Review Summary: Stephen perfectly blends Reggae and Hip Hop with a catchy sense of melody and an ear for hooks. An essential summer listen.
You, and roughly 20,000 other Canadians, are marching to Queen's Park in a protest to legalize, not decriminalize, marijuana. The weather is, for lack of a better word, absolutely beautiful. But, here comes the tricky part; you don't have any smoke. While a combination of protest laws and the fact that by smoking you destroy the evidence essentially makes taking a hit legal at the protest, it is entirely against the law to purchase actual green. So what do you do? If you're Marc Emery, the Canadian Prince of Pot, you listen. Emery, currently on trial for innumerable accounts of cannabis laundering, says that Bob Marley is the universal code for "we're holding". Before I digress even more, let me tell you where I'm going with this.
Much like when the march took place, the weather is currently beautiful; in fact, in many cases it's been too hot this past week. Though I'm sure it's none of your business, let it be known that I've probably sweated enough to keep a small African village hydrated. That's disgusting, so let's move on. On March 20th, roughly two months prior to Toronto Cannabis Week, Bob's son Stephen finally released his first solo full-length album. Though it took years to come out, partially due to its initial release having to be re-recorded and partially due to a busy schedule with his brother Damien, "Mind Control" has finally arrived, but what many people don't realize is that even before he had a record out Stephen was a five time Grammy winner. To put that in context, Bob only ever won one, a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award.
So, as your views on marijuana laws may shift, I'm sure that once hearing the album you'll see eye to eye with me in saying that it's an absolute crime we had to wait so long to hear it. Many people, regardless of their awareness to it, have known and loved something Stephen has done. Not only did he produce Damien's 2005 smash album "Welcome to Jam Rock", but he performed on, and co-wrote, about half of the disc. Along with his work with Damien, Stephen was also a member of Ziggy Marley's Melody Makers, mostly in the shadows of his siblings. He also had a major hit in 1999's Bob Marley remix album "Chant Down Babylon".
Joined by solid weather, Stephen has finally come out of the woodwork with an album I feel will get endless nods come summertime. There are a few reasons for this. First and foremost, Stephen is a Marley, which –for better or worse– guarantees him some exposure. Thankfully, he's more than a name; in fact, I'd go so far as to say he's probably the most talented Marley, and yes, I'm including Bob. But, perhaps the biggest reason why this album will, or at least should, be a success is because it's the perfect blend of Reggae, Hip-Hop, Raggamuffin (and more). It seamlessly melds genres I feel carry a summertime vibe, all the while retaining the true Marley spirit. Much of that does have to do with the name, as well as appearances from brothers Julian and Damien, but it doesn't hurt that Damien sounds comparatively the most like his father.
You're probably asking what a perfect blend of Reggae, Hip-Hop, Raggamuffin (and more) sounds like. I guess the simplest way to explain this is by saying that many times during the album you'll have difficulty pinpointing the genre. While a track might have a solid Hip-Hop backbone, it will retain many idiosyncrasies native to Reggae. Maybe elaborating on a few tracks will make sense of this.
As always, I'll start with the first single. Traffic Jam
is the third part of trilogy of songs that deal with Stephen's 2002 incarceration for possession. The beat is carried by Stephen beatboxing, which is then accompanied by a subtle bassline and the routine appearance of Stephen going, in essence, "ba daba daba da ba". This obviously makes for a difficult live performance, but I digress. The track is done in the ragamuffin vein, which is a form of dancehall, and features Stephen's most aggressive vocals; if you're not affluent in understanding Patois, have fun trying to figure out what he's saying. It also features an adequate if forgettable appearance by Damien, one I can mostly assume happened as a thank you for Stephen's help on "Welcome to Jam Rock". Iron Bars
is a light-hearted blend of Hip-Hop and Reggae that has Stephen (along with Julian Marley, Spragga Benz and Mr. Cheeks) question why he's actually in jail. If you're not in the know, Ganja is a highly integral part of the Rastafari religion, which begs the question of religious freedom and if it truly exists as it should. The song has Stephen and his brother, who was incarcerated in the same incident, talk about their unnecessary incarceration by constantly referring to them being prisoners of circumstance. In the song, Stephen and Julian also refer to themselves as caged lions, angry and desperate for release. Once again, for those who aren't aware, the lion is a major part of the Rastafarian religion and is symbolized by the dreadlock.
and Lonely Avenue
ensure that the album is not without a touch of traditional reggae tracks. Hey Baby
features Mos Def alongside a subdued musical backdrop and solid drumbeat. Oddly enough, Mos Def does not rap on the song, but rather chooses to sing, which actually works better than it should. Let Her Dance
is a latin dance anthem that has Stephen interacting with a female on the dancefloor, played in a sort of he-said, she-said style. Inna Di Red
features Ben Harper, who puts his blend of roots folk into the track, making for a relaxing yet uplifting tune that ends the album with a cheerful and uplifting group of Jamaican children simply staying, "don't worry about it, Rastafari".
I could go on all day, and pretty much have. This is a scarily solid album devoid of any weak tracks. Sure, Mr. Cheeks' rap on Iron Bars
is absolutely atrocious, but that's as far as fault stretches. "Mind Control" is a fun album that features many styles being perfectly assimilated alongside a strong personal and political vibe that never gets ahead of itself. Though this review is two months late, the upcoming summer that guarantees to be hot makes it imperative that you at least give this album a listen. The only thing keeping this from a perfect 5/5 is that I still think Stephen is capable of more, and in-lieu of that, I don't see this becoming a classic. Regardless, it's an essential summer listen.