On July 21st 2017, Damian “Jr Gong” Marley released the long-awaited follow-up to his critically-acclaimed album, “Welcome To Jamrock.” In the years leading up to its release, he would collaborate with such artists as Snoop Dogg, Nas, Gwen Stefani, Skrillex, as well as his brothers, Stephen and Julian, while also having a very brief stint in a group called Super Heavy with Joss Stone, Mick Jagger & Dave Stewart, which didn’t exactly turn out to be stellar, but that’s another story. For now, let’s get stuck into this long-ass album review. By the way, what’s up with the cover of this thing? Was that supposed to be a card-board cut out of Damian Marley? It certainly looks that way. No, that was just another nonsensical statement. OK, let me get into this review… for real this time:
Intro: Much in the same way Bunny Wailer introduced the last album, “Welcome To JamRock,” reggae legend Big Youth is bringing forth a very spiritual spoken word piece to begin Damian Marley’s “Stony Hill” album. And it sounds just as epic as Bunny’s intro. Pretty good way to get things going.
Here We Go: The same young boy who once claimed not to like his father’s love songs has ironically chosen to sample a lover’s rock artist in the form of Dennis Brown for an original composition, in which he is clearly re-introducing himself to his audience. He then states his ego is going to get him into strife, while affirming “no punk” will ever finish where his father started. So true that is. Damian’s use of the Jamaican expletive “BUMBOCLAAT” in the second verse is like an explosive going off in your ear drums, which goes to show you he’s most definitely amped up and spitting hot fire all the way through this track. What was that? “Return of the Mack”? Nah! His voice isn’t nasal enough.
Nail Pon Cross: The first thing that stands out is the sample of Black Uhuru’s eighties hit, “Solidarity.” Damian sounds absolutely wicked, riding the beat like a madman and the chorus is quite catchy, but the subject matter and video most definitely have the potential to be deemed controversial: “Be careful who you nail pon cross,” literally meaning: “Be careful who nail upon a cross.” In other words: Be careful who you crucify, or who you punish. Don’t judge another man, either, get off your high horse and be humble. These words definitely aren’t to be taken lightly by any means.
R.O.A.R.: Damian sounds amped up on this tune as well, which has a military drum beat running throughout it. Unless you’re fluent in Jamaican Patois, you’ll most likely not understand a word he’s saying, but he’s clearly unhappy with all of the violence, disloyalty and crime around him, which he feels should be “Nailed pon cross,” hence its inclusion after said song. Initially it sounded as though the word “Bumboclaat” was being used here as well, however it’s actually a sample of Buju Banton’s “Me And Oonu” and the correct lyric is “Bongo cart.”
Medication: Elder brother, Stephen introduces us to the inevitable ode to herb, stating that it makes him feel high. Damian then chants about, among other things, what a pretty flower it is, labelling cocaine a bitch, as it does people damage. Weed is still illegal, so he knows full well he may be detained for possession. He then touches on some of its benefits in the second verse, including curing children, while in the process, taking off Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World,” which of course becomes: “What a wonderful herb.” Satchmo would’ve approved, no doubt. Damian now owns a former penitentiary where he actually grows his own marijuana and manufactures hemp products. The video was actually shot in this very location. True story.
Time Travel: Damian brings forth a very futuristic, electronic vibe to comment on how the world has changed over the years, with inventions of iPods and other computer-related things, yet people are still fighting amongst themselves, arrests are being made for no reason and animals are becoming extinct. So, he wonders what the future will bring, especially for his son when he finally grows into a man. The song may be electronic-based, but it’s still quite a conscious message he’s bringing forth.
Living It Up: Being a lover of all things funky, this song most definitely stood out on the first listen. Damian begins by actually singing the chorus and he blends in perfectly with his backing vocalists. He then does what he does best by chanting about living it up in a much richer part of Jamaica, called Stony Hill, where he was sent to and eventually raised in. He humorously alters the theme song from “The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air,” hence drawing the comparison between himself and Will Smith, who receives writing credit under his full first name, Willard. What’s fair is fair, right? Will Smith name-checked Bob and Damian Marley in his film “I Am Legend.” He even sang “Three Little Birds” in that flick, so why not return the favour?
Looks Are Deceiving: Damian Marley doesn’t call himself “Jr Gong” for no reason! Not only does he occasionally sound just like his father, he’s even preaching to his listeners, telling them they all have a purpose and never to underrate or give up on themselves. While it sounds like something Bob would do, the chorus is actually lifted from the Gladiators song, “Looks Is Deceiving.” That message is still entirely on point and the live instrumentation sounds absolutely incredible.
The Struggle Discontinues: Quite a spiritual tune, in which Damian is encouraging us all to stand up for our rights and hoping that one day there won’t be anymore struggling. Hence, the title. He’s praying to God (Rastafari) so that he can guide and protect him. Features live instrumentation from the son of Bob Marley’s original bass player, Aston Family Man Barret. Very old school reggae with harmonies reminiscent of the I-Threes. Brilliant.
Autumn Leaves: What we have right here is a full-on, genuine ballad from Damian “Jr Gong” Marley, which is something that he’s never done before, so it definitely throws you for a loop when you first hear it. He’s singing about the birds flying south and everything turning to drought. Perhaps it’ll appeal to me one day, not right now though. So, it’s onto the next song.
Everybody Wants To Be Somebody: One more straight-up reggae tune for the road. The title says it all, really, “Everybody Wants To Be Somebody.” And if a young kid wants to be a gangster, don’t test him, let him be exactly that. If anybody wants to be anything in life, then we shouldn’t judge or doubt that person, as it’s not up to us. Or rather, as Jr Gong himself puts it: “Who am I to defend or oppose this?” EXACTLY. It’s one of the best songs on the album, without a doubt.
Upholstery: This song features input from an artist called Major Myjah along with production by Freddie McGregor’s son, Stephen. Was that the reason for the reference to the “Big ship sailing”? Essentially it’s just an electronic-based dance tune, which sounds as though it was inspired by the atmosphere of a nightclub and of course, trying to get a girl’s attention, asking her why she’s playing hard to get. Not really my thing, but it may appeal to somebody else.
Grown & Sexy: Another collaboration with Damian’s elder brother, Stephen, in which he’s using a vocoder to alter his voice. He sings about “doing what grown ups do,” yet Damian raps about, well…. nonsense! Like feeling stony and acting kinda stupid. He says these words right there in the song, this is not something that is being made up. Next!
Perfect Picture: Stephen Marley is on the vocoder for the second time in a row. While it might be a nice message that he’s delivering, his vocal manipulation is very annoying, as are all of Damian’s verses. Furthermore, if this song was already featured on Stephen’s 2016 album, “Revelation Part 2,” why is it on Jr Gong’s album a year later? It just seems silly to include it again. We have a skip button for a reason. Next!
So a Child May Follow: At first it sounds like this is going to be another one of those boring ballads, but once you actually sit through it and get past the first note, you’ll realise that, it’s quite an uplifting tune, which is very acoustic based. And it even shows you that Jr Gong couldn’t escape his hip hop influence if he tried, as he quotes Slick Rick’s “Hey Young World.” But that’s okay, that reference can seen be a part of the encouraging message that he’s bringing forth. Most likely inspired by him becoming a father.
Slave Mill: A Nyabinghi rhythm runs throughout this song, which comments on police brutality, children being murdered in the streets, or while they are walking home, people thinking too much of themselves. It was produced by the two Stephens: Marley and McGregor and it’s so much better than the other songs they’re both featured on. For some reason, Damian is rolling his R’s whenever he sings, “Cup runneth over til it spills.” If he did that because he wanted that line to stand out, then, job well done.
Caution: Hey, look! It’s Black Uhuru again. Or at least it’s a sample of another one of their songs. In this case, “Whole World Is Africa.” Damian is doing his DJ chanting over it again. And he’s not very happy, calling out “the richest arsehole” among other things. Not gonna act like that lyric didn’t stand out like a sore thumb on the first listen. As you can see it still does. Not a bad track though.
Speak Life: All you need to do, is sit back, relax and LISTEN to that Nyabinghi drum beat, those acoustic guitars and that uplifting, encouraging message from Damian Jr Gong Marley. And you will be rewarded with an absolutely fantastic closer that’s also very spiritual. One that you can put on whenever you’re feeling down so that you WILL be uplifted. ‘Nuff said.
VERDICT: If you’re expecting him to sounds like he did on his last album, then, you’re probably going to be disappointed. “Stony Hill” shows you Jr Gong’s evolution as an artist and for the most part, it’s quite a solid album which will most definitely be enjoyed by fans in many years to come.