Hip-hop collaboration albums can be a risky business because of the egos involved. Who gets the most time on the microphone becomes a point of contention. This was not an issue when Nas (Nasir Jones) and Damian “Junior Gong” Marley got together for the album “Distant Relatives” (the fact that the album was done for charity to build schools in Africa helped negate the ego).
“Friends” veers from the theme of the album, building solidarity among descendants of Africa and drawing attention to issues on that continent, to that of what constitutes a good friend. Marley, who was responsible for most of the production work along with his brother Stephen, keeps the song within the premise of the rest of the album by sampling the song “Undenge Uami” by Angolan folk artist David Zé. Marley caps off the theme by using his reggae band as backing music on every track.
The lack of electronic beats, coupled with the mellow style of Marley’s band, makes this hip-hop that won’t work at the club. The music is fitting for the nature of the songs, however. With Marley and Nas both delivering manifestos on the mic, the subtle background track makes a nice accompaniment while keeping the message at the forefront.
Marley and Nas both tackle two verses on the track, but Marley dominates the track and sings its catchy hook. Nas drifts from the topic during his share of verses, but Marley nails his, filling his Jamaican voice with empathy.
Regardless of who delivers the best lyrics, the combination of the two stars flows together like an Arnold Palmer, unexpected but delicious. The two provide commentary on the same topic in two unique voices (literally and metaphorically) and keep the listener from getting bored.
“Friends” allows the listener to enjoy the skills of the two talented artists at play, without enduring any political preaching.