Damian Marley



Born on July 21, 1978, Damian Robert Nesta Marley is the seventh child and youngest son of Bob Marley. Damian’s mother is Cindy Breakspeare, a Jamaican beauty queen who was crowned Miss World in 1976. He was only two years old when his famous father died of cancer in 1981. The elder Marley had built a recording studio, called Marley Music Studio, at 56 Hope Road, in Kingston, the city where Damian was raised. The studio was the site of many of Bob Marley’s most important recordings and drew many talented musicians who helped create the musical environment that Damian Marley grew up in.

Nicknamed “Junior Gong,” Marley began singing in his aunt’s living room and hit the stage at an early age. He sang in a reggae group called the Shepherds, which he formed when he was just 13 years old. The group included other children of reggae stars, including Shiah Coore, who is the son of Third World guitarist Cat Coore, and Yashema Beth McGregor, the daughter of Freddie McGregor and Judy Mowatt. The Shepherds were featured at the 1992 Reggae Sunsplash and Sunfest music festivals in Jamaica, as well as at other Jamaican shows. Marley also performed with rock star Sting in 1992 and toured with the Shabba Ranks World Unity Tour in 1993.

The Shepherds disbanded and Marley began to refine his rapping skills. He released his first single, “Deejay Degree,” on his father’s record label, Tuff Gong, in 1993. He released “Sexy Girls on My Mind” on the Main Street record label in 1994. His 1995 release, “School Controversy,” earned a slot on the charity compilationPositively Reggae, released on Epic/Sony. Proceeds from the record’s sales benefited the Leaf of Life Foundation, a Jamaican organization that helps HIV-positive children. Marley was selected as the spokesperson for the Positively Reggae campaign, a high-profile position for the teen. Marley paired up with brother Julian in the mid-1990s. The two performed together at the concert celebrating the 50th anniversary of their father’s birth, held in 1995 at the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston. Damian and Julian also were featured on the 1996 Marley Magic North American Tour and opened for brother Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers.

Marley’s debut album, Mr. Marley, was released in September of 1996. He recorded the album while he was still in high school. Produced by brother Stephen Marley, the album showcases both the artist’s reggae roots and his more urban, hip-hop tendencies. Mr. Marley is a blend of reggae and dancehall rhythms with hip-hop beats that set the stage for Marley’s vocal stylings. His single, “Me Name Junior Gong,” was a number-one hit in Hawaii. By the time Marley reached the Hawaiian leg of his tour, he had three hit singles there: “Me Name Junior Gong,” “One Cup of Coffee,” and “Now You Know.” A spot on 1997’s eclectic alternative music festival tour, Lollapalooza, exposed Marley to a wider audience.

In Kingston, the intersection where the city’s uptown and downtown areas meet is called Halfway Tree, an area that acts as a bridge between Kingston’s privileged and poor neighborhoods. Marley embraced the spirit of Halfway Tree and used the name as the title for his 2001 full-length release on the Motown record label. The title refers in part to his own heritage as the son of a ghetto-raised father and an uptown mother, but it also reflects his wish that his music be relevant to all segments of society. Stephen Marley once again worked as producer, helping his brother to successfully meld traditional reggae rhythms with more contemporary hip-hop beats. Stephen also sings on the album and plays harmonica. The album features a spoken-word introduction by Bunny Wailer, of Bob Marley’s band the Wailers, as well as a number of cameo appearances from the reggae and hip-hop worlds. Jamaican DJ Bounty Killer opens the album. Rapper Treach of Naughty by Nature and dancehall legend Yami Bolo appear on “Stand a Chance.” Rapper Eve of the Ruff Ryders appears on “Where Is the Love?” returning the services Marley lent to her on her album, Scorpion.

Marley reached back into his father’s collection for the song “And Be Loved,” which he built from samples from Bob Marley’s 1979 classic “Could You Be Loved.” Bob Marley’s 1973 “Slave Driver” is reworked into “Catch a Fire,” with Stephen singing his father’s vocal part and Damian rapping about the dangers of guns and drugs. “Marley does an excellent balancing act,” noted critic Jon Azpiri in a review of Halfway Tree located at the All Music Guide website. “He handles his legacy and his future flawlessly.” Critic Hannah Appel commented on the Jahworks.org website that the response from some Jamaican Marley-family fans was that the album “is by far the best and most original thing to come from the second-generation Marleys.” She went on to say that “this album is a bold step into the larger world of dancehall and hip-hop music, and it will make Jamaica and the rest of the world feel the impact of the Marley children in ways they haven’t before.” The singles “More Justice,” “It Was Written,” and “Still Searching” made it onto American and Jamaican reggae charts, with “Still Searching” becoming a number-one Jamaican hit. Marley earned a Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album for Halfway Tree in 2002, besting several reggae veterans.

The youngest Marley is known for his energetic live shows. “Marley was an ecstatic presence [at Boston’s Paradise Rock Club],” wrote Steve Morse in a 2002 article in the Boston Globe, “delivering one of the best reggae shows in memory while echoing his dad’s passion for revolutionary rhetoric and Rastafarian spirituality.” Rastafarians believe that former Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie is divine, that Ethiopia is Eden, and that one day all blacks will return to Africa. During Marley’s shows, Ethiopian flags are waved about onstage while Marley energetically belts out his own and his father’s politically charged songs, backed by his equally tireless band.

(Source: Brenna Sanchez)

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