The Promised Land: From Aswad to Nas

April 20, 2010


Words by Jesse Serwer

As STRONG supporters of the exchange between hip-hop and reggae, we’ve been eagerly anticipating the arrival of Nas and Damian Marley’s Distant Relatives. Proper MC/deejay collaborations (read: Shyne/Barrington, Foxy/Sizzla-level, BK-to-Kingston car stereo staples) have been lacking these last few years. If properly executed, this, the first full-length collaboration between a major dancehall artist and a major rapper, could usher in a renaissance of sorts.

That said, the first two tracks leaked from Distant Relatives (currently set for a May 18 release) have not exactly been encouraging. The Mulatu Astatke sample on “As We Enter” was a nice touch, but both artists sounded out of their respective comfort zones on the uptempo beat. And while Mr. Jones’s decision to get personal on “Strong Will Continue” (Check verse three for his first lyrical references to the Kelis/divorce/child-support fiasco) was intriguing, it wasn’t enough to make up for that track’s clunky production. Fortunately, the third time was the charm: “The Promised Land” (Download it here) is exactly what you imagined from this project. It is of course a re-lick of Dennis Brown’s ’80s classic of the same name, itself a version of Aswad’s massive tune “Love Fire.” Marley is in particularly strong form, tossing off an inspiring barrage of “what if” scenarios for Africa. Of the five tunes played at a listening session for the media earlier this month, this was the clear favorite, prompting a near- instant “Rewind!” call from co-host Dahved Levy.

Is this the track that finally gets the public hyped on this project?

Dennis Brown performs “The Promised Land” at London’s Crystal Palace in 1984:

Aswad’s original, “Love Fire”:

On another note, National Geographic held a Distant Relatives-inspired symposium on rap and reggae in Washington D.C. last December. Watch Kool DJ Red Alert, Rakim, Kool Herc, Big Youth and others weigh in here.