Musicians Nas; Damian Marley

Musicians reflect on what they found in each other’s work that led to their collaborative CD.

One of the artists who led the East Coast hip-hop revolution in the late '90s, Nas' talent comes naturally, since his father, Olu Dara, is one of the jazz avant-garde's leading trumpeters. His first major-label album, "Illmatic," produced multiple hits and earned critical acclaim as a hip-hop classic.

Rolling Stone named Grammy winner Damian Marley one of "10 Artists to Watch." He's the youngest son of reggae icon Bob Marley and was only two when his father died. Marley formed his first band at age 13. By '94, he was working on a solo project, with the help of his father's label.

In a "best of both worlds," the talented duo is touring in support of their collaborative new project, entitled "Distant Relatives."


Tavis: Pleased to welcome Nas and Damian Marley to this program. The talented duo have teamed up on a new project that explores their African heritage, called “Distant Relatives.” The disc also features Lil Wayne, Stephen Marley, and K’naan. Here is some of the video for the single, “As We Enter.”
Tavis: Damian, good to see you, man.
Damian Marley: Thank you.
Tavis: Nas, how you living?
Nas: Good, man, how you doing?
Tavis: I’m doing well, man. How did this collaboration come to be? (Laughter) Don’t all speak at once.
Marley: Well, it came about first and foremost of being fans of each other’s music. We did some work on my last album together, and also some work for “Hip-Hop is Dead” album, and it just kind of evolved from there. Our management teams came up with the idea for sort of an EP together, based around Africa, three to four songs. Working on the EP, we just decided to make it an album.
Tavis: When you hear, to Damian’s point that you were fans of each other’s music, Nas, when you hear his music, you hear what?
Nas: I hear somebody who has guts to say what he’s saying, and someone who’s very talented lyrically, and I kind of see him, if I was Jamaican I’d be Damian. Through his music I would definitely do what he does, and I think probably vice-versa if he was a rapper or whatever.
Tavis: Tell me more about the concept for this particular project about Africa, though.
Nas: We’re all Africans, everyone – Black, White, Yellow. It all started there, and there’s such a mystery to Africa and the history, and I’ve been talking about Africa, little pieces here and there in my music, and I think it was your idea to make the theme Africa, really.
So once Damian said, “Let’s make the theme about Africa,” I said, “Yeah,” I jumped on it. It just felt good. It felt like something, me being from the hip-hop community, I felt like that would be cool for just a voice from the hip-hop community acknowledging that connection.
Tavis: Why Africa for you, Damian?
Marley: Well, Africa is very dear to our hearts as Rastas, you know what I mean, Ethiopia in particular. As I was telling you earlier, the idea came up through our management teams to do an EP based on Africa, and I really thought that it was a great idea, as Nas said, for us to acknowledge that connection, coming from where we’re coming from and being who we are, and shining some light on that particular topic at this moment in time would be great.
So in the process of doing it I thought an album would even be stronger than an EP if we just kept it on that theme throughout.
Tavis: To your point now, as you’ve been talking about this in bits and pieces for years, what’s so hard about getting traction on that subject matter? You think of all the subject matter that rappers rap about, why so hard getting traction on Africa, the motherland, of all places?
Nas: It just seems so far away, so foreign, and kind of pushed back out of our minds since we were kids. Being born in America, you don’t really know anything but America, and the history of African Americans going back to slavery, it kind of stops there, or it used to stop there before they came up with this new DNA find your people thing.
But since it was stopped there, I guess people like myself kind of got upset with the history, kind of felt like something was missing, something huge was missing, and the more you start to learn about what’s missing, the further away it seemed to be. The next thing you know, you pull yourself all the way into all of this history and you don’t even know where to start learning. So to me, it’s just I’m on this big learning experience.
Tavis: Damian, when you decide to take on a project like something this big, Africa, musically, you start where? In other words, how do you decide what the sound of the project is going to be, the lyrical content, the sound, et cetera?
Marley: Well the sound on the project, I knew that I didn’t want it to really sound like what would have been my typical record or a typical record from Nas. We wanted Africa to also play a theme throughout the music, so a lot of the samples that we used were African samples and things of this nature.
Otherwise, having that in mind going into the project, really just moving (unintelligible) inspiration, which being that the album is about Africa, it’s a very inspiring thing for me and all of the musicians who worked on the album. So it was never a lack of creativity or inspiration in working, so we didn’t even have to focus too much or think too much about how we were going to make music, more than just making music.
Tavis: Your stuff, Nas, you always have something to say on all your projects, but speaking of creativity and inspiration, the approach to this one, given what the subject matter was, what the subject matter is, is the approach to this one different than your approach to other projects?
Nas: My other projects, well, the majority of the record is hip-hop – hip-hop beats, hip-hop producers, and it had kind of one street sound. This one is a lot prettier. It’s a lot more beautiful-sounding, African sounds in the music, it’s a lot – the topic is a lot lighter, even, in some cases on this record.
Tavis: When you’re writing your lyrical contribution to it, you approach that how? What do you dig to get the stuff?
Nas: For this record, since it was different than my other hip-hop albums, it was kind of like a challenge for me to switch up the flow and find how to fit in there with D, because D is all in the track, he’s all around it, he’s doing incredible things all over the track, and I’m like he’s been living with the music a little bit longer. So I didn’t want to embarrass myself and not be able to stand up and rise to the occasion, so I just had to challenge myself and fit in.
Tavis: Just because you are a fan of somebody’s music, Damian, doesn’t necessarily mean that the collaboration is going to work once you get in the studio.
Marley: True.
Tavis: That the voices are going to match, that the flow is going to – that it’s going to connect. When you got into the studio, what made you know that it was working?
Marley: Well, aside from even before I got into the studio, I already knew that Nas was very much aligned with a lot of the subject matter that I speak about in my own music. As you were saying earlier, we were like mirrors to each other from different genres in terms of what we stand for and how we approach our music.
Then also the experience of working on two tracks before working on this album, which “Road to Zion” on my last album, and like I was saying a track for Nas album also. So sonically, in terms of how it sounded, we already knew we sounded good together, you know what I mean? Seeing that – being that the album’s theme on Africa, knowing that Nas has bits and pieces of that in his music (unintelligible) I knew that it would work well in that way. Once it started working, it just became more obvious.
Tavis: I don’t know what role y’all play in this process, Nas, but when I got it and started pulling this thing apart, there’s a lot of knowledge in this thing. It’s not just the lyrical content; the way the CD is laid out, the book that comes with it, there are African facts inside of it.
I don’t know if you guys can see this, but even the – can you guys see that? I don’t know if you can get that, Dave – it just looks like a bunch of color, probably. When you zoom in on that, it’s a map that really shows you that everything comes from Africa. There’s a lot of thought and process that went into the actual project.
Nas: We talked about the packaging for the record while we were recording, and all these ideas were just popping up and popping up. Too many ideas popped up for me. I think Damian, he gets a lot of credit for that, because he was the one to catch the lightning in the bottle and just contain it and remember it and make it happen.
Tavis: The response that you’re getting to this is what so far? How would you describe it?
Marley: Beautiful. (Laughter) Great, great, great, great.
Nas: It’s great.
Tavis: I ask that because I wonder whether or not when you take on a project like this, that has this level of consciousness attached to it. Whether or not there’s a risk, Nas, that it might not connect, that people might not get it.
Nas: Yeah, definitely, especially when you’re talking about things that people don’t know too much about or don’t want to hear about, necessarily, but every project you do is a risk, even when you’re making the most pop record of your life, when you’re trying to make the biggest thrill album you can, you’re taking a risk. It’s always a risk, so why not do it for the truth?
Tavis: This project, given the success that it’s already starting to meet with, Damian, there might be something else in the works?
Marley: We have a lot of ideas. (Laughter) We have (unintelligible) definite focus our plan yet, but we have a lot of ideas that we’ve been talking about, so yeah.
Tavis: This is an age-old question, Nas, but it comes up in these conversations for obvious reasons, particularly when you’re doing a project like this, and that is the notion of whether or not you think there is a move back toward greater consciousness in the music.
Nas: Yeah, yeah.
Tavis: Yeah, you think so?
Nas: Yeah. There’s a lot of artists out now that are saying something. You’ve got to always talk, you can’t isolate yourself. You’ve got to talk to all the people that are out there, so there’s some good stuff going on.
Tavis: So what are the tour plans for this? You guys going to do some dates?
Marley: Yeah, we’re on the road right now. We’re in San Francisco I think tomorrow.
Nas: Yeah.
Marley: We’re going to keep rolling from there on the West Coast here, and then we’re heading out to Europe, and we have some dates lined up.
Tavis: Cool. Nas, good to see you, as always.
Nas: Great to see you.
Tavis: Damian, good to see you. It’s a great project. It’s called “Distant Relatives.”
Marley: Thank you.
Tavis: The collaboration between Nas and Damian Marley. Good to see you both, glad to have you come on.
Nas: Thanks, man.

Marley: Thanks.

Last modified: April 13, 2014 at 5:41 pm