Stony Hill, the first new solo record from Jamaican hip hop/reggae artist Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley in 12 years, is a welcome return by the keenly observant youngest son of reggae revolutionary Bob Marley. The new project exudes a poignant mix of positive energy and brutal realism, with tracks that seem to hold a mirror up to both the beauty and the flaws of humanity while always seeking hope and truth. Marley’s new album makes a powerful statement about the world around him. After enlisting a little help from older brother Stephen Marley, Jr. Gong sets out to remind the world how much he can accomplish when we follow a vision of peace and hope in a cloudy world.
From the opening album-opening prayer that serves as the album’s “Intro,” Marley calls for a Rasta mentality, a purging of that which is dark so the spirit can receive the light. With the stage set, the bouncing rhythm of “Here We Go” rises and falls with an inescapable swagger. Damian’s rapid-fire flow matches the pace of the track as he rejects the thought that his success is all due to his famous surname. The testimonial presented here is as low-key as these things go, and each well-placed word proves his point on dual levels.
“Nail Pon Cross” is a catchy reminder of humanity’s tendency to turn on their heroes as easily as their enemies. The drama Damian surely faced growing up in the shadow of his polarizing parent’s iconic legacy adds a rueful certainty to his words. You can watch Marley’s official music video for “Nail Pon Cross” below:
Once again, the production impresses on “R.O.A.R.” The mix of military-crisp snare work and the hot fire Marley spits evokes a highly contested battleground. Watch the fireworks in the official video for “R.O.A.R” below:
Big brother Stephen Marley pops by for the first of his three featured appearances to help “Medication” go down smooth and funky. The song and its subsequent video decry the fact that the herbal “medication” needed by so many is somehow still illegal. As public perception of the Rastas’ flower of choice changes faster and faster, hopefully this will be a song Marley can quickly retire. Watch the music video for “Medication” below, featuring both brothers alongside copious amounts of sacred “medicine” below”
Odes to the Rasta sacrament aside, the next track, “Time Travel,” looks at hypocrisy from a different angle along with the distractions and uncertainty of the world. Coming at the perfect moment on the disc, the dancehall groove of “Living It Up” is a near perfect summer song that celebrates the feeling of hard-earned success. The constant change in subject matter doesn’t show any adverse affect on the insight Marley brings, a true sign of a wide and well-studied intellect.
“Looks Are Deceiving” and “The Struggle Discontinues” slow down the tempo to varying degrees while asking the same question in different ways: how do you we find a way to trust each other? In the current tension-filled world, it is a question all of us are forced to face. Damian Marley shows a deft hand at varying the song selection to keep from locking down listeners to one particular side of the emotional spectrum. For every stark confrontation he presents (such as the harrowing “Slave Mill”), there is a lighter piece (like the sensual “Grown & Sexy” with the reappearance of big bro Stephen).
With so many thoughts and concepts thrown into the by Damian Marley on Stony Hill is rich in musical value. Each subsequent listening to the album reveals yet another layer of conceptual subtext and irresistible head bob-inducing grooves. Marley’s ability to vacillate between provocateur and hype man while never underselling either role shows the careful thought put into each syllable. The fact that he makes so much amazing music look effortless is the real magic on Stony Hill. The only downside to the listening experience is realizing how much his pure voice has been missed by the world since at least the release of his Nas collaboration album Distant Relatives in 2010. It is safe to say dad would be proud.
Damian Marley will head out on tour in support of Stony Hill in September. For a full list of tour dates, or to purchase tickets to an upcoming show, head to Jr. Gong’s website.