Marley music inspires. It provokes the moral conscience and most fundamentally, it sells. Marley music has certainly created many millionaires. For Bob, the sufferers were at the emotional center of his art – he was what he sang, preached and predicted. The same can’t be said for all performers.
Marley music with dj/dancehall lyrics? Does it fit or is it a stretch? Authentic Marley music is consciousness raising – Rastafari roots and culture music. It awakens the moral conscience, uplifts, inspires and transforms. Dancehall DJ music is almshouse, sex and violence, crass materialism coupled with hype and bling; it is also the liberating voice of the voiceless from Jamaica’s impoverished in the ghettos. Damian Junior Gong Marley resides within this continuum from the beginning to end. Damian introduced himself to the world by declaring My daddy was a bedroom bully – in the Jamaican vernacular, cocks man.
There was Bob “The Tuff Gong” Marley; first son Ziggy, the designated heir apparent, who never had a chance to grow into the role; Steven, who grew up in Ziggy’s shadow as the raggamuffin (a term of endearment rather than a metaphor for his music) but became the producer who sings; Kymani, now known more for his acting than his singing; and Julian juju royal, the closest facsimile of his fathers incarnation on stage, all-be-it a taller version. Now comes Damian “Junior Gong” Marley, the 27-year-old self-described youngest veteran. The 2001 Reggae Grammy winner for his Halfway Tree CD [Motown] – a metaphor for his identity, Halfway Tree is the dividing line between uptown and the ghetto. Junior Gong is a dancehall DJ, not a singer. He doesn’t sing as much as he sing-jays, but mostly he chats DJ lyrics [p]on de mic or as he told me, jus juggle two tunes.
Welcome to Jamrock, his latest CD on Universal/DefJam is his most complete and best work to-date. It continues in the Halfway Tree vibe, but is more mature. Damian writes more and shares co-production credit with his brother Steven unlike his previous two CDs. The formula remains the same: combinations with the hottest acts from hip-hop and dancehall/reggae. Halfway Tree had Eve, Jimmy Cozier, Treach (Naughty by Nature), Bounty Killer, Yami Bolo and Capleton, while Jam Rock features Bobby Brown, Nas and Black Thought (The Roots) with old schoolers like Bunny Wailer and Eek-a-Mouse. The album with elements of Jazz, R&B, Blues and classical orchestration is a hybrid combination of hip-hop, dancehall, and reggae. Yet, it retains a one-drop drum and bass feel, hip-hop vibe and dancehall flow and energy. Like an energy source it is thermodynamic for all its elements. Damian won Vibe magazines 2005 Boomshot award for Caribbean music and the XM Nation Music for Best Reggae Artiste. The album received two Grammy nominations and is the hot favorite in the reggae category.
Whereas Halfway Tree introduced him, Welcome to Jamrock is Gongs attempt to further expand his base outside the reggae community. Damian is laying the groundwork for a new generation of Marley fans introducing a younger generation born after his fathers death. Damian recently completed some tour dates in the US opening for U2. Welcome to Jam Rock sold 86,000 units when it was released. The single is an undated version of Sly & Robbie/Ini Kamoze’s 80’s joint Worl-A-Reggae. The song narrates the realities of one Jamaica, much to the chagrin of that other Jamaica. (Can you cheery pick which Jamaican you want to be? Or is one solely Jamaican with all that it entails?).
Damian is conscious of his dual loyalty and the class related expectations. He is comfortable and at ease with who he is, a Rasta Marley with ghetto sensibilities and a Breakespeare uptowner. When I asked him about this, his reply was, “People try to put pressure (on me) but, me nuh tek it up.” As cultural critic Ian Boyle writes: Damian Marley plays the classic role of the prophet who disturbs, afflicts, and tortures the comforted with pictures and images not in concert with the vision of the ruling class jolting the complacent who would soon forget the other Jamaica. The pictures and images he presents are not prophetic predictions, but narrations of reality that has made Jamaica the #1 murder capital of the world. For a while there was little place for Rastafari relevance as a social conscience and a moral force. Lady Saw with her lyrics of female sexual liberation or Ninja Man, Super Cat or Bounty Killer with gun talk lyrics seemed more relevant and reflective of ghetto livity than cultural roots chanters like Tony Rebel. Rastafari with its fundamentalist streak was becoming, like the tired preachers, self-righteous condemnation that reeked with hypocrisy, banal complacency and irrelevancy. When $5 million can be wasted an uptown social event of no national significance in a country with such massive poverty, unemployment and violence then the problems of the poor ceases being poor people’s problem.
Of the fourteen tracks on the album the most impactful is For the Babies a poignantly incisive narrative without being condemnatory or preachy describing the realities of ghetto single parenthood and the man-made pathologies afflicting poor mothers and fathers. Jr. Gong compassionately gets it, from drug addiction, lack of economic opportunity, incarceration while positing hope for the babies. While Welcome to Jamrock illustrates the socio-political ugly realities, For the Babies speaks to the future generation being lost. When I first interviewed Damian Marley in the late 90s in New York he referred to himself as an old soul, his mature grasp of issues such as poverty and disenfranchisement reflects a mature soul. Rastafari couldn’t be more relevant. It has grown up.
Dem giving a woman abortion to kill another baby, miscarriage and misfortune and premature crack babies future for the babies, hopes for the babies, tomorrow for the babies, no sorrow for the babies, babies having babies, raising our babies.
How long can she take it, dreams are full of maybes, will she ever make it, hustles on a daily, in a club a shake it, strip down till she naked need it and shell take it, shell do for the babies, a mothers love is sacred so don’t you ever fail me, a woman needs caring sharing love all the time. A child needs caring sharing love every day of her life.
Is there no other option than adoption for your babies, you raffling and jacketing and auctioning your babies’ fathers do the brave thing and that’s participating a new life is awakening from his ejaculating.. right there through the carving, and early morning waking, school and educating, sports and recreating. Fathers keep relating, still communicating, and they will always embrace it, cause they could not replace it.
Always do your very best to keep a promise to your babies, and if you cant be good, at least be honest to your babies. .. History of the babies – some are gang related, drug affiliated, some intoxicated, headed for the snake pit, papas locked in cages, mamas lacking wages. This is what they’re faced with on a daily basis.
–For The Babies- Damian Junior Gong Marley