Damian Marley has been making beautiful music for awhile now, but lately that music has become a thunderous roar. With the release of his searing single, “Welcome to Jamrock”, Jr. Gong has rekindled the mainstream Reggae movement and stirred hearts with his vivid depictions of a ravaged Jamaica much different than the turquoise waters and posh hotels portrayed in vacation packages.
Inheriting the torch of arguably the most eminent reggae artist of all time, Bob Marley, Damian’s musical voyage started at a young age and continued as he joined The Shepherds, comprised of several other reggae offspring. After the group’s exodus, Damian released Mr. Marley in 1996 and the Grammy-nominated Halfway Tree five years later. Here, he speaks with AllHipHop.com Alternatives about his hugely popular single and album of the same name, and gets more in-depth about political affairs in Jamaica and the U.S.
AllHipHop.com Alternatives: Everybody knows this song “Welcome to Jamrock”. It’s been big in the clubs, radio, everywhere throughout the summer – but some people might be so addicted to the beat that they don’t hear the lyrics. It’s really about the poor conditions and the political environment of Jamaica, right?
Damian Marley: Yeah, it’s about the struggle that the people of Jamaica face as opposed to what is really advertised to the public in the international marketplace of Jamaica.
AHHA: Let’s talk about a couple of the verses some people might not understand. You say: “To see the sufferation sicken me/Them suit no fit me/To win election they trick we/And them don’t do nuttin at all.” What does that mean?
Damian: Well, to see how people suffer is upsetting, so that’s why the suits don’t fit me. In other words, the agenda of what the politicians deal with doesn’t fit my ideology. And to win elections, they trick us. To win elections, they promise a lot of things, and then when they win, they don’t deliver.
AHHA: Another line is: “Police come inna jeep and them can’t stop it/Some say them a playboy, a playboy rabbit/Funnyman a get dropped like a bad habit.”
Damian: A lot of times, police who have a problem in Jamaica can turn to violence. And then, there’s no room for nonsense, is what the rest of [the phrase] is saying. Your lickle gimmicks and ya lickle ego, there’s no room for that. If you’re not the real thing then don’t come around here. Those topics are relevant and affect all of us living in Jamaica now, and citizens of Jamaica and people [in America] have loved ones there.
AHHA: What about politics here in America; what are your thoughts on the war in Iraq—are you for it or against it?
Damian: I’m not for any war. War only bring more war. If you hit somebody then you go to war, they hit you back. And when they hit you back, what you gonna wanna do? You’re gonna wanna hit them back again. So war only bring more war. I don’t think there’s justification for any war. There’s no justification for people fighting on behalf of leaders. If leaders have a discrepancy—you guys went to the highest colleges and schools and all a this thing—you tellin’ me that they can’t find an educated way to work out their problems without having us kill each other? It’s a joke.
AHHA: Is your album more of the same political vibe as the single?
Damian: Well, it’s mixed. It’s life, so you have one or two tracks that kind of have that overtone, still. But you have tracks that [are] nothing at all like it.
AHHA: How long did the album take to make?
Damian: It took about two years, with doing some tours and stuff in-between. We’d work for a few months and then go on the road and come back.
AHHA: When you go back to Jamaica, what’s the first thing you do?
Damian: Roll one up. [Laughs]
AHHA: [Laughs]. So what’s the second thing you do?
Damian: Light it! [Laughs] Nah, when we reach Jamaica, we stay at Bob Marley museum, so basically that’s where we are. But the first thing when we reach there is to link up with all the people, our brethren and stuff.
AHHA: What kind of feeling do you get when you go back, do you sense that things have changed since you actually lived there?
Damian: Well I live there still, ya know. It’s just that I’ve been spending a lot of time in America recently. But, I mean, the more things change, it’s like the more they remain the same in a way. Things change—we have a few new highways now, cars are more available to the public than maybe ten years ago, things like that—but at the same time, the basics and a far amount of things haven’t changed. You still have a few war, on top of the masses suffering.
AHHA: Do you think there are a lot of misconceptions about Jamaica?
Damian: No, I wouldn’t say a lot of misconceptions. It’s just half the story hasn’t been told. Cause there’s, very much, places in Jamaica that you can go and enjoy yourself, and it’s beautiful. It’s not all negative, but there’s a side of it that—the thing about it, there’s a side of it that the majority of citizens face in Jamaica. It’s a struggle right now.
AHHA: What are some positive things about Jamaica that you shed light on with your album or you wish more people would talk about?
Damian: It’s the people, really. The people of Jamaica have a great heart. It’s very intense—it’s either love or hate, as they say. There’s no in-between. So there’s a vibe to Jamaica itself, it’s a very roots place, a very free place in that sense.
AHHA: It’s interesting to see the contrast in your video for “Welcome to Jamrock”, with you as basically Reggae royalty along with the rough conditions in Kingston.
Damian: It’s a real contrast because, you know, those things are there also. People in Jamaica—it’s not like that’s the first time a BMW rolled through.
AHHA: You said you named your last album Halfway Tree because your father is from the ghetto and your mother is from uptown so you’re kind of like a bridge between the two. How do you think their upbringing has affected your political perspective of Jamaica?
Damian: Well, I mean, in that sense I have no reason to really be partial to any side. So I just accept what I think is the truth. Growing up, my stepfather was a politician, so I know that a politician is not somebody who’s just a demon walking around. He has good parts of him too, he is a human. But, I mean, we just need to start facing the facts and stop trying to save face.
AHHA: You’ve described your music as “street music”, which is what most of Rap is, basically. In what ways do you think Reggae is similar to Rap?
Damian: Both of them [are] like rebel music, and that’s the thing. It’s just from the slums in that sense, and it can be used for a lot of things. Right now, it’s one of the outlets that we see the inner city youth are looking to escape the situation that they’re in.
AHHA: Are you a student of Reggae?
Damian: Well, if you want to call listening to a lot of Reggae music over the years studying, then yeah.
AHHA: And who are some of your inspirations?
Damian: Lots and lots. My earliest inspirations were mostly dancehall artists—people like Peter Metro, Shabba Ranks.
AHHA: When did you realize you yourself wanted to be a musician?
Damian: Kind of always, [then] getting more serious about it as a groove, coming into my teens. What kind of really attracted me to being a musician was watching other people perform live on stage. I can remember watching Shabba Ranks and the kids just loving it.
AHHA: Do you embrace the comparisons to Bob Marley or do you kind of wish people would see you as an individual first?
Damian: Well, being compared to the best, why not? [Laughs] I’ll embrace that any day. Him special, you know what I mean.
AHHA: Did you see your father a lot growing up?
Damian: I mean, yeah, but of course he passed in the flesh when I was very young.
AHHA: Do you think you accomplished what you wanted with the release of the single “Welcome to Jamrock” got more people to notice more of the realistic side of Jamaica?
Damian: Yeah, [that’s] what’s going on, and I think it’s good. The lyrics are very important, and to see that people are really listening and understanding what I’m saying and rapping off of, that is satisfying.