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.
1996s Mr. Marley was the Jr. Gongs 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 camels 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 (Were Gonna Make It and In 2 Deep), stirred the emotions of listeners, bringing together people of various walks of life. The lions 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 wasnt 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: Whats happening in Jamaica is something thats been going on for the last couple of decade; since the 60s and coming up. Theres been a lot of violence that has been produced by politics, political politics. Now its almost becoming a part of the islands culture. Theres 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 whats been happening?
Damian: Some people. Some people still dont understand what I say. Then theres some people that really get it and fully understand exactly what Im 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 werent 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 werent 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 youre 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 its just another step up the ladder, or at least a step in the right direction for reggae music. Its 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 Kims Lighters Up theres been a lot of [remixes] of “Welcome to Jamrock.”
Damian: Realistically, people wouldnt do it if they didnt 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, its because the feeling is true. Theyre feeling the music, so its a good sign. Its just paying homage to the original. Its all good.
AHHA: Youre 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. Im being myself. To tell you the truth, the only time that I think about it is when Im asked during interviews. In the studio its not necessarily something that I think about or when Im 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 Im 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 dont truly understand the movement. What does being a Rastafarian mean to you?
Damian: Rastafari is someones name. Its 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 dont see that then youre not a Rasta by faith. Dreadlocks dont make you Rasta. Smoking herb doesnt make you a Rasta. The only thing that makes you a Rasta is seeing Emperor Haile Selassie I as the second advent of Christ. Thats 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. Its 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 isnt painted by the system or the commercial system or what ever. Its 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: Youve been quoted saying, The song, For The Babies, was inspired by the idea that we raise out children by the same lies that were told. Is the political, religious or all-around lies?
Damian: I keep hearing that quote and dont know where it keeps coming from. [laughs] Im saying that raising children is a nations responsibility, not just an individual one. At the same time, its peoples responsibility to raise their own children. A man that is lacking in the life of his children is something that Im against strongly. I want to say again, that nation has to also be responsible for the children, our children.
AHHA: Do you think that todays youth will or has the tools to correct the mistakes of past generations?
Damian: I think we learn from mistakes of the past. Thats not to say that more mistakes wont be made, but I think well learn from mistakes of the past.
AHHA: Lets change directions a bit. Whats 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. Im really a homebody. I like to stay at home. I play soccer, dominos, hang out with family, or the studio and make music. Its fun to me, so its not really like work. Its more like a past time or a hobby.
AHHA: You grew up in the limelight of your familys name. When you first started making records, did you feel any form of pressure or was it, This is me and what Im doing?
Damian: No, I didnt think about that when I first started making music. Im 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. Thats what really drew me into making music. Thats what I was thinking about. I wasnt 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 Ive been checking out is Chamillionaire. I listen to a lot of different kinds of music. I like picking up some stuff that you wouldnt 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. Thats a unique one right there. It was really good to hook up with Eek-A. Hes magical. Hes 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 dont really plan too far in ahead like that. As I said earlier, right now, working towards a movement of reggae as a genre. Thats 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: Youre 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: Were 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 dont get along, but for the most part were all together.
AHHA: Jamaica is obviously a beautiful place and unique in [ways] all its own, but what do you think draws so many peoples attention to the country and culture?
Damian: I dont know. Theres all different kinds of cultures, not just Jamaican culture. Communication through music. Communication through cultures. Whether its Jamaican, American, Eastern culture or what ever it is. Theres something to learn from all different walks of life. Jamaican culture is no different in that sense. Theres a meanness about Jamaica express what they think about them in terms of them and other culture. In that sense, that means the masses. Theres a struggle, especially in reggae music. Its music that was born out of struggle.