Live: Nas, Damian Marley, And Theophilus London Bring Good Vibrations to SummerStage


Nas & Damian Marley w/ Theophilus London
Central Park
Thursday, August 11

Better than: Trying to find a decent reggae dance club on the Upper East Side.

Central Park’s SummerStage series serves as a noisy little microcosm of very different people who all miraculously coexist somehow in a limited space. The Nas & Damian Marley + Theophilus London show exemplified this strange, but harmonious equilibrium; the crowd included Jay-Z and Usher, Rasta heads and tweenagers sneaking in their first inhale.

London, outfitted in a sequined long-sleeved shirt, snug white denim and a FRESH.i.AM x Lovers GG$ Snapback cap, kicked off the show with several tracks from his debut Timez Are Weird These Days Among them was “Last Name London,” where he defiantly affirms his place in the genre: “And if your whole team feel I don’t deserve to be in hip-hop/Tell them they can get off my Herbie Hancock.”

Despite the crowd’s hesitation (or more like inebriation) to do much more than occasionally sway, danceable, fun cuts like “Groove Me” and “Girls Girls $” cannot be denied. London conjured up inspirations from his Trinidadian roots for a funky remake of Nat King Cole’s “Calypso Blues,” then blended “Flying Overseas” with the beat from The Notorious B.I.G.’s “One More Chance.” More Bowery than Queensbridge, London joked about performing for a crowd that was impatient to see Nas & Damian Marley. “Ready for 10 more minutes?” he asked the audience, only to quickly answer for them, “Hell no, man! I want to get my weed smoke, man!”

Nas & Damian Marley, known collectively as Distant Relatives, answered that call several times over. What began as single tendrils turned into billows of marijuana smoke that required Visine by set’s end. The sons of Queensbridge and Bob Marley opened with “As We Enter” and “Nah Mean” while a Jamaican flag waved onstage. Shifting into a baseball batter’s stance, Nas then dove into his vault of fan favorites for “Nas Is Like”, “If I Ruled The World (Imagine That),” and “Made You Look,” which soared like a long home run.

The friends maintained their simpatico back-and-forth throughout the set, performing both solo and collaborative material. K’Naan came out for the timely “Africa Must Wake Up,” while Damian handled bongo duties during the encore of Nas’ “One Mic.” The constant changing of the guards, however, created a discordant tone, with global commentary (“Patience”) vacillating into combative rhymes (“Hate Me Now”). But this constant shifting of gears went completely unnoticed by the more baked members of the crowd. Lighters shone while couples outfitted in Jamaican-inspired threads swiveled their hips to a slow wind, turning Central Park into a basement reggae party. (Well, as much of a reggae party as Central Park before midnight can be.) By the time Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved” closed out the show, everyone was having too much fun to really worry.

Critical bias (part 1): When Theophilus London shared from his past that “People would laugh at me and shit at school because my name was long”, I felt an instant kinship.

Critical bias (part 2): For the better part of Nas & Damian’s performance, I (who stand 5’4″) was blocked to varying degrees by towering men and the women who sit on their shoulders. I spent these moments quietly cursing my genes and lamenting over years of uneaten Flintstones vitamins.

Overheard: “If she died, only New York will bring her back alive”—Nas on how fair Gotham will resuscitate the ailing state of hip-hop during “Hip Hop Is Dead”.

Random notebook dump: This is the only hip-hop show I’ve ever witnessed to start promptly on time. It is also the only hip-hop show in the history of audible sound where at one point, the inquiry “is Manhattan in the house?” garnered as much fanfare as “is Brooklyn in the house?”

Set list:
As We Enter
Nah Mean
Nas Is Like
Hip Hop Is Dead
Street Dreams
If I Ruled The World (Imagine That)
Count Your Blessings
Land of Promise
Liquor Store Blues
More Justice
Friends (?)
Get Up Stand Up
Hate Me Now
Made You Look
Welcome to Jamrock
Road to Zion
Africa Must Wake Up (feat. K’naan)
One Mic
Could You Be Loved