Artists, rappers especially, like to talk about collaborations and this in turn makes us fans excited to hear the music from those sessions. Often they don't ever come to fruition. When Nas & Damien Marley started talking about doing an album together I greeted it with great suspicion. Yeah right. But in did happen. Distant Relatives is in stores now and Nasir Jones is touring with Damien Marley.
Last night the show stopped in Seattle. I haven't listened to Nneka yet but with all the good things I've heard and the bit of the set I did catch last night I think her album is about to be searched out. She seemed to mix a lot of different styles into her set, demonstating quite a powerful and unique voice. I'm curious what the music sounds like on her album, as she was backed by a few live instruments but not a full band.
Once she was done the show got boring with no DJ rocking tunes between sets. I found myself outside ignoring the sold out crowd and trying to catch a plane or two. Then with no fanfare Nas was on stage rocking classics. The crowd instantly erupted, spitting words from Illmatic tracks, hands to the sky, heads nodding. The first time I saw Nas I had the same feeling, you gotta see this man.
His presence on stage may be unrivaled. He enjoys himself, smiling and rocking, entertaining the crowd. KRS may spell out E-M-C-E-E but Nas is a true master of ceremonies. Thankfully the sound man at the Sodo Showbox was earning his buck and things sounded terrific. While it's rare that a band can capture an artists beats via their instruments, especially when those beats were not made with a band in mind, Jr. Gong's band handled theirs quite well delivering terrific renditions of a few classics. Green Lantern was on the 1's and 2's and I'm pretty sure he dropped a few beats into the mix as well. Can't complain about that.
Upon Marley's entrance the rastas in the place went understandably ape shit and clouds began to rise. I'm not particularly familiar with his music, mildly familiar with that of his fathers but I enjoy much of his contributions to the Distant Relatives project. His vocal intotation is often not that dissimilar from an emcee's flow. I'm not sure if this singing style of rapping is common in his solo music but it works well here and he keeps pace with Nas. Of course he does drop into singing as well and it's good.
Reggae is a style I'm only just now begining to really dig into. Much of it doesn't capture me, while a few things in the genre enrapture my ears. I appriciate good singing and Damien posses a good voice. Lyrically they are both trying to educate and express themselves. Nas has always been one to discuss knowledge and at least portrays the idea that he is well read. Marley's spirtuality and ideas about the world feel much more organic and obviously come from a place much different than that of most of the world.
The theme behind the album is of a unified world. We are all related, we are all Distant Relatives in some crazy interconnected way. Musically these connections are explored beautifully throughout the album. Damien and his brother Stephen are responsible for the sonic tapestries here, pulling from their own traditions, the Hip Hop production mind frame and inspired sounds from the homeland of Africa. Music is deep and always moving. The tunes here are full and lively. The use of live instrumentation gives the album life and allows for Nas and Damien to more fully push the message of empowerment.
Live this provides the oppurtunity for a band to really dig into the music and give the audience the best, hip shaking jams possible. Of course the slow tunes are performed as well, but the crowd rioted best when the album opener dropped. "As We Enter" samples Mulatu Astatke and features a great synth line that fuels you to mash out. Horns blow and the party continues.
Throughout the show the keyboard player was getting fully down and was obviously adding his own personal touches to the tunes. This sense of freedom is something rarely seen in bands backing Hip Hop artists. Perhaps it is because they don't typically. If I had seen Marly in the past I would have a better idea of how they operate, I can't imagine that they don't improvise and play with the music at any given show. Improvisation is another great musical form that has been lost in rap, going so far that today you can't even believe when someone claims they just spit a freestyle.
The music on the album and the music they performed last night is great. The classic status some reviewers have bestowed is a bit much. At times the music is tired. Sometimes it sounds like they are trying to hard, "My Generation" with Joss Stone and Lil Wayne is cool enough but sounds like the result of checks being cut, not an organic, inspired group of artists who really believe their generation is the hope of the future. If you missed the show, don't allow it to happen if they make it back again. In the mean time check out the album and enjoy something strikingly original.