Collaboration efforts between artists go a long way in hip-hop. Their either come off as cash grabs or sincere attempts at creative talents working for the common goal of simply good music. Some are easily hyped by the name of the participants (Jay-Z & R. Kelly, my eyes are squarely on you) and some others come off as quirky but wind up becoming gems (Danger Mouse & Cee-Lo Green creating Gnarls Barkley).

Nas & Damian Marley’s effort Distant Relatives comes five years after their original collaboration on Jr. Gong’s album “Road to Zion”. It’s eerie to remember that Nas proclaimed leaving America and going back to Africa at the end of the 1998 film Belly and he did so. Not any specific country or anything, he just straight up went to Africa. For what you may want to take out of that bit of cinematic storytelling, understand that Distant Relatives attempts to bridge that gap and utilize Africa as a central hub for all things in between Jamaica and Queensbridge, New York.

Things start off at a blistering pace with “As We Enter” which sees both Marley and Nas take turns tossing the microphone back and forth in a pissed off fashion. They have something to say, your job is to sit and listen to it. When it comes to absolute venting and vexing, Nas reaches his wits end on “Strong Will Continue”. Even with its climatic up and down production, Nas simply begins to go off on the second verse asking questions about the Bruce Lee curse, Kelis cheating, and almost anything else in between.

Those moments are rare and few on Relatives because everything else finds the two men crafting music aimed to inspire and instead seem stuck at times. While “Patience” in the second half of the album finds Nas asking numerous theology questions hoping to find answers & Marley’s production channels sentiments of that thought-provoking landscape we’re used to hearing from him, “My Generation” comes equipped with a gospel chorus even those who crafted the We Are The World 25 track shake their head at for coming off so cheesy and almost wants to be the second coming of “I Can”.

This is where Nas doesn’t come off as the guy who spit wizardly tales about the streets and life in Queens but rather that kid from your dorm room who had told you numerous philosophical quotes to uplift you and it only make you shrug his preaching off. Hell, even Lil Wayne for the first ever collaboration between the two comes out sounding like a prophet of hope and change.

If you simply want some synergy between the two during the latter half of the album, look no further than “Nah Mean” which sees both men step onto the up-tempo boom bap track and rhyme to prove something. Other than that, the album wavers between being the Save Africa album you’ll play maybe once or twice and that album the sons of Olu Dara & Bob Marley made that was great, in parts.

Is it a good collaborative album that plays a lot on the two artists strengths? Yes. Nas plays a great sidekick to Damian’s patois to give Distant Relatives a worldly feel. It’s what’s being said in the message that comes off a little questionable. No real definitive answer for an album that touches Africa in various different ways, just like Sincere did in Belly.

FINAL SCORE: 7.0 out of 10