon system punctuated by Nas' politically poignant rapped verse on "Road to Zion" strengthened the artists' mutual admiration. "Damian's lyrics on that song are bananas; it makes you go 'did he just say that? Isn't he scared of the repercussions?' I want to work with someone like that," Nas told Billboard at the time of Distant Relatives' release.
Damian's manager Dan Dalton, whose Dalton Entertainment Group's partnership with Roc Nation began in 2016, came up with the Distant Relatives concept. "I thought Damian and Nas should put their efforts into a collaboration centered around Africa; Nas' rhymes are very street but he has a pan-African consciousness about his music and for Damian, as a Rastafarian, Africa holds great significance. I thought we could release an EP, then tour; the studio sessions went so well, Nas and Damian decided to make an album," Dalton told Billboard. "Today, there's an even greater audience for the conversation that Damian and Nas pushed about Africa. Their reunion is very exciting and will bring a new demographic to the Welcome to Jamrock cruise."
The inaugural Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise sailed from Miami to Jamaica in October 2014 aboard the 2,400-passenger capacity Norwegian Pearl; solely advertised through a few social media posts, the cruise sold out within a month. In 2015, due to overwhelming demand, Marley and Dalton's Jamrock Productions presented back-to-back sold out cruises aboard the Norwegian Pearl. In 2016, the cruise moved to its current home, Royal Caribbean's Independence of Seas, a 4,370-passenger vessel; now sailing from Fort Lauderdale to Jamaica, Jamrock has sold out each of its annual excursions, several months in advance. Three weeks prior to Jamrock's Dec. 9-14, 2019 journey, the 2020 cruise (Dec. 5-10) went on sale. Without an announced lineup, the available cabins were gone before the 2019 cruise returned to Florida, making it the fastest seller in Jamrock's history; with a waiting list of 3,500 potential cruisers, the organizers decided to add another trip, Nov. 30-Dec. 5. (Those on the waiting list can purchase cabins today; general sales begin at 12 p.m. ET on Feb. 11.) "Are there 8,000 reggae fans that want to sail on the Jamrock cruises this year?" asks Dalton. "Selling out in record time, without announcing a lineup, without advertising, our team thinks there are."
As the Jamrock cruise approaches its seventh anniversary, Damian says its success is "never taken for granted; it's very important that reggae is represented properly with the right sound, setting and production. We're also aware of the need to feature artists who've never been on the cruise." The 2020 Jamrock debut of two-time Grammy winner Shabba Ranks, whose coarsely resonant deejayed style brought dancehall into the American mainstream in the early 1990s, is of great personal significance to Damian. "If I had to pick my all-time favorite artist that isn't from my family, it would be Shabba, he is one of my musical heroes," shares Damian. "I was influenced to sing by my father, but Shabba is a big reason why I do dancehall and toast on riddims."
The complete Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise lineup will be announced soon.