It is more than a quarter century since Bob Marley was laid to rest near his birthplace in Jamaica. He left not only a profound musical heritage, but a formidable group of gifted kids he quite literally raised on stage and in the studio. The first to come of age, musically, was son Ziggy Marley who with his siblings, Cedella, Stephen, and Sharon, recorded as the Melodymakers. The group met with success in the mid-80s through the early 90s, racking up Grammys along the way.
But their decidedly pop approach to reggae lost favor with their audience before the end of the decade. However, in the dozen years since the release of the Melodymakers last CD, Stephen made his way to musical self-determination by mastering the studio. He also lent his voice and musicianship to artists as varied as Erykah Badu and Eric Clapton. As a producer, he put a Grammy on his brother Damian's mantelpiece for the hit album, Halfway Tree (which ironically beat out music by brother Ky-Mani Marley for the award). And it's Stephen's stunning production of Damian's 2005 blockbuster CD, Welcome to Jamrock that delayed his own debut for two years.
So finally, we have Mind Control, where we get a peek into the creative mind of Stephen Marley in his first solo artist project. At first glance, Stephen Marley the producer did right by Stephen the artist, by surrounding himself with an edgy group of guest artists. Rappers Mos Def and Mr. Cheeks, Soul Rocker Ben Harper, Indie Soul High Priestess Maya Azucena, Dance Hall dynamo Spragga Benz,as well as little brother Damian all fit into his musical blueprint. With such a line-up, his artistic identity could easily have gotten lost in a pandering production piece. But, Marley stays focused and offers a varied yet cohesive sound to the project. What also becomes clear is that Stephen's production sense seems influenced as much by close friend Wyclef Jean as his father Bob. It is also definitely a major label â€˜big tent' approach: offering airplay possibilities for multiple radio formats. HipHop and Latin beats pulsate along side progressive dancehall, lovers rock and roots reggae; all fleshing out Marley's eclectic musical vision. Most remarkably though is Stephen's stunning vocal resemblance to his dad; even more so than big brother, Ziggy. There are times you will listen to this CD and you'll have to remind yourself that those are new artist tracks and not a Bob Marley-remix album.
The â€˜centerpiece' of the CD, "Traffic Jam", is a dancehall bubbler with Damian doing a rousing DJ (that's like an MC in rap) guest spot. The â€˜big fun' tune is "Let Her Dance," which is a similar idea to the Wyclef-Shakira hit, "Hips Don't Lie." Marley's choice of high voltage performer Maya Azucena, shows that he really has his ear to the streets. A Stephen Marley project could have easily spotlighted a battalion of higher profiled singers from various music genres. The song itself is not lyrically deep but it's a driving song that could get the re-mix treatment and really make it's mark in clubs. HipHop beats abound in "Hey Baby" and "Iron Bars" is rumored to be an account of Marley's arrest for "ganja" possession in Miami. However, it's on the rootsy sounding songs like "Chase Dem" and, "Lonely Avenue" that may be his strongest statements as a singer. As the Levert family has demonstrated, vocal talent can be passed down a generation, to multiple offspring. What Stephen Marley may yet demonstrate, is that he may be the first to carry forward what other family members have struggled to do: fulfill the Bob Marley legacy and have success on his own terms.
By Les Clarke