Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley spoke about Bob Marley’s legacy, his Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise, and why he doesn’t care about R. Kelly.
Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley was only two years old when his father passed away. And yet, Damian — alongside his siblings — is doing his part in making sure Bob Marley’s legacy still lives on.
Damian made his musical debut in 1996 (with the release of Mr. Marley). But it wasn’t until Halfway Tree released, five years later, that the artist got serious recognition. On that album, which earned Damian his first Grammy award, for Best Reggae Album, the youngest Marley son showcased a seemingly natural talent for moving the masses through music and a strong inclination for expressing himself through song.
Damian Marley would get sent to another stratosphere in 2005, with the release of one of the defining songs of the last 20 years: “Welcome to Jamrock,” a track that detailed the crime and poverty of one of the most harrowing parts of Jamaica. Although the song is dark, it transcended: Marley took home the Grammy award for Best Urban/Alternative Performance. He made history in the process: becoming the first reggae artist to win a Grammy outside of reggae category. (Which is kind of sad.)
Over the years Damian has continued to make sure the Marley matters: he’s released solo projects, collaborated with legends like Nas and Jay-Z (who featured Marley on his single “Bam” from the 2017 4:44 album). And he’s successfully launched the Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise, which is going on its sixth year and has already sold out for its December 2019 send-off.
For what would have been Bob Marley’s 74th birthday, we decided to sit down with Damian; he spoke to us about the legacy of “great men” like his father and Martin Luther King Jr., Buju Banton’s release from prison, and his next musical endeavors.
Check out the interview below.
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What would you say is your musical mission or your purpose for making music at this point in your life?
At the root of it, the mission has always been to spread upliftment, to spread love, and to spread the message of Rastafari, the message of God. That’s always the core of the mission. But, of course, we love making music and not every song that we sing is necessarily such a heavy topic, per se. Some songs that we do are for fun, and it’s good that you help people enjoy themselves. I really love what I do, so sometimes it’s not really about having a mission more than this really doing what I love.
What would you say the Welcome to Jamrock cruise does for the genre of reggae music?
I think it creates a new platform for reggae music, helping to be an example that we are a good investment so that we can have events that are profitable. When we were trying to put together the cruise, initially, a lot of people that we were approaching to partner with didn’t think that reggae fans had that kind of income to go and enjoy a cruise. So we went through quite a few people before we were able to find someone who would take the chance with us. So, now that we’ve done the cruise, and we have proven ourselves not just as individuals but as a genre, we can do that kind of business. We’re proud to be a part of setting that example.
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February 6th is your father’s birthday. What memories, thoughts or lessons come to your mind when you think of him?
There’s nothing really on the forefront of my mind. Our father is really a part of our everyday life, to tell you the truth, with the lessons and the morals and the example that he set carries us through everything that we do. So it is great to see, on his birthday, so many other people celebrate him. But we celebrate him every day.
Some people put Bob Marley, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Mahatma Gandhi in the same realm in terms of being humanitarians.
I think anyone who really fights for the liberation of people and equality of people is someone to be revered, you know what I mean? And there are thousands upon thousands that we don’t know who have played a part also. People like my father and Martin Luther are figureheads that we can look to as an example and someone who really made a change in a lot of people’s lives, made a change in our society and the quality of life that we now live today and enjoy. So respect is due to those people, like I said, and the thousands of people that are not named also. A whole heap of respect is due to all who contribute to those kinds of causes.
Buju Banton has been released from prison and is preparing to go on tour. Do you have any relationship with him? What are your thoughts on his recent release?
I personally haven’t spoken to him. He’s very close to my brother Steve, so they speak all the while. So we have in some way communicated through Steve if that makes sense, but I haven’t spoken to him directly. But yes, it is somebody that I know and somebody that is friend – a friend of my family and someone from my country, that side, and so in that kind of case you know, set aside from the music industry and his career and the fact that we have somebody that we’re a fan of his music who has come home, I would say that I’m just glad that he’s home and that he has his freedom, just as any person, you know. Just as a friend, I’m glad to know that he’s not confined to a prison anymore and he can be with family. So on that personal level, that’s what I’m most happy for.
What new projects or music do you have in the works right now?
Well, as a producer, I’m finishing an album with Third World. We just released a single for the first single, which is called, “Loving You Is Easy,” and we just did a video for that. We’re looking to release the album hopefully by April. So, that’s the nearest thing in the future, and aside from that now I’m definitely starting to do some recording this month for what will be my next project.
What’s the vibe that you’re going for on this next album?
I can’t really say what the vibe is going to be yet. We’re going to try and start discovering that now.
Do you consider yourself a private person?
I mean, a lot of what is on my mind, my thoughts and stuff, really come out in my music, you know what I mean? So, perhaps if you were to ask me really about a specific lyric in a song or something like that, you’d maybe get more of an answer that’s not like a typical answer. So I guess that’s kind of how I do it, because usually in my music, I express a lot of my personal opinion and personal thoughts, and my life is a big inspiration for my music, you know what I mean? It’s very personal in that kind of case. So yeah, I think if you really want to get to know me as an artist, it’s really a conversation based on the music itself.
In your career, you’ve collaborated with some hip-hop and R&B artists. What are your thoughts about the whole R. Kelly situation? Do you think people should separate the man from his music?
I never really [paid] it too much attention from the get-go, because his music doesn’t really resonate with me in the first place, you know what I mean? [I]I don’t really like his music – to me his music is not really important. Just like I said to you earlier, not every song that I do I consider important either. But I think, overall, as an artist I like to view myself as important in some kind of way, you know what I mean? You’re trying to contribute to something that’s a bit bigger than just you, and a bigger picture of humanity. Literally, I don’t see R. Kelly as that kind of artist, so he didn’t really exist that much to me from the get-go.
Been waiting to drop this: summer playlist, the encore. What’s everybody listening to? pic.twitter.com/mqh1YVrycj
— President Obama (@POTUS44) August 11, 2016
Speaking of people of importance, did you ever have a chance to meet Barack or Michelle Obama?
No, I didn’t have the opportunity, yet. I know somebody who knows him, so he did sign a copy of his book for me, which was kind of cool. And I know that he mentioned, at one point, a song that Nas and I did together [Edit note: “As We Enter”] on his playlist… so I guess in some kind of way he’s aware of who I am.
I think one of the biggest things that I’m most proud about — when it came to him winning the presidency — is that the people of America would actually make that kind of choice. It says a lot about what people are ready to accept and what people are ready to try. So, [there is] an awakening going on right now. We as Rastaman [are] definitely working toward a world where, as his Majesty says, until the color of a man’s skin is no more significant and the color of his eye, there’s gonna be strife. There’s gonna be war, there’s gonna be conflict… it’s really more about a man’s deed than his skin color. But from my experience — I’m not deep in American politics because I’m not from American — he seemed like a good man. He meant good, so that’s positive.
Samantha Hunter resides in Westchester, New York and has written entertainment and lifestyle features for BET.com, Essence, SoulBounce, Inspirer, Haute d’ Vie, Black Westchester, DELUX, and VH1.com. Her family and friends say she’s always going somewhere, but you can find her on Instagram at @Sapodillic.