Eight-time Grammy Award-winner Stephen Marley is most certainly his father's child. Marley, the second-eldest son of Bob and Rita Marley, is a Reggae producer, singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. He has been singing professionally since he was seven years old, as a member of The Melody Makers.
I spoke with Marley on Friday, and asked him if he gives much thought to carrying forth his father's legacy — as a musician and as a social activist.
“I am a sheep of that pasture. I am a seed of that fruit,” Marley told me, speaking in his thick Jamaican patois. “I don't go about thinking of it like that. I just be. Everything is covered, because I am a sheep from that pasture. I AM of this legacy. It's not a conscious decision; an apple will be an apple.”
For almost two decades, since his early twenties, Stephen has been the go-to producer for the Marley clan. Yet it's clear that there's something about producing that stirs within him the inspiration to create music of his own.
“I do get great pleasure in working with each and every one of my siblings,” Marley said. “The greatest joy is to be a part of a team, and our family is so tight as a team. When we sit and create, there's a difference between producing and being the artist; at the same time, it's one and the same. When we create music, it's such a beautiful thing, having new inspiration.”
I told him that I got the sense that “producing for them helps water that plant within you. It seems that it allows for that to bloom within you as an artist.”
“Yeah, yeah, write that down. I like that,” he laughed. “Yes! Very much so. And I literally live at the studio.”
When inspiration strikes, Marley said he just pulls out his phone.
“You have so many little gadgets right now,” he said. “When a song idea comes to me, I pull out my phone and go to the little recording thing, press record and catch the vibe. With technology, it's simple to catch a vibe, and then let it transcend into a finished product.”
Through Marley's music, it's easy to see the influence of several musical lineages — obviously reggae, but also hip-hop, jazz, blues and R&B.
“Hip-hop and reggae are cousins,” he told me, explaining its influence on his music. “Hip-hop comes from reggae, from our dancehall side of things, where we'd use turntables. That was the party.”
Beyond the dancehall connection, both musical styles are rooted in social activism, and in giving voice to a struggling people.
“It's a suffering music, a struggling people's music,” he said. “This music was a way to express themselves, and to kind of alleviate the struggle. In Jamaica, there are terrible struggles, but in the inner-cities here, some of them are worse. It's a similar culture — ghetto music.”
Marley's last album, 2011's Revelation Pt. 1 – The Root of Life, received critical acclaim and tackled political and social issues. The Revelation Pt. 2 – The Fruit of Life, due out July 22, assumes a different tone, Marley told me.
“The root is a little more bitter, and there is depth,” he said. “There's a little more thought-provoking in 'The Root.' 'The Fruit' has a different flavor. Our integrity and morality is always in our music, so you will get conscious lyrics and topics that uplift one as a person. But we don't get too with 'The Fruit.'”
It could have more of a commercial appeal, too, as the album features Busta Rhymes, Black Thought of The Roots, Waka Flocka, Pitbull, Wyclef Jean and Iggy Azalea, to name a few.
Marley will perform at Tricky Falls in El Paso at 8 p.m. Tuesday, and at Albuquerque's Sunshine Theater Wednesday.