Interview: Brian “B.Dot” Miller
This June, hip-hop icon Nas and reggae star, Damian Marley plan to release their collaborative album, Distant Relatives. Though the announcement came as a shock, their chemistry proved positive on the mash up, “Road to Zion.” In part one of Double R’s feature, Nas discusses their collision course, his fixation with the motherland, and why a collaborative album with AZ never materialized.
Doing an album with Damian Marley seems like a stretch. How did this even come about?
You know certain things, just happen because they was supposed to happen ’cause it was a good thing. And certain people you just gon’ meet. It could be a two minute conversation or a two hour conversation or it can be a relationship that starts because of two people meeting. I’ve known him for a while and he’s good people, man. And the energy of it and the flow of it is good money, man. Nothing else but pure fun.
Is this coming out on Def Jam?
Well, cause of me, Def Jam is involved. It’s Def Jam, the label Damian is on which is Republic and you have even also Tuff Gong, the Marley label.
So being that this is not coming through a major label, is there less pressure?
Yeah, ’cause it hasn’t been done only [for] a hip-hop artist and reggae
[artists] to the level of my knowledge. Forgive me if I’m wrong. But,
I think it hasn’t been done, so it has its own lane. If we had a radio
hit, cool, but it’s like it has its own lane so it’s interesting to see
what happens with the single. Does it remain among music people and
they choose it? Or, does it become a top ten hit? Who knows, we don’t
know. So, there is no pressure ’cause we don’t have to do the norm. We
can do what we want.
Growing up in Queensbridge, did you listen to a lot of reggae?
I grew up, it definitely was in my mix. Early hip-hop to me is like reggae. From, what’s the kids called? Sound of a generation?
Yeah, them. To a few other records that were out when I was hearing early hip-hop, I was hearing early reggae at the same time. So, you know yeah, big time fan.
On your record, “Theif’s Theme” you named dropped Peter MacIntosh. Was he an influence?
Yeah man, “Legalize It!” He’s amazing. Just that whole thing, The Wailers. Like, Jamaica’s own Temptations or Supremes or what have you. But it was just that movement and the music that came out of that group is crazy.
Right. So on this album can we expect to hear you kicking any Patois?
[Laughs] Nah, so far we almost done. But it’s a good chance you might not hear any of that, but we do mess around in the studio. I just haven’t laid my vocals like that, yet. So it’s possible before we close it out. Dame went crazy. His whole style is so crazy ’cause most guys who listen to hip-hop [and] don’t listen to dancehall or reggae, they don’t know what they’re missing. But a lot of the lyrics from reggae music—— and if you listen to any of Damian’s albums, he’s going in. So, with this album, it’s really dope like that ’cause dude is bringing it. It’s for real.
The press release mentions your “bond to African ancestry,” it seems like you’ve always had this fascination with the motherland. Have you ever visited?
Yeah, I been. My fascination is with the fact that there is such a mystery with a great history and [with] the present genocide, it just strikes me like, “Wow”. And in some point at my African American family tree, it cuts off. And at that cut off area, is something now with DNA research you can find out where you from forever. They didn’t have anything like that. And, it’s still a thing that’s not common to everyone. So that whole mystery of Africa has always been crazy to me since Tarzan was coming through the television in black and white.
Right. On your record, “I Can” off God’s Son, people criticized your last verse for its inaccuracy.
Yeah, and I expected that. And a lot of radio stations wouldn’t play that verse. When it comes to Africa, there’s such a beautiful history that’s forbidden to talk about. And, it’s just interesting to me, there are so many people who think they know the history of Africa and don’t have any idea. Or the people who think they know the story behind the African American don’t even really know. Masses of us don’t really know. And it’s so much good to come from it. I look to it to [not to] bring out any anger or rage. It’s just that when you look at it, you realize, why is this such a mystery? I’m intrigued by mystery. I’m intrigued by the Deep Sea. I’m intrigued by space. I’m intrigued by Rome. I talk about a lot ’cause of my race.
Many fans thought they would’ve seen an AZ and Nas album before one with Damian Marley. How come that’s never happened?
I think certain things have to be ready. You can’t do it for the sake of doing it and mess up what it was supposed to be. Things have to really be in place. They have to——like with Junior Gong, it was meant to happen. There was something puling us together that made it happen. It’s like, last year I couldn’t told you I was doing this. Neither can Damian tell you we coulda been doing this album. But, something’s pulling us together. So, we’re not fighting it, we just going with it. I think that’s when it’s fun. But other than that, you don’t see a lot of duet rap albums because, every artist rap dude or everyone has a way of doing albums. So when you got to get with another rap guy, that process of putting that together can be either easy or can be hard. But, for some reason no one has ever done it. Same reason we never done it is the same reason I guess no other hip-hop—— it hasn’t been done by anybody.
But com’on Nas. You guys made classic records like, “Life’s A Bitch” and “Mo Money, Mo Murder.”
I feel like at one point, it was ready to go and I saw it being ready to go. And I’m saying 10 years ago. It was ready to go and we had The Firm and everything. That was a movement. It was ready to go. But, I don’t know why it didn’t. It was a whole movement we had out there doing and I was out there trying to make it happen and I don’t know why. But I guess it’s not a easy question to answer. There are no duet rap albums. There have never been one.
Wait, let me think.
If there has been, it hasn’t been good cause we should’ve remembered it, know what I’m saying? They’re none, bro. They’re none.
So you wouldn’t be willing to do one with him?
I was willing to do one again ten years ago and I think that was really the time. So if it happens in the future, man, that’s all good. I don’t wanna say yeah and it don’t happen. It’s not as easy at it sounds. Again, we would’ve had at least five rap albums with duets. There is not one. Why is that? That’s crazy! But let me be fair to rap, look at R&B, they’re not tons of ‘em. You have Roberta Flack/Donny Hathaway. Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross. Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. You got few but there’s not a large amount.
Wait, I got one. What about Black Star?
[Short silence] You got one. That’s one out of a million MCs and can’t even get another one. You got me there. You right.
Um, Let me think of another. Oh, Baby and Lil Wayne did an album together too.
but you know what then, I think you will see that in the future going
down and that kind of thing will start happening more. If that happens,
I’m looking forward to doing that kind of shit.