** Language Advisory
Garth Trinidad hosted an incredible session with hip hop icon Nas and Damian "JR Gong" Marley (son of Bob Marley) for KCRW's Apogee Sessions.
Garth Trinidad: I just wanted to first have both of you, if possible, briefly comment on the historical relationship between reggae music and hip hop music and what role that history played in making this record and whether or not the title has anything to do with that.
Nas: Yeah, I think Jamaican music and hip hop music were doing a lot to the people in New York City where I grew up in the '80s. At the same time I’m hearing early, early hip hop records, I'm hearing a lot of early, early reggae records and they have a lot of similarities. The artists both come from the same – similar -- situations politically or just the conditions of their lives, were very similar, you know what I'm saying, those two different artists. The music of it was hard - the drums was hard, the bass lines was hard and it was like they went right along with each other. Also, one of the pioneers of hip hop, Kool Herc, is Jamaican. He brought his whole culture to New York City. He's one of the guys who pioneered hip hop. So it's always been, like, side by side.
Damian "Jr Gong" Marley: Yeah in the same sense as what Nas was saying, the cultures are very similar and come from the same class of people, if you will. They're both very honest expressions and both a voice for a class of people. And everything he said, I agree.
GT: Thank you gentlemen. As I understand it, you know I know (manager) Dan Dalton fairly well, he and I go back for some years, and you guys didn't plan for this to be an album. First I heard rumor of an EP, then Dan let me know they're in the studio and it's feeling really good and I think this is going to be an album. This wasn't a slated record. You guys are both on major labels, you have contracts to fulfill and what not, you got solo records coming out, I know. And so this record was kind of like a passion project. And I wanted you to sort of talk about how you ended up deciding to make this full length album, which I think is a phenomenal record. It's beautiful, there's a lot of time and effort and energy put into it. There's a lot of heart. There's a lot of heart in the record. And so, I mean, where did that come from? What happened?
DM: I mean, we started off really being fans of each others music to tell you the truth. That's really the root and where everything really came from. A lot of everything else that happened for the project was serendipity. Things that ended up happening, to be coincidental and fall into place, that were perfect in terms of what we're doing – everything was in the same line.
For example it started out with the idea from our management teams first to do an EP on Africa, 3 to 4 tracks, and in working on the album we decided we wanted to make it become an album. And even within the title, "Distant Relatives," after a while we started to think of things like well, yeah, hip hop and reggae are distant relatives. We started to see the common root is people and Africa and how everything tied in together. So this thing, I guess you could say destiny was slated for this record. It was something that was in our conscious, our focus, but it's something that we both feel that happened. We didn't fight it we just went with the energy.
GT: Mr. Jones – do you concur?
Nas: I concur.
GT: Alright, I'm going do my DJ thing real quick. I have a couple of favorite songs on the record. You guys have Kanaan collaborating on he record, I kind of wanted to talk about how you connected with him in the studio and recorded with him. He was bringing a lot of flavor to some of the music and I just wanted to have you tell that story about Kanaan and the collaboration.
Nas: Well, I met Kanaan from – I was introduced to him by Dan. And they had already been working and to me it was great to see, to meet another artist...we were making a record about Africa, but you know to have a perspective from an African artist was real good because it enlightened me on a lot of the real, you know, it was like close up, more close up than BBC, what he was talking about. He's giving you the first hand story. And just to have him involved was big.
DM: Well, Kanaan actually had a lot to do with the creation of this project in an indirect way because part of the reason why Dan came up with the idea of us doing something about Africa was because we had a track that was a demo, which ended up becoming "Africa Must Wake Up," on this album, which was with Kanaan. It never was released, obviously, and it was just sitting there. Knowing that we had that music sitting there was part of the reason why we were saying let's go with the theme of Africa. So Kanaan played a great part in this album indirectly in that way. It was a great inspiration toward the making of this album.
GT: My last question before we get back to the set -- you both are the seeds of two great music and cultural icons: Junior Gong - you're the youngest son of Robert Nesta Marley. Nasir you're the son of the one and only Olu Dara. I mean, these are two phenomenal men who changed the course of popular music and music in general as we know it. As award-winning, critically-acclaimed artists in your own right I wanted to know – and I'm sure some people here want to know – what about their respective legacies most inspires you? You know, outside of all of that – "That's my pops" – all of that stuff but what is it as an artist that inspires you about what they’ve done.
Nas: I think, for me, it was just as a kid he'd be traveling from country to country coming back with foreign money, showing me. He came back with money from everywhere and I noticed everybody else had jobs, 9 to 5's, but he was kind of like his own boss and put together his whole band and he wrote songs with them and to me that was like a real life for me – something I could control, I could create. I could create things and then go out there in front of people and show people what I created and they could relate to it. That give and take, that relationship between the music and the people – I like that. That's what I was digging. And then the music he was playing, it wasn't like what was going on on the charts and stuff. He was very – to me – underground. You know what I mean? And the music he was playing was jazz and he kind of did his own thing and I just liked that.
GT: Your pops is one of the most phenomenal storytellers I mean – he infused that in the music. Jazz, Blues, Theatre, Spoken Word it was – he told stories with like a real theatrical musical vibe so – I was just wondering, so thank you for sharing. Junior Gong?
DM: Well for me I would say, you know, first and foremost it would be my family – you know what I mean my brothers and sisters. I was obviously very young when my father passed from the flesh. So a lot of what I know of him and learned about him is from my older brothers and sisters. And it was the fact that over the years we've always been together as a family. If you even look in my album credits, you'll see that my brothers are all over in the credits. So I think that family has been a very firm foundation for all of us to really build upon and use as a platform to launch, so that would be one of the parts of his legacy that I'm very appreciative for. And otherwise, knowing what my father stand for outside of just being a musician, you know what I mean, standing up to be a rebel, a revolutionary, at the same time a humanitarian -- all of these things has had a great influence on the person I've become, let alone, just the musician I've become.
GT: Well allow us, all of us here, to congratulate you both on your success.
Banner Image: Nas and Damian Marley by Jeremiah Garcia