Damian Marley: True Religion

Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley has been a legend in the making since birth. Along with being the youngest member of the legendary Marley family, music has always been the center of his life. As a child seeing dancehall legends Shabba Ranks and Super Cat perform only further fueled and inspired his love of music.

1996’s Mr. Marley was the Jr. Gong’s right of passage into the music world. His second release, Halfway Tree (2002), won a Grammy for “Best Reggae Album.” More focused and mature than the previous, falling silent due to 9-11 attacks on the Twin Towers, it was unable to make the impact that it deserved.

Fast-forward three years, Welcome To Jamrock (2005), was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Collaborations with the likes of Stephen Marley, Bounty Killer, Eek-A-Mouse, Nas and Bobby Brown took the world by storm. Tracks discussing love (“Hey Girl”), political violence (“Welcome To Jamrock”) and survival (“We’re Gonna Make It” and “In 2 Deep”), stirred the emotions of listeners, bringing together people of various walks of life. The lion’s roar was strong. Damian went on to win Grammy Awards in the categories of “Best Reggae Album” and “Best Urban/Alternative Performance.”

Damian Marley has been on the road with composer/crooner Ben Harper. The kindred spirits came together with the common loves of life and the freedom of musical expression. In an enlightening interview during his tour, AllHipHop.com Alternatives spoke with Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley about music, philosophy, and his impact on the world.

AllHipHop.com Alternatives: Moving through out the tracks, Welcome To Jamrock stirs a lot of different emotions. How easy or difficult was it for you to write the album?

Damian Marley: I would say that it was natural. It wasn’t necessarily easy or difficult. I tried to work off of inspiration. Ya’ know, the vibe at the moment.

AHHA: The title song, “Welcome To Jamrock,” is about political violence occurring in Jamaica. For those that are not native or in-tune with the island, what exactly has been occurring?

Damian: What’s happening in Jamaica is something that’s been going on for the last couple of decade; since the ‘60s and coming up. There’s been a lot of violence that has been produced by politics, political politics. Now it’s almost becoming a part of the island’s culture. There’s a lot of opportunity for the up-and-coming generation, and now violence becomes one of the only ways of getting out of the ghetto or certain situations in Jamaica.

AHHA: Do you think that people outside of Jamaica that heard the song got a better understanding of what’s been happening?

Damian: Some people. Some people still don’t understand what I say. Then there’s some people that really get it and fully understand exactly what I’m saying.

AHHA: Mr. Marley came out in 1996, but why did it take your most current release for you to gain commercial success?

Damian: Well, Mr. Marley came out when I was very young. It was a growing experience defiantly. Halfway Tree [2002 recipient of the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album] stood a better chance at becoming a commercial success. It was released around the time of 9/11, when the Towers fell. From that it was difficult to promote an album with all the hysteria going on. People weren’t really focused on promoting music. It kind of became a victim of that scenario, before Jamrock. Of course, we originally released the single in Jamaica and it seriously took on a life of its own. And here we are now.

AHHA: What was it like winning Grammys for “Best Reggae Album” and “Best Urban/Alternative Performance”?

Damian: They weren’t the first ones, but it means respect from your peers. The Grammys is more decided by the people in the music industry. It means that you’re respected by your musical peers.

AHHA: Why do you think that everyone and their mother are jumping on the bandwagon to do a reggae mix?

Damian: I would say that it’s just another step up the ladder, or at least a step in the right direction for reggae music. It’s becoming more popular. And one of the ways for it to become more popular is for different genres of music or artists to incorporate it. Some do it because they love it. Some do it because they want to jump on the bandwagon of commercial success.

AHHA: Along with Lil’ Kim’s “Lighters Up” there’s been a lot of [remixes] of “Welcome to Jamrock.”

Damian: Realistically, people wouldn’t do it if they didn’t like it or think that the music was hot. When I see so many people doing mixtape versions, their style, or what ever the case may be, it’s because the feeling is true. They’re feeling the music, so it’s a good sign. It’s just paying homage to the original. It’s all good.

AHHA: You’re obviously recognized as a Marley, but you also want to be known as an individual artist. What separates you from your other musical siblings?

Damian: The difference…I mean, just me as a person. I’m being myself. To tell you the truth, the only time that I think about it is when I’m asked during interviews. In the studio it’s not necessarily something that I think about or when I’m on stage. My family, we work together as a team. My bigger brother is my producer. We work hand-in-hand on musical ideas and projects so no one is themselves as natural individual artists. Me being me is all that I’m concerned about.

AHHA: Over the past few years it has become trendy to wear dreadlocks and rep the Rasta culture. At the same time, a lot of the people doing this don’t truly understand the movement. What does being a Rastafarian mean to you?

Damian: Rastafari…is someone’s name. It’s his Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia. So Rasta is seeing Emperor Haile Selassie I as the second advent of Christ. Now, if you don’t see that then you’re not a Rasta by faith. Dreadlocks don’t make you Rasta. Smoking herb doesn’t make you a Rasta. The only thing that makes you a Rasta is seeing Emperor Haile Selassie I as the second advent of Christ. That’s belief for all Rastas. So the dreadlocks around are only secondary to the philosophy that I just spoke about.

AHHA: With spirituality and philosophy being so important in your life, do you study forms from other cultures?

Damian: Yes, I study different spiritualities and philosophies. Jah reveals himself to man through different medians and forms. Ya’ know, most religions have more in common than more in difference. It’s more so of how people practice them that becomes the difference. When you read most religious books, you see that they have more in common than in difference.

AHHA: In your opinion, what is real “Rebel Music?”

Damian: Real rebel music in my opinion, it isn’t painted by the system or the commercial system or what ever. It’s something original on a musical level. Me for example, people want to put me in a box and say that I must only do reggae music or this kind of reggae music. At the same time, I do music that has Hip-Hop influence and R&B influence. So rebel music is all different kinds of music.

AHHA: what prompted you and Bobby Brown to work together on “Beautiful?”

Damian: Yeah, Bobby Brown came down because of his show, Being Bobby Brown. One of the producers is like a friend of the family. They invited him to come down to the studio to shoot the scene really. Later, that song was playing in the background. I loved it. He was getting live.

AHHA: You’ve been quoted saying, “The song, ‘For The Babies,’ was inspired by the idea that we raise out children by the same lies that we’re told.” Is the political, religious or all-around lies?

Damian: I keep hearing that quote and don’t know where it keeps coming from. [laughs] I’m saying that raising children is a nation’s responsibility, not just an individual one. At the same time, it’s people’s responsibility to raise their own children. A man that is lacking in the life of his children is something that I’m against strongly. I want to say again, that nation has to also be responsible for the children, our children.

AHHA: Do you think that today’s youth will or has the tools to correct the mistakes of past generations?

Damian: I think we learn from mistakes of the past. That’s not to say that more mistakes won’t be made, but I think we’ll learn from mistakes of the past.

AHHA: Let’s change directions a bit. What’s a typical day in the life of Damian Marley?

Damian: A typical day right now, soccer. I have a studio at home in Miami where all of us get together. I’m really a homebody. I like to stay at home. I play soccer, dominos, hang out with family, or the studio and make music. It’s fun to me, so it’s not really like work. It’s more like a past time or a hobby.

AHHA: You grew up in the limelight of your family’s name. When you first started making records, did you feel any form of pressure or was it, “This is me and what I’m doing?”

Damian: No, I didn’t think about that when I first started making music. I’m a fan of music. I have a lot of musical influences outside of my family. I used to go to concerts when I was a boy and watch Shabba Ranks and Super Cat perform. That’s what really drew me into making music. That’s what I was thinking about. I wasn’t really thinking about the family legacy and all of those other things. It was just a love of music, which it still is today.

AHHA: What other artists or genres of music do you listen to outside of reggae?

Damian: I love Hip-Hop music. One of the most recent albums that I’ve been checking out is Chamillionaire. I listen to a lot of different kinds of music. I like picking up some stuff that you wouldn’t normally listen to on a regular biases. You try to find something new.

AHHA: What was it like working with the legendary Eek-A-Mouse? His “Biddy-Biddy-Bong” style of singing is unlike any other.

Damian: [Laughs] Yeah, Eek-A-Mouse is the only mouse that can sing man. That’s a unique one right there. It was really good to hook up with Eek-A. He’s magical. He’s a one of a kind artist.

AHHA: 10 years from now, where do you see yourself? Still making music and playing soccer? What do you want to accomplish?

Damian: To tell you the truth, I don’t really plan too far in ahead like that. As I said earlier, right now, working towards a movement of reggae as a genre. That’s reason one. “Best Urban/Alternative Performance,” which is a Grammy outside of the main category, is history. So things like that I would like to make steps towards in the next 10 years.

AHHA: You’re on tour with Ben Harper. Are you working on any other material in the mean time? Do you have any equipment set up on the bus?

Damian: We’re putting some beats and other stuff together.

AHHA: Confrontation between rappers is nothing new to Hip-Hop, but what about reggae/dancehall? Is it similar or is everyone there for the same cause?

Damian: Some people have been rivals over the years. There are some people that don’t get along, but for the most part we’re all together.

AHHA: Jamaica is obviously a beautiful place and unique in [ways] all its own, but what do you think draws so many people’s attention to the country and culture?

Damian: I don’t know. There’s all different kinds of cultures, not just Jamaican culture. Communication through music. Communication through cultures. Whether it’s Jamaican, American, Eastern culture or what ever it is. There’s something to learn from all different walks of life. Jamaican culture is no different in that sense. There’s a meanness about Jamaica express what they think about them in terms of them and other culture. In that sense, that means the masses. There’s a struggle, especially in reggae music. It’s music that was born out of struggle.

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