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World Music Features

Stephen Marley

By Wes Orshoski
Published March 13, 2007

He launched his career at the age of seven, when he and his siblings formed the Melody Makers. Since the group’s dissolution, he’s spent most of his time in the studio, producing music for his brothers.

He launched his career at the age of seven, when he, older brother Ziggy and sisters Cedella and Sharon formed the Melody Makers. Since the group’s dissolution, he’s spent most of his time in the studio, producing music for his brothers, and emerging as the secret weapon behind younger brother Damian’s two hit records. Flashing the same sweet and infectious smile worn by his father and older siblings, Stephen Marley is seated at the control board of his suburban Miami home studio, shyly giggling. He’s recalling a night in 2002 when he and younger brother Julian were pulled over for speeding several hours north of Tallahassee.

Rocking back in his leather chair, Stephen says he was honest and unapologetic when the state trooper approached their Mercedes, smelled an illegal aroma and asked if they had been smoking marijuana (he would soon find eight spliffs in the car). “Me never really hide nothing and them never get aggressive or anything,” Marley says, grinning. “Them just carry us back to jail.

“On the way in, they said, ‘Yo, when you go there, and they find out who you are, it’s gonna be…’”—Stephen cracks up, and abandons that memory for another, funnier one: “When we go in [to the station], the guy who take my fingerprint, him call him wife. Him talk to him wife while him fingerprint me!”

That bust is at the core of a trilogy of songs on Marley’s first-ever solo record, Mind Control. On “Iron Bars,” Marley roars, “Let me out/Let me out, I’m an angry lion.” It’s a moment that encapsulates just where Marley is in his career: ready to bust out.

Mind Control puts the 34-year-old singer/songwriter/producer/multi-instrumentalist in the unusual position of being both a veteran and a new artist of sorts: He launched his career at the age of seven, when he, older brother Ziggy and sisters Cedella and Sharon formed the Melody Makers. Since the group’s dissolution, he’s spent most of his time in the studio, producing music for his brothers, and emerging as the secret weapon behind younger brother Damian’s two hit records and the Tuff Gong label. Along the way, he’s collected five Grammys—more than any other reggae artist since the category was created in 1984.

If Stephen carved out a new Marley sound with younger brother Damian’s two Grammy winners, Halfway Tree and Welcome To Jamrock—one that mashes up roots and dancehall with hip-hop, R&B and a little rock—then Mind Control is yet another extension of that, a blend of all the above, as well as some nyabinghi rhythms and flamenco guitar picking. Featuring cameos from Ben Harper, Mos Def, Julian and Damian and others, the disc ranges from conscious critiques of society (“Mind Control”) and politics (“Chase Dem”) to sweet lullabies to his children (“Hey Baby”) and party tracks (“Dance, Dance”). “My joy and my pain, this is me,” Marley says humbly. “It’s a page from my book: Every page tells a story, but at the same time is a continuation of the page before it or the page to come. This is just one page.”

On a Friday night in October at Stephen’s home in the Miami suburbs, in addition to the gaggle of children buzzing about—the brothers, sisters and cousins who form the third Marley generation—several of Bob’s sons are here: KyMani, Julian, and Damian. In addition to business associates and friends, their older sister and former Melody Maker Cedella is here, too. One of the children greeting newcomers is wearing a pink and silver shirt from Cedella’s Catch a Fire clothing line. Appropriately, the image of Bob on the t-shirt is from his Catch A Fire period—his dreads are short and spiky.

Bob’s face is all around in the living room, as are small notes bearing words like “focus” and “fitness” and images of the late Ethiopian ruler Haile Selassie, who appears on the desktop screen of a computer sitting in an office-like area off the living room