The Classic: "As We Enter"

In his collaboration with reggae star Damian Marley, Nas made the sly decision to kick things off with a song that wasn’t reggae at all. “As We Enter” is based on an old Ethiopian funk jam from the late 1960s, thereby giving the music the international flavor that Marley and Nas were pursuing without simply churning out canned dancehall tunes. The way the pair trades off lines recalls not only the nimble vocalizing of Jamaican sound systems, but the early rhyme routines of the Treacherous Three and Run-DMC. Uncloaking the spiritual connection between those arts was the best thing about Distant Relatives.

The Stinker: "My Generation" f/ Lil Wayne & Joss Stone

Unfortunately, and perhaps inevitably, the corniness that “As We Enter” avoided reared its ugly head on this track. History has proven that Nas flounders in a group setting, and “My Generation” had no chance of supporting its Hollywood lineup. The song is the worst kind of mainstream vulgarity: flashy names; portentous beat; hackneyed message. And of all the songs to get a Lil Wayne feature on, they picked this? The employment of a children’s chorus for sentimental effect is the song’s gravest offense, as though a dash of sentimentality would coerce us into swallowing this swill.

The Buried Treasure: "Friends"

The haunting “Friends” again turns to a musical culture outside of Jamaica to underscore its shadowy themes. This time, the sample is from a soul ballad recorded in war-torn Angola during the 1970s. The murky, elegiac backdrop is the perfect setting for Marley to ruminate on departed souls. Within an album that seemed determined to emphasize a timeworn message of positivity, it’s riveting to hear this beat coax a vision of pure spite from Nas: “Our rapport's good no more/We was good before/Till I saw what type a dude you took me for.”