Stephen Marley – Mind Control
Universal Republic Records (3/20/07)
While just about every 30-something in Jamaica claims that he or she is a scion of Bob Marley’s, Stephen Marley certainly is his father’s son. He grew up singing with older brother Ziggy Marley and The Melody Makers, and started singing around the same time that he was old enough to hold a microphone. Over the years, he’s won five Grammys with the group and for other production gigs, and has made cameos on albums by Erykah Badu and Michael Franti. All of this considered, it’s surprising that Mind Control is his debut solo album.
This really had the potential to be a mess. When I first received this album, I was apprehensive to look at the track listing on the back of the case, for fear that it would be a muddled mess of shitty rapper cameos and the obligatory Sean Paul and/or Beenie Man appearance. I was pleasantly surprised when I found none of the above.
Unlike younger brother Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley, Stephen carries on the soulful vocal tradition popularized by his father and carried forward past his death by his many children. Jr. Gong does make one appearance on “The Traffic Jam”, which is laden with his deejaying. It’s not bad for what it is, with a dirty beat accompanying the vocals, as Stephen joins in on the deejaying and does a better job than Jr. Gong. Not really my cup of Ting, though.
He does some more deejay-type material with Mr. Cheeks and Jamaican legend Spragga Benz, on “Iron Bars”, which is much more refined and has a deeper sound to it. The two tracks appear together with the “Officer Jimmy” interlude as a reference to Stephen and Julian being jailed in 2002 after being found with marijuana in Tallahassee, Fla. Rastafarians with marijuana? Now I’ve heard everything.
“Let Her Dance” (featuring Maya Azucena and Illestr8) is probably the most easily marketable song in both North and South America, as it melds dancehall with Latin dance. Then again, the hoi polloi may have had their fill of that kind of thing after all of the airplay that Wyclef and Shakira got. Either way, it’s a solid dance track that is as soulful as it is fun. “Hey Baby”, with Mos Def, isn’t half bad, and the collaboration with Ben Harper, “Inna Di Red”, is a snoozer that’s only really good if you’re obscenely high and need something to kill yourself to.
As for the rest of the album, I most liked all of the songs that were just straight up Stephen Marley going solo, which is half of the album. Songs like the socially aware title track and the politically driven “Chase Dem” are more than likely exactly the type of material that the Marley patriarch would be recording if he were still around today. They are the most polished tracks on the album, and seem to be Stephen’s truest work. If you’re a fan of Bob Marley, or that particular time in the reggae genre, pick this up.