“The way Jah fire keeps blazing, that’s why I constantly praise him.” Speak Life by Damian Marley
Album Review by Maliika Walker
Twelve years. Yes, hard to believe it’s been twelve years since Damian ‘Junior Gong’ Marley’s Grammy winning album, Welcome to Jamrock, was released. However, fans were still able to see and hear his music thanks to releasing a few collaborative projects. Distant Relatives, a collaborative album with Nas, was released in 2010 and was met with praise from critics and music fans alike. The duo toured the world playing festival gigs and sold out headline shows. 2011 marked his project with short lived superstar group, Superheavy, which also included long-time reggae enthusiast Mick Jagger and U.K. soul singer Joss Stone among others. Damian has released a few singles in recent years, Affairs of the Heart being one of those songs, but hopes of an album soon following the singles were dashed. When Damian wasn’t releasing songs or collaborative projects he was producing artists on the label he owns with his brothers Stephen and Julian Marley, Ghetto Youths International.
Damian Marley’s solo album hiatus was officially over on July 21, 2017 with the release of his new album, Stony Hill. Damian’s opus, Welcome to Jamrock, mainly featured Damian dj’ing with his brother Stephen Marley handling a majority of the production. Stony Hill is largely self-produced and Damian’s growth as a songwriter is felt throughout this entire album. Damian explains his so called absence on the track Here We Go where he proclaims “If I have not been around, it’s a part of my mystique, I’ve been busy sort of speak, I’ve been winning on the streets.”
Busy Indeed! The son of the late reggae superstar Bob Marley is one of 20 investors who acquired a 60 percent stake in High Times, its digital media platforms and its increasingly popular Cannabis Cup trade shows. Damian also announced that he, in partnership with Ocean Grown Extracts, is converting a former 77,000 square foot California prison into a cannabis grow space that will cultivate medical marijuana for state dispensaries. Damian recently toured several countries in Africa and Europe leading up to the release of Stony Hill.
Stony Hill, which by the way is the name of the parish in uptown Jamaica where Damian grew up, opens with messages on the intro track of Rastafari by Big Youth, a firing cry to praise Jah. Medication, a pro-marijuana anthem featuring his elder brother, multi Grammy winner Stephen Marley, soothes the mind while digesting Damian and Stephen’s message about the herb. Damian Marley also shared testimonials from those who experienced health benefits from the marijuana herb before the album was released. It was wonderful to see Damian ensure people understood the power of the herb. “Babylon fight you for years, and now the whole of dem buy shares”
Livin’ it Up is an upbeat pop & soul track with messages of positivity and encouragement. You can’t help but to smile and dance in your seat once the songs begins. My daddy made it out, out of the Ghetto “Believe in your dreams, Believe you me, Don’t let go.” These lyrics are embedded in my mind and help to guide my thoughts.
The album also features some classic roots reggae sounds with Looks Are Deceiving and The Struggle Discontinues. “I don’t wanna sing a song that says the struggle lives on, when I wish it to die and whither away, no more struggling for all” Both of these songs reminded me why I believe reggae is life force brought here to flow Jah’s love through us.
The eighteen track album also includes songs that have been already been embraced by fans. The fiery Nail ‘Pon Cross features lyrics warning people not to judge others. This song struck a chord with me from the time I first played the tune. We are so quick to judge others based on what we see on social media instead of looking within ourselves and not judging our brother man. R.O.A.R. displays Junior Gong’s ode to Jamaica and spirited lyrics over a pulsating track produced by Sean Diedrick. Perfect Picture is one of three songs featuring his elder brother, Stephen Marley. This song was previously released on Stephen’s 2016 album, Revelation Part II: The Fruit of Life.
In Grown and Sexy , also featuring big brother Stephen, Damian expresses his appreciation for “grown” women and not the “silly young girls who want to show off “ a grown and sexy song indeed!
Autumn Leaves is a gorgeous track filled with violins and piano, and it displays Damian’s softer singing voice. “Life is full of ups and downs, carolsels of love. Good times , bad times, smiles and frowns….Don’t Give Up on Me.
Time Travel displays Junior Gong talking about events from history, and present, while asking what the future will bring. Junior Gong points out that we have more police harassment, ID theft and credit card scammers. We have Al Qaeda, ISIS and there are countless warships on the high seas. This song draws you to wonder what the future will bring in the midst of the craziness of today. Bounty Killer’s son, Major Myjah, makes an appearance on the catchy Upholstery, one of the few features on the album. Junior Gong is now a father to a young son, so it’s no surprise that the album features a song aimed at encouraging the next generation. That song is So A Child My Follow, where Damian speaks to the youth about growing up, and making their mark “Hey Young World, The World is Yours” Slave Mill featuring Yami Bolo, provides a picture of the realities of today. With lyrics like “Walking home, a youth gets killed, police free to shoot at will. Sad to see the old slave mill is grinding slow, but grinding still.” The album ends with a prayer with the song, Speak Life, a fitting ending to an outstanding offering from Junior Gong.
Stony Hill is a superlative album from Junior Gong. This is the album his fans have been waiting for over a decade for him to deliver. I highly recommend listening to this album from the beginning to end. Rejoice in the messages that are shared throughout. With this album, Damian delivers messages the world needs to hear today. In the words of his father, Bob Marley, “there is so much trouble in the world.” Listening to the messages of this album can provide people with hope as we face life’s many challenges.
Welcome back Junior Gong!