Over the Memorial Day weekend, while performing in front of tens of thousands at the sold-out UCLA JazzReggae Fest, Nas told the audience that his collaboration album with Damian Marley, Distant Relatives, was a passion project that the labels didn’t know what to do with. The label limbo set the album from a June 30, 2009, release date to one almost a year later, and it’s not like the album has been exceeding expectations at retail. The project has had moderate sales so far, approaching 100,000 unit in the second week in stores.
The live show is a different story. Wherever the Distant Relatives go, the duo sell out the venue. Further, as Nas points out in the interview with AllHipHop, the album’s delay actually helped it to coincide with an event that is making Africa the hub of economic activity this month: one of the world’s biggest sporting events, the World Cup, is taking place in South Africa.
In interviews, Nas has said that recording the album was a cathartic process that helped him deal with a turmoil in personal life. In Damian Marley, God’s Son finds a partner with whom he can relate and touch on topics from politics to friends to religion. With critics and fans embracing the album, Nas and Damian sat down with AllHipHop in L.A. to speak out on label politics, their tour and even have a lighthearted moment about their foreign language skills.
AllHipHop.com: It’s been almost a year since the album was supposed to drop. Can you speak about the label politics involved with the release?
Nas: Label politics are what they always been. It wasn’t anything that we thought about. We were just thinking about doing the record. It was those companies to figure out. Label politics are going to be label politics no matter what you do. It was cool though. Everybody just said, this is what you want to do, go ahead and do it. It wasn’t a bunch of label people running around, telling us, we can’t wait to do this and press these buttons. Nah, it wasn’t none of that it would have been nice. We just do what we do.AllHipHop.com: I know a lot of that album was recorded here in LA. Was it with your band Damian, or with Nas’ band, Mulatto?
Damian Marley: One of them, one of the musicians from Nas’ group, was there, guitarist Luke, but for the most part, it was my musicians.
AllHipHop.com: How was working with a live band different than working with beats, Nas?
Nas: I mean, when you going to work with Damian you expect it to be different than what you do. So you can tell that by his music.
AllHipHop.com: Want to talk about the tour plans. How are the plans to hit Africa shaping up?
Nas: I mean you know the record is what we want everybody to embrace, especially Africa. We just happy to hear the news. We just sit back and enjoy what’s happening. There’s different news every day about where we going.
AllHipHop.com: Growing up in New York, how did Jamaican culture influence you and the rebel inside you?
Nas: To finish up, I was just thinking about what you asked with the last question, it’s incredible with the timing that took place with this record. This record being about Africa being released the same year as the World Cup all throughout Africa. We at the right place at the right time with the right sound to take it to Africa. Back to your question
AllHipHop.com: Actually, I want to piggyback off that real quick. Africa as a continent and the World Cup will be a hub of economic activity this year, did it go your through your mind to make an album and be spokesmen for a movement that’s going on?
Nas: I think we were making the music and that’s all we concentrated on. Again, the timing just worked out. That just goes to show this was a project that we were supposed to be working on at this time, not at another time. Everything’s that happening over there, economically, all the business opportunities and everything like that, I’d love to be a part of that. But, I’m sure it’s not as easy as it sounds, but you know time will tell. That would great opportunities to put some people like ourselves, who care so much about the continent, to go over there and do some business. That’s when you’re talking like ‘whew,’ real revolution, real turnaround.
AllHipHop.com: Can you speak about some of your experiences out there? I know you Nas have been to Cameroon, Kenya, South Africa, and Damian, I know having been to Africa, you’re embraced and accepted there even bigger than Hip-Hop. Can you speak about your experiences there, something memorable?
Damian: In 2005, we played in Ethiopia, a celebration of my father’s birthday they had a big concert there. That’s actually the single biggest concert I’ve ever performed at. It was a special experience for me as a Rasta. In 2006, I went to Ghana, it was the same kind of event. Ghana actually reminded me of Jamaica when I was a boy. It was a great experiences, they showed love.
AllHipHop.com: You guys going to the World Cup?
Nas: (Tentatively) Yeah, I’ll be there.
AllHipHop.com: Nas, what’s your top five, dead or alive?
Nas: I don’t have a top five, I have too many people that I love to fill the top five. It’s just, you know, there’s so many different generations in Hip-Hop that did so much. One is from this era, the other one is from that era, this one is from this era. I like all of them.
AllHipHop.com: I was at that National Geographic panel with you in December. Can you speak about what was going through your minds? Do you plan to have more events like that in the future?
Nas: Yeah, definitely. I think that’s the type of people that we like to talk to, people who started from the early days of reggae, early days of Hip-Hop, shed a light on stuff that we didn’t know about and were babies or probably not even born, when it was happening. National Geographic, working with that, National Geographic is educational. And what people got out of that was an education, stuff you don’t learn in school about music that’s really relevant right now, so all of that tied in. I think even in the packaging of the album, there’s an education there about kings and universities that existed in Timbuktu, and books that existed thousands of years ago in Africa. There’s history lessons in there.
AllHipHop.com: You mention language, you say habari gani and Damian answers with nzuri sana on As We Enter. How good is your Swahili?
Nas: It’s terrible (laughs). It doesn’t exist. We just sparking, planting seeds, just to do that. It’s just what you get out of that. I was walking down the street and someone started talking to me in Swahili, and I thought he was trying to play me, I thought he was trying to be funny. And then I was like, ‘oh, I said it in a song, habari gani.’ It’s like, wow, this started something. But you never know, check me in a year, I might have four languages tight, I’m a fast learner (laughs).
AllHipHop.com: What do you think of Jay-Z’s business moves?
Nas: Could you imagine in the 80s when people tried to stop Hip-Hop music, could you imagine all the heat that came from Black leaders even, to try to stop us from voicing our opinions? And look at us now, see where we’ve come, see where people like Jay have come? I think there’s a lot of elders that aren’t feeling too good about themselves right now. You should never turn your back on youth, ’cause when you do, we wind up taking over anyway.