Reasoning With Zilla 25 Years Ago
Damian Marley was never intimidated by great expectations. Born on this day in 1978, the youngest son of Robert Nest Marley did not hesitate to follow in some very large footsteps, entering the music industry at an early age. He started out singing in a group called The Shepherds, along with the children of reggae stars Freddie McGregor, Judy Mowatt, and “Cat” Coore of Third World. Former Shepherd Shiah Coore still plays bass in Damian’s band to this day.
During the mid 1990s Damian stepped out as a solo performer under the name Jr. Gong. On January 23 1995 he passed through New York City to promote the album Positively Reggae, a compilation of conscious tracks by dancehall artists like Shabba Ranks, Mad Cobra, Bounty Killer, and Patra with proceeds going to benefit Leaf of Life, a Jamaican organization for HIV-positive children.
This photo, shot by Brian Jahn during the same press run, gives you an idea of what his hair looked like back then. Today his dreadlocks are so long he has to tuck them into a backpack when he plays soccer. I had a chance to reason with Damian that day for my Boomshots column in VIBE. He seemed like a cool youth at the time, but I had no idea this convo would be the start of such a long-lasting friendship. After all he’s accomplished since then, D remains remarkably chill. The interview has never been published in its entirely. 25 years later seems like as good a time as any. Big Up Jr. Gong. Blessings pon di strong. Interview After The Jump…
How old are you?
I’m 16 years years old.
So that means you were how old when your father passed?
I was two when Bob passed. I wish I was around to know him a bit more personally, or have a few more memories. When you listen to his music, there is so much emotion in it that you can see this is really what he believes.
Tell me about your song “School Controversy.”
My song, what it does, is look at the brighter side of trouble at school. You know, youths go to school and them get in some kinda trouble and start get discouraged from school and want drop out and ray ray ray. My song is to help them look at the brighter side, cause there’s always a brighter side. More encourage them to just to laugh it off and get back into it.
>>>>Watch the ride as Young Zilla flashes styles by Buju, Ghost, and Snow. Notice any other inspirations?<<<<
I feel really proud to be on an album like this helping youths my age with physical problems. It can happen to any of us, and I’d love to know if that happen to me, somebody would be there helping me. So I’m glad to help. There is not one track on the album that I would not listen to on a day-to-day basis.
How did you first get into music?
From I was really small I been singing and listening to my father’s music and idolizing different stars yunno? You know how it is when you’re growing up you always think you want to be this and that. But I subconsciously think the music was definitely always there for me. It took a little while for me to realize. Right now I can’t see myself being any other thing yunno. If I’m not singing or performing, then I have to be managing or producing or something, caw, I think music is definitely the right track for me. I’ve been writing quite a bit of songs. In Jamaica, we’re working on my own album.
How would you describe your own musical style as an artist?
Even though at the moment dancehall is what I specialize in, we plan to get in some yunno grassroots cultural reggae, and maybe one or two R&B. Even a hip hop style, caw we have to show our versatility.
Are you doing music full time at this point?
I’m still attending school in Jamaica. And while I’m in New York I’m reading books because I have some major exams coming up. So I’m not just preaching about education but practicing it as well.
Where do you live these days?
I live with my mother in Jamaica. Cindy Breakspeare. She’s also is singing, so it’s like one big family. Ziggy and Stephen grow up with Rita. But I see a lot of them.
Are you working on music with any of your brothers and sisters?
We used to sing to each other in the yard, long before there was any studio. So now we’re just like the same singing in the yard, it’s just that there’s a microphone in front of us. You get that same comfortable feeling. Bob Marley’s sons have their own independent label called Ghetto Youths United, working hand in hand with Tuff Gong.
I’ve been doing some combinations with Stephen. He knows me. He knows the things I like doing. He knows the level of potential. His fans will listen and my fans will listen. A lot of the Melody Makers musicians laid the riddims for the album. And I’ll be doing some touring with them as well. Most of the songs on the record, I’m working with Stephen. His fans will listen and my fans will listen.
What’s it like for you being seen as Bob Marley’s son?
It has many advantages and it has disadvantages just like any other thing. My father has opened certain doorways for me that other people have to open for themself. Certain opportunities that other people would have to wait quite a while for. But it has certain disadvantages, because of my father, everybody expect a certain standard, a level of consciousness a level of cultural background. You have to really meet these expectations because you can’t let people down.
How do you live up to those expectations?
Really and truly, it’s not really all that hard, because I don’t really see myself doing anything too slack or dirty. Still I come up with a really blunt way of doing things. “That’s kinda crude” I don’t see myself promoting a whole heap of violence, and a whole heap of slack girl argument. You can speak about ladies and love, but we can just keep everything on a nice, standard level.
How do you feel about being on the same album as artists like Bounty Killer and Shabba?
I think it’s great that they are doing this. First of all, they are showing their own versatility. Their fans also are going to listen to that and say, YEAH! my artist can be uplifting and conscious. So I think it’s really good to have artists like this because people who look up to these artists and the artists’ gun lyrics are influencing them, they can look and say consciousness must be good too.
Even though there are no dreadlocks artists on this album even, this album is really, you can say in a way Rasta. It’s a positive thing and it’s helping youths—that’s something that Rasta people strongly believe in. We understand that that’s the generation of tomorrow, so we have to help them. This is blessings. Every artist on this album has a blessing and this album itself is blessed.
Have you noticed there is a bit more culture in the dancehall these days?
Man like Buju Banton and Capleton turn to Rasta now, which is a cultural religion. So you find that the dancehall have more conscious messages. One thing I don’t like is that many dancehall artists now are saying “Selassie I” but they don’t believe nor have any knowledge of Selassie himself. What it is, they are just jumping on the bandwagon because big artists are doing it, they want to do it too. I don’t respect that. You have to do something you believe in.
Many cultural artists before never had the sound that the youngsters like. These artists nowadays are finding the right sound—it don’t sound too tacky. You used to find that the cultural music, it kinda sound a likkle bit baby-ish or soft. Nowadays they come in with the right track, the good producers.
Are you a Rasta yourself?
Yeah, I follow the Rasta faith. I don’t have my dread, but that’s just time, because once I start dread I can’t cut it. So I have to make sure I’m ready within myself.