Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley — “Welcome to Jamrock”

Released: 9.12.05

Peak: #55

A throwback in more ways than one, and maybe only a Marley could come on this pop, this old-school, and still sound hard and timely. Or, rather, two Marleys, since brother Stephen produced “Jamrock,” running a Zap Pow bass line underneath Sly and Robbie’s World Jam riddim. Despite sounding like a half-forgotten, retooled mid-80s classic, “Welcome to Jamrock” echoed through Jamaica’s yards all summer, as the homicide rate and the temperatures there soared, overcoming the reluctance of that island’s finicky beat connoisseurs’ to settle for yesterday’s beats.

Plenty of specific details poke through Marley’s dystopian rant: the weed giving your girl a contact high, the elections bought and sold, the tourists’ enjoying a cheap holiday in other people’s misery, the “poor people a dead at random.” Yet what drives the song is the moral heft genetically encoded within Damian’s voice. True, his dad rarely need to puff himself up to such stentorian levels to project authority, but the son has inherited a righteous power that neither hip-hop nor rock regularly summon these days. (And no, nothing out of Jamaica quite does either.)

Not that Junior’s booming growl resembles Bob’s sweet chirp in the least. His dignified deliberation demands the prophet’s mantle of its own accord. Marley’s molten flow also melds effectively with hip-hop–on his recent collaboration with Nas, it proves an excellent foil to the MC’s trebly, darting impatience. Above all, his is a voice for bearing witness, “Out in the street / They call it murder,” Ini Kamoze sings on the hook, his sample from another time, hinting at another question: What do they call it in the safe, well-manicured homes? Nothing, they barely notice.

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