Live: Nas And Damian Marley Teach Personal Chemistry In Williamsburg

Nas/Damian Marley
East River State Park
Saturday, July 31

With the Manhattan skyline behind us and the sun setting on the first not-disgustingly-hot NYC day in ages, Nas and Damian Marley took the stage for an almost painfully picturesque show Saturday night at the Williamsburg Waterfront. Featuring just about every song from their recent Distant Relatives album, the refreshingly minimal set included zero groupies and, complimenting the full band, only one side performer, who feverishly waved the rasta flag throughout the entire show--apparently, this dude is an integral part of Marley's band. It was also really awesome to be at the first hip-hop show ever to start and end on time.

Trading off between joint and solo turns, Nas and Marley performed new favorites like "Strong Will Continue," "Land of Promise" and "Tribal War" alongside their most popular collaboration, "Road to Zion," off Marley's Welcome to Jamrock album. The material from Relatives, which took me a few listens to get into, sounded incredible with the band and the duo's onstage chemistry: It was one of those rare shows that actually makes the album it's promoting sound better. Two of the most gifted lyricists around, Nas and Marley explored the common ground between hip-hop and reggae, the rapper's raspy and melodious flow perfectly complimenting the reggae scion's deep intonation, the sort of creative symbiosis that can only come with complete social and political alignment, as expressed on songs like "Africa Must Wake Up."

Politics, and the need for alignment, were definitely the themes of the night: "Geographically they moved us, from Africa/ We was once happiness-pursuers/Now we backstabbin'/Combative and abusive/African and Arab go at it, they most Muslim/We should be movin' in unison," Nas chanted at the show's onset; later, Marley bellowed, "Let's all change the world!" at the top of his lungs. Plumbing his own catalog, the rapper did everything from "One Mic" to "If I Ruled the World" to "Made You Look" to one of the most beautiful performances of "Represent" I've ever seen live; Marley repped his family with a cover of "Could You Be Loved" and got everyone going with his own hit, "Welcome to Jamrock." Between their new songs--whose catchy, Caribbean hooks are easy to vibe to on a breezy NYC summer night even if you didn't know all the words--and nods to their own past hits, Nas and Marley kept what I assumed would be a super-docile crowd to their feet all night. Okay, maybe there were a few marijuana-induced comas, but still.

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