For more than 20 years the Marley family name has roared like a mighty lion to the world. Stephen Marley showed the family musical gene as a child prodigy. He made his recording debut at the age of seven alongside siblings Ziggy and Cedella as the Melody Makers on the 1972 song Children Playing in the Streets.
Over the years, Stephen Marley has grown to be known as a multi-talented musician, writer, deejay and producer extraordinaire. He has manned the controls on a variety of albums for his siblings, including Damians stunning 2005 release Welcome To Jamrock. He has also worked with Erykah Badu, Buju Banton, Eric Clapton and Capelton to name a few.
Stephen recently stepped out from behind the soundboard to record his debut solo LP, Mind Control. The collage of emotions, sounds and messages depict the trouble clouds and silver linings in society today. Call to arms your headphones, boomboxes, sound systems and a bit of the buddah bless from the almighty Jah as the ever multi-tasking Marley talks about his new album, resistance from the sh*t-stems mind control, and what makes his family a force to be reckoned with.
AllHipHop.com Alternatives: Youve been in the music industry for over 27 years. Why has it taken so long for you to finally release you debut?
Stephen Marley: Im not sure. Thats the way that it happened.
AHHA: So it wasnt the right time?
Stephen: Right. Yeah.
AHHA: What events or personal change did you go through while writing the album?
Stephen: Not to write the album, no. I wrote every day. Actually, when I was doing the record, I was doing a lot of things as far as music. I was still recording Damians album [Welcome To Jamrock], which came out already. But I mean, I was doing a lot of things. I was doing a few records at the time.
AHHA: Youre used to producing. How was it being on the opposite side of the soundboard for a change?
Stephen: Its a little different. [laughs] Coming from the Melody Makers, Im used to doing my little solo songs and performing. So, I have my time, but now its just me.
AHHA: On the new album, youve got a lot of guest appearances from Damian and Mos Def, to Mr. Cheeks and Ben Harper. There are obviously a lot of different sounds. What can listeners expect?
Stephen: There are a lot of people with different styles, so expect a lot of different flavors. Music that influences; its universal sound.
AHHA: Your myspace page features the video for Traffic Jam. You had a rapid flow over beatboxing. How did the song come about?
Stephen: Its about a situation that happened to me and Julian. We were coming from New Orleans and driving to Tallahassee. Some police pulled us over. They found some herb. Thats how it came about.
AHHA: On the new album theres a song called Iron Bars which is about the same situation that occurred in 2002. How do you feel about run-ins with the police or authorities over something that relates to your religion?
Stephen: How do I feel? That is mind control of the system. They dont know. That is why they have it upside down. Herb is the anecdote. Them of this world, when we should be of this earth. There is no medium of that type of meditation. If that type of brotherly and sisterly oneness. Its herb that creates that vibe. Its not just smoking. You can drink a little tea, a cookie, or what ever. Its not just smoking herb, but the tree. If you use tobacco or other medicines, its not to be abused. But them fight it for a reason, because when you check out all of its purposes of the plant. Why is it that this person, I never had a charge before or committed a crime. And now, all of a sudden, Im behind bars. For a joint? For some herb? No, we rally to fight that system.
AHHA: Every medicine needs to be used properly, but what about those that abuse it?
Stephen: People abuse food. So everything is to be used wisely. People that abuse it, they are themselves. Just like if you drink too much vinegar. Everyone knows that its normal and natural.
AHHA: I heard that youre a big fan of Ray Charles. How has he inspired you in creating your music?
Stephen: Yes. Ray Charles is a real soulful person. You can tell when he sings that its from the soul and I love that. I feel it. Its in the music. Thats how I am with music in general. When you can feel it. [sings] Dont worry! I can really feel it in my soul. Hes one of those people that really influenced me, not just musically, but personally as an artist. Not in the way that I make music, but the way I feel about music, the way that I appreciate music. Those artists in those days they sing from their soul. Thats what they had. When they sing it out you can feel it.
AHHA: What kind of Hip-Hop artists are you currently listening to?
Stephen: Me listening to The Roots and Mr. Cheeks of course. A lot of different thins. I like what Game is doing.
AHHA: You started in the Melody Makers at seven-years-old. How have you grown from what you did then till this album now?
Stephen: Theres been a lot of growth. Every year, I see a difference in what Ive learned in the previous, especially in how I make music. Now days, Im growing still. Theres a difference in my production from last year, yesterday and today.
AHHA: So youve picked up some new tricks along the way?
Stephen: Yeah mon, a lot of things. We try to change our sound and music. Over a period of time, you want a different sound. We always try to learn different techniques to change it up. Like you said with Traffic Jam and the beatboxing and the bass line. [starts beatboxing] It gets a nice vibe going. We always try to come at music like that and its good really.
AHHA: How has it been wining Grammys? Does it help that reggae music become more accepted by commercial music markets?
Stephen: Yes mon. It makes a model, as they would say. The Grammys is not a GQ Award. It is from the music association. Its recognition of achievement from the industry, the music industry. You are written, where you are from is written, and all that sort. Me appreciate the Grammys, but at the same time, we dont make music for Grammys.
AHHA: You and your family are know for working together as a unit. How important is that to you?
Stephen: Its really important that we survive. Thats how we live. Its most important, second to the Almighty.
AHHA: Youve been quoted saying, My joy and my pain, this is me. Can you explain the statement?
Stephen: The things that bother me. The things that bother me both as a spectator, the things that I see and the things that affect me personally. So when I say the things that bother me, like for instance, in the song Chase Dem. But Im talking about political situations, especially in Jamaica. But it extends around the world. So thats why I say, me as a spectator because I dont believe in politics. As a person, you see the effects. Thats why I write about it. Thats what I mean.
AHHA: When you write a song, youre putting yourself out there. Youre vulnerable. Does it take a lot for you to be that honest and open?
Stephen: I dont worry about what people think. Its me. I tell you from the inside. As far as Im concerned, Im telling the truth. The same goes for music. I try to play it wholesomely, truthfully, from the inside, a product. It becomes a product.
AHHA: Since you play from the inside, does it put you on another level as far as creating music?
Stephen: Yes. Its like organic food and fast food. Things are different, but I dont really think about these elements. We have to make sure that this thing is so pure that we dont think about the negative over the positive, in that sense.
AHHA: How do you stay focused on the positive?
Stephen: Well, even the negative can become positive. It isnt all about roses. Some people will talk about mind control and destruction of your soul. So always stay positive. You have to stay positive or we aint gonna’ make it. We dont have a choice.
AHHA: Is that how people can avoid mind control and subliminal or hi-tech slavery?
Stephen: Yeah mon. The way to fight mind control, first of all is awareness. That meaning of our environment. I watch TV. I know whats up, so I watch it kind of differently compared to the next guy that doesnt. I watch the news or listen to the radio. I notice the differences.
AHHA: Since you say that you are informed and know whats up, its the beginning of 2007. What do you think we can expect to happen this year?
Stephen: Can we expect something? Again, the Almighty controls. The man of power. Everything happens when the Almighty says so. We see it in the him. If you read books then you know whats up.
AHHA: What are you reading now?
Stephen: Right now Im reading a book called What The Church Doesnt Want You To Know.
AHHA: So what doesnt the church want us to know?
Stephen: I cant tell you. Im just getting into that mon, so you have to wait to hear something about that.
AHHA: With Tough Gong and Ghetto Youths International, youve really laid a foundation. What can be expected to come this year?
Stephen: Were working on some things. Damains album was powerful. Julians album, which is too, powerful. Ziggys is also out there. Just more powerful music.
AHHA: When you first started working with the companies, did you know that they would become as large as they presently are?
Stephen: No, not commercially.
AHHA: Not even just commercially. When people think Tough Gong, they think the heart of reggae music.
Stephen: Yes. Im not surprised, in other words. We work hard at it.
AHHA: You and Damian work together very closely. Do you ever have differences? After all, you are brothers.
Stephen: Do we disagree? Sometimes we do, but we are the same sense. At the end of the day, we are the same team. We want the best. We talk about it. I explain and he does also. We dont let anything get in the way. I and I. We make music and as I said, at the end of the day, we have to trust in each others judgment. We are the same team always. Thats the way it is with all of us really, brothers and sisters. We try our best to keep the strong family bond.
AHHA: What do you think of the film Shottas and its portrayal of Jamaica?
Stephen: Its a Jamaican movie. It portrays life. Those things happen. Its not the most positive move, but its true. Those things do happen, but its just like any movie. The positive side is that its a Jamaican director and cast. Thats the positive side, but the truth isnt always going to be tasteful.
AHHA: Do you think that people fear the truth and whats actually happening in the world?
Stephen: They fear the truth. They dont want to hear the truth.
AHHA: Is that what you mean when you talk about awareness and being conscious of whats happening?
Stephen: Definitely. Thats exactly what Im saying.