Nas, Damian Marley Dig For Rap's African Roots

New York rapper Nas and reggae artist Damian Marley. i i

New York rapper Nas (left) and reggae artist Damian Marley. Nabil Elderkin hide caption

itoggle caption Nabil Elderkin
New York rapper Nas and reggae artist Damian Marley.

New York rapper Nas (left) and reggae artist Damian Marley.

Nabil Elderkin

Rap was born in the Bronx, but its roots stretch back to Africa and Jamaica. Now, New York rapper Nas and reggae artist Damian Marley are collaborating on an album that traces those origins.

"Rap is sort of like a form of talking," Nas tells NPR's Guy Raz. "It's like you can hear the slaves doing it, you know, you can hear Africans and Jamaicans doing it as kind of like a rhythmic, poetic conversation."

Another ancestor of today's rap is Jamaican "toasting." "Toasting is basically what you call rapping," explains Marley, the son of reggae legend Bob Marley. "It came off of playing the beats at the parties, however it be. You find a space in the beat, and you have somebody live just basically saying rhymes over the beat."

Distant Relatives is set for release next March. It's not the first time Nas and Marley have worked together; the two collaborated on a track from Marley's 2005 breakout album, Welcome to Jamrock. This time around, they had the idea to make an EP focusing on Africa, but, Marley says, the project grew into an entire album.

The name of the upcoming album is a nod to what Nas calls the human family. "You, me, Damian, people out there — we're all a human family," he says. "What we're talking about on this record is nothing too new; people know about political corruption in Africa and so many different things going on out there in the continent, but what we do is come together and make music.

"I think the topics can be related to by people in Sweden, by people in Germany, by people in China — because we're all human; we all go through craziness."

Proceeds from Distant Relatives will go to charity projects in Africa. "I want to build whatever we can build," says Nas. "We can build schools, states, hospitals. I mean, we want to give our whole heart."

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