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World Music Features

Ky-Mani Marley

By Wes Orshoski
Published February 15, 2008

After earning a Grammy nomination with his previous album and doing some low-key acting roles, Ky-Mani Marley spent the fall opening for the reunited Van Halen. He has also released an album he calls Radio because it’s full of the music he heard on the radio dial as a youngster. We check in with him backstage.

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His eyelids growing heavy, Ky-Mani Marley is sitting in the front lounge of his tour bus and puffing contentedly on a spliff. He peers out over the scores of tailgaters that have packed the parking lot at New Jersey’s Giants Stadium, and for a moment he seems transported, reflecting vividly on his childhood as one of Bob Marley’s many children.

“Things weren’t so weird for me growing up as a Marley,” he says, taking another hit as outside the bus, high fives are exchanged and hot dogs are grilled. “The block that I was raised upon, I was literally living in the worst house on the block. It was like, ‘Yeah, your name is Marley, but, shit, I live down the road and my house is two times bigger than yours—and my name’s Jones.’” Marley laughs, eliciting smiles from his road crew.

 

It’s early November, and Marley and his posse are in the midst of a U.S. arena tour as the opening act for the reunited Van Halen. And if you thought misread that, you didn’t. As odd as it may seem, this little-known reggae artist—and lesser-known Marley—scored the opening slot on one of the most anticipated rock reunions in history through the backroom machinations of his management. As such, neither the crowd nor the band knows much about him or his music, but Marley is here in East Rutherford, New Jersey, mixing it up with one-time Camaro-owning, beer-guzzling beefcakes who are eager to pump their fists in the air to “Runnin’ With The Devil.”

 

What’s even more bizarre, though, is that Marley, the 31-yearold son of Bob and one-time Jamaican table tennis champion Anita Belnavis, is on tour to promote Radio, a new album that owes more to the loping hip-hop beats of Dr. Dre than the amped-up guitar shred of “Hot For Teacher.” With a throaty rasp of a voice that lends immediate soul to anything he does—from straight-up rap to covers of his father’s songs—Marley has made his latest disc, the follow-up to 2001’s Grammy-nominated Many More Roads (2001), more of a showcase for his hip-hop skills than any before. The album’s best cut, the hard-bumping but smooth “Hustler,” could rattle license plates in the Dirty South or South Central just as easily as the next Ludacris single.

 

According to Marley, moving between the roots reggae style of his father and the urban beat swagger of hip-hop was a natural transition. He was born in Falmouth, Jamaica, and in the early 1980s he moved to Miami, where he grew up listening primarily to rock and pop music. “I remember when I was in third grade and my mom brought me home the ‘You Be Illin’’ single by Run- DMC. I was hooked ever since.”

 

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