Stephen Marley Revelation Part 2: The Fruit of Life
In May 2011, eight-time Grammy Award winning singer/songwriter/musician Stephen Marley released his self-produced album “Revelation Part 1: The Root of Life” a critically acclaimed celebration/preservation vehicle for the powerful messages, enriching spirit and live instrumentation that is at roots reggae’s core. “The Root of Life” premiered atop the Billboard Reggae Album chart, marking three consecutive number one Reggae tally debuts for Stephen, the others being (the Grammy Award winners) “Mind Control” (2007) and “Mind Control Acoustic”(2009). “The Root of Life”, also honored with the Best Reggae Album Grammy in 2012, is the initial release in what Stephen envisioned as a two-part project. The second installment, “Revelation Part 2: The Fruit of Life”, scheduled to drop in February 2014, utilizes a diversified sonic palette in its expression of the far-reaching impression Jamaican music has had on an assortment of genres. Like The Root, “The Fruit of Life” will be released on the Marley family’s label, Ghetto Youths International, which is now distributed through the Nashville based independent Thirty Tigers.
Following his production on The Root of predominantly roots reggae tracks Stephen’s creative powers were fully liberated in his approach to “The Fruit of Life. “If I felt to make a dancehall track, I made it, if I wanted to make a ballad I made it,” he explained recently in his Miami studio where he was completing final mixes for The Fruit. “As a producer, a conductor, an engineer, it’s fun making an eclectic kind of record; there are songs for the clubs, love songs, dancehall reggae but it remains a positive, conscious party.”
Jamaican music has influenced numerous genres: reggae’s drum and bass underpinnings are regularly heard in rock and jazz while the use of various sound effects and the manipulation of instrumental tracks in dub are staples of dance remixes and have spawned numerous subgenres including dubstep. But the island’s music has an especially close relationship to hip-hop whose roots are directly traceable to Jamaican sound system dances of the late 1950s/early 60s where deejays first “toasted” their lyrics over a song’s instrumental break. Some 40 years ago (Jamaican born) DJ Kool Herc took that distinctive art form to the Bronx NY, where he gave it an American accent and hip-hop was born.
Stephen initially explored the hip-hop/reggae connection through his production on the lauded 1999 album “Chant Down Babylon” (Tuff Gong/Island) by recruiting a stellar cast of rappers who courageously stamped their identities on Bob Marley’s classics, recording alongside outtakes of Bob’s vocals from the original 1970s Island Records’ (recording) sessions. Two artists featured on “Chant Down Babylon” collaborate with Stephen on “The Fruit of Life”, Busta Rhymes, on the life affirming “Pleasure or Pain” and Black Thought, lead singer of The Roots on “Thorn Or A Rose”. The ensemble of cherry-picked MCs also includes Rick Ross on the retro-R&B flavored “The Lion Roars”; Dead Prez on “As Far As I Can See” and the searing “Babylon”, featuring Jamaican singer Junior Reid. Wyclef Jean delivers historically themed verses on “Keeper of the Flame”, which samples the High Priestess of Soul, Nina Simone and DJ Khaled jumps on the EDM inspired “Hot Bubblegum.”
A 1950s do-wop undercurrent steers the reggae lament “Walking Away”, the sole track featuring Stephen’s guitar playing. Akon and Buju Banton support Stephen on the heavy one-drop tune “My Conclusion”, and he duets with Jasmin Karma, an Australian singer recently signed to Ghetto Youths International, for the sultry “Knock On Wood”.
“The Fruit is about the different branches, the different shades,” Stephen said. “There are many pages within my mind, many colors and ideas so we just create music, organically, without having to stay in a boundary. We come from a generation that is versatile and can’t be put in a box.”
Thinking way outside the box, “The Fruit of Life” opens with a snippet of the speech delivered by The Jewish Barber, Charlie Chaplin’s character in his 1940 film “The Great Dictator,” a satiric, stirring condemnation of Hitler, Mussolini, anti-Semitism and the Nazis; Chaplin’s full speech closes the album. Seemingly an unlikely choice for the album’s introduction/conclusion, the speech’s sentiment of universal cooperation (“I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone, if possible, Jew, Gentile, Black man, White. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness, not by each other’s misery”) ideally suits the uplifting spirit inherent to Stephen’s music making approach. “I was looking for something else when the speech came up and I thought whoa, what’s this? Jah sent this speech to me. It is a perfect speech, something I identify with and would have wanted to say,” Stephen revealed. “I don’t want to conquer or rule no one. I just want everyone to be happy in life. The magical thing is I didn’t know the speech existed and now it’s starting the record.”
Born on April 20, 1972, by the time Stephen Marley was old enough to walk, he was dancing and singing onstage at Bob Marley and the Wailers concerts. Bob often took Stephen and his siblings into the recording studio to teach them the rudiments of production and to better understand the motivating elements within his work. “My father used to tell us music is like a prayer and you don’t put just anything in a prayer, you say important things, pray for people who are suffering,” Stephen recalled. “He’d say don’t take it for a joke and if you’re not really serious don’t do it.”
Stephen and his elder siblings Ziggy, Sharon and Cedella made their professional debut as The Melody Makers in 1979 with the release of the single “Children Playing in the Streets”, written by their father. The spotlight shone on eight-year old Stephen’s precocious talents the following year when he sang lead on “Sugar Pie”; The Melody Makers generated much excitement when they performed the song at Jamaica’s Reggae Sunsplash festival in July 1981, staged that year to honor their father’s profound musical legacy, just two months after his passing. The group went on to tour the world and earned numerous awards; by the time Stephen entered his teens, he was assisting in the production of each of The Melody Makers’ albums including the Best Reggae Album Grammy winners “Conscious Party” (1989), “One Bright Day” (1990) and “Fallen Is Babylon” (1997).
Since his early 20s, Stephen has helmed the production for several Marley family members’ albums, most notably, those by his youngest brother Damian, including “Half Way Tree” and “Welcome To Jamrock”, each bestowed with a Best Reggae Album Grammy. Alongside Damian, Stephen coproduced “Distant Relatives”, Damian and Nas’s acclaimed effort, released in 2010. While working on that album’s final mixes, Stephen went into an adjoining studio and laid down the ideas that became the foundation for the Revelation series.
Damian contributes his signature vocals on two of The Fruit’s tracks, “Perfect Picture” a song about the acceptance of someone different and “Bongo Nyah” (also featuring Spragga Benz) with all three spitting a series of powerful lines: “Cramp any plan weh Babylon a conspire, chant higher bingi yo heights get higher”, chants Stephen. Released in June, “Bongo Nyah” is now in heavy rotation on the airwaves in Jamaica and on various international reggae programs. The dancehall track “You and Me Attract”, released in July, features popular Jamaican deejay Busy Signal’s rapid-fire verses an ideal complement Stephen’s sung falsetto hook while dancehall superstar Shaggy is at his boombastic best, trading rhymes with Stephen on the classic R&B shaded track “So Strong”.
With a little help from his colleagues whose music often reaches the mainstream (including Salaam Remi who produced the track “So Unjust”) “Revelation Part 2: The Fruit of Life” will likely reach a larger audience than it’s predecessor. “The Root of Life” was a great touring album, I did nine weeks in Europe last year, but it really didn’t have any commercial songs on it, although the remix of “Jah Army” (featuring Biggie Smalls) connected with the hip hop market,” Stephen noted. “But many of the artists that worked with me on “The Fruit of Life” give this music wider commercial appeal. Getting on radio is nothing to lose your integrity over but it’s a plus, a next way of getting your music to the people. My old man sang “we bubbling on the top 100” (“Roots Rock Reggae”) so there is no reason I wouldn’t want to be there, too.”