Nas, Damian Marley Confirm Distant Relatives Release Date, Celebrate African Culture

Earlier this evening (December 12), Damian Marley and Nas held a special forum in Washington DC shedding light on their forthcoming album, and reflecting on the cultural traditions linking Hip-Hop with Africa and the Caribbean.

The event, which was moderated by radio personality and MTV host Sway Calloway, streamed live from National Geographic’s Grosvenor Auditorium, and featured a diverse panel of authors (Jeff Chang), emcees (Rakim), and, pioneers (DJ Kool Herc, DJ Red Alert, Big Youth).

The entire discussion served as background for the concept of the Distant Relatives LP, which both men verified as set for March 16.

When an audience member asked how artists could reach those in the streets without glorifying those lifestyles, Nas directed people to remain genuine and be wary of pretentiousness.

“Just do you. If you ain’t been in the streets, what you know about it [from books and others], you will run out of it on the second song,” Nas explained. “I’m from the streets but it doesn’t stop there, that’s just my launching pad. I don’t think about how to reach anyone in particular. You can box yourself in by doing that. Just do you. One may be able to relate, and then tell another. Don’t think the thugs ain’t listening. They be some of the deepest dudes sometimes.”

Rakim Allah has been renowned for his groundbreaking lyrical contributions to Hip-Hop, and his direct influence on Nas, who was often hailed as the God MC’s “second coming” during the Illmatic era.

As an emcee who gave many Hip-Hop fans their first exposure to 5% philosophy and African culture, Rakim echoed Nas’ point of passing on your talents and knowledge.

“I got a blessing right off top a little bit before I met Eric B, I started reading a lot. The more I read, I felt everybody needed it,” Rakim stated. “When you get a jewel, you want to be the first one to let everyone know. I felt I was on the path to something. I love putting that conscious thought in music. The foundation is Africa, the rhythm of the drum. That intrigued me along with knowing the history. I was trying to reach that next level of consciousness and take everyone with me.”

DJ Red Alert added that history shows the industry by nature breaks down music culture, but it could be counteracted if Hip-Hop fans learned and valued their history.

“Awareness and livelihood are what you live through. The sad thing I found is that all genres of music from jazz to rock had culture,” Red detailed. “When the machine comes in, they take out one thing, the music, and leave everything else. We have to research the history to bring it back together.”

Some fans and critics have championed Nas as the rapper for that cause, citing his recent controversial albums Hip-Hop Is Dead and Untitled as thought-provoking and challenging works. Others have countered that these projects were simply for shock value.

While admitting he loves to shake up the status quo, Nas argued that the content still has to be strong to retain the listener’s ear.

“When I did Hip-Hop Is Dead, that was to start trouble. Some people said it was career suicide, others said it inspired other artists,” Nas told the audience. “[You can] be proactive enough to draw people, and then can’t keep them drawn with no meaning. When there’s meaning, they appreciate it. I ain’t trying to save rap, I just start trouble and let the people figure it out. I like it put something out there and let the people catch up, not trying to sound arrogant. That let’s me know how to do the next record. This record is me putting out something different and it makes me feel like I can inspire someone.”

The entire discussion was taped and will be included with the Distant Relatives documentary film.

A set release date has not been confirmed, but it will coincide with the album’s March 16 debut.