At 36, Nas has been one of hip-hop's most consistent record makers for the last decade. While his latest offering, Distant Relatives, isn't stone genius like, say 2001's Stillmatic, it's one of his best albums in years. Unfortunately for his place in music history, Nas cut this record with Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley, whose star outshone his own on the album. Tuesday night's show kicked off around 10:07 to the triumphant tune of album opener "As We Enter," Nas and Marley confidently spitting venom as they marched to the stage, the sold-out crowd exploding in an ecstatic roar. The duo ripped through album highlights like "Tribal War" and "Nah Mean" with flair and undeniable chemistry. Running through a hefty catalog of solo gems, Nas gave fans a whirlwind tour of his sound, with "Nas Is Like" and "Represent" leading the way. "Motherfuck the radio," Nas declared right before the title track from his willfully controversial album Hip-Hop Is Dead. Trae would agree with him if he were there. Nas dominated the show with two solo sets. His second set alone was worth the price of admission, with "Hate Me Now" and "Made You Look" steering the crowd into a frenzy. He gave a stunning rendition of "One Mic" backed only by a drummer and a backdrop of Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight." The buildup and release structure of "One Mic" was a beauty to witness in person. The song starts off as a quiet storm and increases in energy until Nas is in full lyrical beast mode.
After dropping a barrage of rhymes, Nas took time out to catch his breath and do the customary hometown shoutout: "Shout out to my nigga Bun B. Shout out to my nigga Paul Wall and shit." He also paid tribute to Guru and Gary Coleman almost as an afterthought. Nas was clearly caught up in the moment, perhaps still stunned that he's standing before a capacity crowd in Houston. Three years ago, the Houston leg of Rock the Bells was canceled because the event failed to move a significant amount of tickets, despite having the likes of Wu-Tang Clan and Nas on the bill.
Around 10:35 p.m., Marley rejoined Nas and they picked up right where they left off, launching into the melancholic "Leaders." The stench of Mary Jane filled the air as everyone swayed from side to side, absorbed in the moment.
The evening's biggest sleeper came next. "This next song is to remind us of the things we take fi granted in di western hemisphere," announced Marley right before diving into "Count Your Blessings." "Things like water, electricity, and clean underwear." As if to buttress his point, the crowd reacted with blank stares.
Midway through, Marley took over for his solo set and inquired if there are any reggae fans in the house; the crowd responded with a deafening yes. Marley launched into a 30-minute set, performing select tunes from his catalog and rounding it off with father Bob Marley's "War." When the Amadou & Miriam-sampling "Patience" came on, we were reminded that Nas ruined this song with brow-raising misfires like "Who made up words? Who made up numbers?"
Nas and Marley have been touring this project over a year now, which has given them plenty of time to build chemistry. But it also means that their enthusiasm may be waning, as Tuesday's show hinted. Nas occasionally bumbled his rhymes, skipping chunks at times. Marley missed his cue at the start of "Strong Will Continue," but recovered well enough to help deliver one of the night's best performances.
During the last two minutes of "Strong Will Continue," Nas crouched over on the left side of the stage and rattled off a torrent of rapid-fire rhymes that imbued the song with more oomph than the album version. The crowd went monkey bananas. All is forgiven.
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At the end of the hour-long show, Nas and Marley acknowledged the crowd, which had been mighty kind to them, and exited the stage. "We're all distant relatives, no matter where you're from," Nas says. "This is like a picnic - a family reunion."
As a reward, the duo returned to treat the crowd to an encore performance of "Friends" and Bob Marley's "Could You Be Loved" that was worth the wait.
Nas said "Distant Relatives" over and over throughout the show as if trying to etch it into our memory, so Aftermath guesses we should tell you about it. Distant Relatives offers exactly what we heard at Warehouse Live: 13 clear, compelling, genre-mashing songs about global connectivity.
Proceeds from the album sales will go toward charity projects in Africa, but mail your check to UNICEF and you can skip the middlemen altogether.