Many reggae fans can close their eyes and remember some of their favorite and freshest irie riddims of the past decade and, chances are, five-time Grammy winner Stephen Marley had a hand in creating them. Besides having been a part of the group Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers with his siblings earlier on, the son of the legendary Jamaican music icon Bob Marley has also been slowly etching his own legacy as an ambassador of the champion sound. Having produced multiple tracks for the likes of Erykah Badu, as well as his musical siblings' many projects — including brother Damian's breakout album Welcome to Jamrock in 2005 — the often heard but rarely seen member of the Marley dynasty is finally stepping into the limelight with his first solo effort, Mind Control (Tuff Gong/Universal, 2007). Now the natty dread is channeling his own spirit of Rastafari through sound systems around the world.
“It's just all in a day's work, ya know? Me wake up to music, and it just come together like that there,” Marley says with a rich accent reminiscent of his father. “See, we make music like a tailor make him suit.” The record, which features guest spots from Mos Def, Ben Harper and the prerequisite Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley, has already been making noise on the Jamaican charts and is poised to tattoo its presence on the eardrums of music lovers stateside as well. But while Marley hopes to find success with this project, he's more concerned with the actual sound of the album than its impending sales.
“The drum and bass are always the foundation,” says Marley, who started performing and making music at the tender age of six. “That comes from Jamaica. It has to begin from there. Then we lay down the melody and go from there. We feel our way through the song and give it what it calls [for]. If it's for a drum machine, we'll give it that. If it's more of a live-drum vibe, we give it that. I'll get sounds from the muffler of a car or from beating on a table. No matter if it's a synthesizer or whatever.”
The “we” that Stephen refers to is of course his brothers, with whom he is often making music in one of the Marley's two studios in either Jamaica or Miami. Equipped with an SSL mixing board, Lexicon re-verb, Neumann U 87 microphones, several keyboards (including a Korg Triton LE) and tons of acoustic guitars and homemade drums, Marley balances technology and old-world traditions to achieve his trademark sound.
“I like to record in Jamaica sometimes for a different vibe, but in America, productionwise, it's better,” he says. “Sometimes when I'm in the studio [in America], I'll use an MPC2000 or 4000 and maybe Reason on the computer and then take the same song [back to Jamaica] and put on a live guitar to add a certain feel. I like old-school [instruments], but I'm really a product of both worlds.”
That union of technological and organic synergy comes through on the album's lead single “Traffic Jam,” which Marley was inspired to pen after a run-in with police in Tallahassee, Fla. after being pulled over for smoking a certain herb.
Clashes with authority behind him, Marley is also set to star alongside Rita Marley, Danny Glover, Lauren Hill and a host of others in the documentary film Africa Unite 2007, which came out in April. The project highlights and pays tribute to the vision of African unity that was spearheaded by his father before his passing. And with his own album out now, the son is undoubtedly looking to follow in the footsteps of the father.
“I want the people to get enlightenment [from my music],” he says. “There's a lot of garbage out there. I want them to take substance from my record, whether it's from the music production or the lyrics.”