Nas and Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley
Photo by Christina Mendenhall West Palm Beach was in a "NY State of Mind" during Nas' SunFest set
West Palm Beach Waterfront
Sunday, May 2, 2010
View a slideshow of SunFest 2010's final day here.
A hip-hop act's sets rarely last more than 45 minutes, and perhaps that's why Nas launched into his blistering tag-team set with reggae superstar Damian Marley with the title track from his 2006 album Hip Hop is Dead. Since the release of Illmatic in the mid-'90s, Nasir Jones has kept the increasingly ringtone-ready genre alive with anthemic tales of the street that are as clever as they are detailed. All told, the two artists kept the stage sizzling for more than an hour and a half.
Just in case anyone in the mostly shirtless, sweaty crowd overwhelming the Bank of America stage -- on the upper portion of the West Palm Beach waterfront dedicated to SunFest -- needed a refresher, Nas spent about the first 10 minutes of his Sunday afternoon performance unpacking his hits. With DJ Green Lantern cutting furiously, and a massive backing band and singers keeping up, bits of "It Ain't Too Hard to Tell" (complete with Nas riffing on the "Human Nature" sample), "The World is Yours," "Nas is Like," and "Street Dreams" began the day of head-ringing.
Nas performed without a hype man -- AKA someone(s) extra on stage who helps a rapper save his voice by hollering along at the end of stanzas -- which in itself shows a commitment to the solo artistry that is mostly left behind by his contemporaries. Exemplar was "One Mic," which was inspired by what Nas called the "original texting," hands beating on a drum, and its subdued poetry roused the crowd as much as fiery late bursts like "Hate Me Now" and "Made You Look."
Splitting up the set with Bob Marley's gifted son Damian, a reggae star big enough to top a bill by himself, meant that neither act lost steam. While the pair shared the stage, roughly half of the show, there was a kinship in Marley's reedy, accented voice as he added his rapid-fire, dancehall-style bursts between Nas' raps. Illmatic classic "One Love" provided the perfect segue into a soul-drenched cover of Bob Marley's hit of the same name as Nas left the stage.
And, at that moment, the Distant Relatives album Nas and Damian Marley will release later this month made infinite sense: diverse styles, musical family tree (Nas' father is jazz musician Olu Dara), uncompromising lyrics. The Jr. Gong's set was every bit as intense with the thudding bass undercurrent of "Move!" and "Welcome to Jamrock," as well as the dread-locked singer stalking the stage with a towel clutched tightly in his fist. Once Nas returned to the stage, a sense of mutual comfort came across whenever the pair
stood together. Judging by new track "Strong Will Continue" from Distant
Relatives, this comfort has pulled out a more pronounced singing
style out of Marley, and a more a melodic backing for Nas. Later, Marley's "Road to Zion" with Nas backing
him up hit its mark before a cover of Bob's "Could You Be Loved" closed the passionate set.