Damian Marley: The name of the son

Damian “Jr Gong” Marley steps out of his father’s shadow with his new album Welcome to Jamrock

Damian “Jr Gong” Marley. Photograph by B+/courtesy Tuff Gong/Universal Records

It’s a sure sign that Junior Gong is doing something right, when the Marley he draws comparisons with is himself. With his third album, Welcome to Jamrock, Damian “Junior Gong” Marley stamps one Timberland-clad foot firmly into the niche he created with his 2002 hit Half Way Tree, while keeping the other planted in his father’s legacy.

A delicate balancing act, but it works. Jamrock is a Marley album, yes, with the requisite samples and remixes of classic Bob tracks; but with its dancehall rhythms, skilful hip-hop and R&B fusions, and the artist’s trademark breathy deejay delivery, it’s unmistakably a Damian Marley album. Though it doesn’t quite match the brilliance of Half Way Tree, Jamrock cements Junior Gong as an artist worth listening to, regardless of his last name.

Stepping out of his father’s shadow doesn’t mean leaving the family behind, and it’s big brother Stephen on whom Junior Gong relies the most. The brothers co-wrote 11 of the 14 songs, and Stephen lends his producer’s touch to all 14 and his beautiful voice to four.  (Oh, for an album of Stephen singing.) Reggae and hip-hop stars, including Nas, Bobby Brown, Eek-A-Mouse, and Bounty Killer, take turns at the mike, sometimes to beautiful effect, as on the updated Pimpa’s Paradise, which pairs the brothers with Black Thought from the Roots.

The blistering title track has already sparked controversy for the harsh portrait of Jamaican ghetto life it depicts, but the album paints a more balanced portrait of both the island and the artist. Tracks like There for You and We’re Gonna Make It provide optimism to offset the criticism, while others like Hey Girl put the rock in Jamrock.

It’s a warm welcome that makes you hope the self-styled “youngest veteran” sticks around for a while.