In the wake of the critical and fan acclaim following Nas and Damian Marley’s Distant Relatives LP, a few questions remained regarding how well the duo could translate their songs in a live setting. Was the chemistry between Nas’ lyricism and Damian’s sharp patois the result of studio tricks? Could Nas hang with the reggae rhythms and live band arrangements? All those questions were answered when the pair graced Atlanta’s Tabernacle venue with a 2 hour performance last Saturday (June 12).
The demographics for the concert were expansive, ranging from middle aged suburbia to urban teens. The melting pot led to passionate music debates in the crowd, with the main topic being the artistic merits of the new class of emcees. Despite this, many in the crowd were unfamiliar with underrated Nigerian singer Nneka, who made waves last year with her J Period helmed mixtape, and third album Concrete Jungle.
The songstress has always emphasized the importance of her lyrics, which speak on love, materialism, and politics. Nneka began her opening act by keeping the lights low, which obscured her face and forced everyone present to focus on the power of her singing voice and her lyrics. She deftly showcased her versatility by alternating between yearning ballads like “The Uncomfortable Truth” and upbeat, head-nodding numbers like “Walking.”
Having won the crowd over, Nneka concluded her time when her biggest single to date, “Heartbeat.” A unique, soul-stirring intro preceded matters, resulting in the song being divided equally as a ballad and an urgent self-manifesto. Nneka’s work no doubt drew her new fans as she left to a huge ovation from everyone present.
Nas and Damian Marley made a triumphant entrance courtesy of their lead single “As We Enter.” The crowd’s energy shook the venue’s main floor, and the track’s arrangements had much more force live due to the 11 piece band (including 2 backup singers, DJ Green Lantern on turntables, and an official Rastafarian flag waver) and Nas’ combative delivery. Damian Marley, with a deeper voice and calmer vocal presentation, was a great contrast to the Queensbridge legend’s voice.
Another benefit for the group was the fact each artist have their own extensive solo catalogues to pull from. Nas kicked off the solo sets by enthralling hardcore fans with lyrical gems like “Nas Is Like” and “Represent,” and mainstream hits for casual fans such as “Street Dreams” and “If I Ruled the World.” Damian tapped his own selections plus his rich family history with renditions of his father Bob Marley’s classics like “Exodus” and “Jammin’.”
The live band combined with DJ Green Lantern’s turntable mixing kept the crowd in a constant frenzy with impressive rhythm transitions ranging from classic Hip-Hop breakbeats like Billy Squier’s “Big Beat” to timeless Reggae riddims like Sly and Robbie’s “Bam Bam.” This gave a song like “Got Yourself a Gun” a more sinister edge (over Dr. Dre’s “Deep Cover” sample).
Kudos must also be given to flag bearer, who takes his job very seriously and kept the Rastafarian banner in motion throughout the show. It may seem like a simple job, but a viewing of the accompanying videos shows he does it with fervor and conviction, giving the band a militaristic presence at times.
After Nas and Marley finished up their main set with “Welcome to Jamrock” and “Road to Zion,” the crowd chanted continuously for an encore. The house lights were turned on, and fans were treated with a 2 man interpretation of “One Mic” featuring Nas and the band’s bongo player. Of course, the fans adlibbed many of the lyrics and Nasir Jones finished strong to bring a fitting a conclusion to their 2 hour set.
The Distant Relatives tour is well worth the price of admission and gas if the duo comes anywhere within driving distance. Whether your music leanings are to Reggae, Hip-Hop, or World music, Nas and Damian Marley have successfully combined all those mediums into an exceptional stage show.
Nas and Damian Marley-”Nah Mean, Nas Is Like, and Represent”
Nas and Damian Marley- “Got Yourself a Gun, Made You Look, Welcome to Jamrock”