Why is Damian Marley called Jr. Gong?
Damian Marley was nicknamed "Jr. Gong" in honor of his father, activist, revolutionary musician, Bob "Tuff Gong" Marley. His mother, Cindy Breakspeare, is a Jamaican jazz musician, former model and Miss World of 1976.
“One Love, One Heart,” Bob Marley sang, echoing the words of Pan-Africanism leader Marcus Mosiah Garvey. “One God, One Aim, One Destiny” while riding the one-drop rhythm sound. On the screen is a portrait of seven men: Robbie, Julian, Damian, Ky-Mani, Rohan, Stephen and Ziggy. Transfixed on the flick, Jamaica’s national motto comes to mind. Out of many, one people. It all comes down to one.
Out of one man, seven sons, five of whom sing with the one true voice. It gets naturally mystical and biblical. The five singers as five loaves of the body of Bob. The two fishes of music and lyrics sent to swim the seas of human consciousness, feeding the masses. While the House of Marley includes other ventures such as coffee, apparel, electronics and branded strands of ganja, word and sound remain the power.
The Last Shall Be First and the First Shall Be Last
On the screen there it was clear. Ziggy, Damian. Damian, Ziggy. The last shall be first and the first shall be last. The youngest son bearing the moniker of The Father, a junior of the Tuff Gong before H.I.M. As one sets, a son rises. After the death of dub’s Don Dada, David took the crown. Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers rose to international prominence and superstar status with 1988’s Conscious Party. Memories of the “Tomorrow People” video profusely playing on Ralph McDaniels’ Video Music Box come to mind. The undeniable power of “Tumblin Down’” still pierces perception and the follow-up album, 1989’s One Bright Day still has us wanting to “Look Who’s Dancin.”
"Me Name Jr. Gong" and The Grammys
While the 80s and 90s belonged to Ziggy in terms of prominence and grabbing Grammys (and he just released a powerful new album, Rebellion Rises, to unite humanity), the past two decades have belonged to Jr. Gong. With aid of his “melody maker” production partner-in-crime, Stephen Marley, Damian has consistently killed sounds and conquered duppies. The summer of 1996 witnessed a switch. Marley Magic Live at New York’s Central Park Summerstage. The emergence of Mr. Marley. The Dancehall-infused “Love and Inity” showed and proved that “One Cup of Coffee” was now a very different cup of tea.
It was the performance of “Me Name Jr. Gong” smoothly transitioning into “Crazy Baldheads,” the song which forms its foundation, that solidified the dawn of the rising sun in the eyes of a writer. Looking at the songs on Damian Marley’s debut release, the use of the Hip Hop playbook is evidenced. The kid with Super Cat chat had an unfair sampling advantage; the Tuff Gong catalog could be drawn upon for backing tracks, and the technique has been a hallmark of his work ever since.
In 2001 a writer was part of The Star & Buc Wild Morning Show on New York’s Hot 97 and came face to face with Gongzilla for the first time. The Marley Brothers were promoting Damian’s sophomore effort Halfway Tree. What resonated most was the emphasis they placed on the unity of their brotherhood. They were all of one. The performers were five Zion Lions combining to form Reggae’s Voltron of The Father’s form. In 2002, a Grammy ensued. But it was 2005’s Welcome to Jamrock that made Marley a household name. That is, Damian’s brand of it.
Welcome To Jamrock
The album’s mega hit title cut, “Welcome to Jamrock,” an anti-anthem for the Jamaican tourist board, touted the real hardcore with the score of a musically menacing “Move Militant” march. Welcome to Jamrock received a gold certification, an astronomical achievement for a Reggae album and, in 2006, another Grammy was added to Jr. Gong’s collection. While the single, “Welcome to Jamrock,” was an everywhere vibe in 2005, the album was front-to-back track for track solid. Cuts like “There for You” had a writer weeping and wailing many a day.
That year, backstage at his tour bus, a writer gave his roadies a ceramic tile craft of H.I.M. Emperor Halie Selassie I to present to Jr. Gong as a gift as he performed at Roy Wilkins Park in Queens. (Did he ever receive it?) A writer looked into his eyes once again backstage at the then-Nokia Theater in Times Square, and marveled at how long his flag-bearer, Judah, could swing the Ites, Gold and Green as Jr. Gong does his songs.
A Natural Mystic and Stony Hill
It was clear from the body of work that Jr. Gong was well versed in the cosmic connections of “Natural Mystic” music. As he seamlessly moved in a “Beautiful” fashion between the worlds of Bob Marley and Super Cat, Dancehall and Roots, he could also boom-bap with Rap. The collaboration “Road to Zion” led to a joint album in 2010 with Nas, Distant Relatives. The work is arguably a masterpiece and one of the most underrated and slept on projects of the 21st century thus far. Truthfully, Rap and Reggae are not distant relatives or even different musical branches, but the trunk of one tree. One drum. One beat. One mic. The sound systems and sound clashes of Jamaica are at the sonic basis of both Hip Hop and Dancehall, so Distant Relatives was not a bridge over troubled waters, but a homecoming.
Over the subsequent years, singles with Stephen kept the vibes breathing. It got SuperHeavy with Mick Jagger and Joss Stone, he sought to “Make it Bun Dem” with Skrillex. We asked “Is It Worth It?” as we explored a Gunman World and we learned more of “Jah Army” before we lost Buju Banton. Flash to September 2016, a writer witnesses a performance of “Nail Pon Cross” at New York’s Bowery Ballroom. The road is destined for Stony Hill.
One Love. One Heart. One more thing… Glanced over in the syrupy-sweet presentations of the song as a beacon for island tourism are the warnings of righteous war. “Let's get together to fight this Holy Armageddon (One love) / So when the Man comes there will be no, no doom (One song)/ Have pity on those whose chances grow thinner / There ain't no hiding place from the Father of Creation.” And in the wake of one man are a billion bloodclaat boomshot boom chunes burning Babylon with biblical bias.
How long shall they kill our prophets? How long shall they go unacknowledged? Did prophesy end in the times of the “holy books” or is it just that Mormons are among the few that acknowledge “latter day saints?” In the video for “Bam,” a collaboration between Jay-Z and Jr. Gong off the 4:44 album, over scenes from Trenchtown, Jamaica, the voice of Jayhova is heard.
“The prophets in the beginning were musicians,” says Jay-Z. “They were poets; the writers. And that’s what we’ve been tasked with in this life.”
On Jr. Gong’s Stony Hill, that new bibles continue to be written everyday is apparent on tracks such as “Speak Life,” “The Struggle Discontinues,” and the aforementioned “Nail Pon Cross.” The surreal symphonic structure of “Looks Are Deceiving” echoes The Father in an otherworldly fashion. “Living it Up” celebrates the rewards for those who have endured and shall inherit all things. The performer prophets, including Marley, sing one song. Lambchop’s song that never ends. The 42 Negative Confessions of Ma’at is the 10 Commandments is Jr. Gong’s “R.O.A.R.”
Revelations, Rastafari, Redemption and Reggae
Out of many, one people. Out of one man, seven shining suns emerged, but Bob Marley birthed a nation of millions singing in harmony. Angels singing in the presence of the throne. While the masses may have seen the music as chunes attuned to ganja, there may be no greater gospel than the revelations of Rastafari’s Reggae. The message remains as one. Revelations continue to be revealed. Babylon, your throne gone down. Babylon funeral like Dezarie ah seh. The system remains a shit-stem. Stand by for further instructions.
The Five Percenters, the “spiritual” backbone of the vibration of Hip Hop, call it “love, hell or right.” We go through hell, but with love, we come out right. With that one love, we shall stride out of Babylon and reach Zion. Whether they be physical realities or state of consciousness, or Armageddon a metaphor for achieving higher levels of personal development, it all comes full circle. What is a beginning but the start of end and what is an end but the start of a new beginning? Alpha and omega, 360 degrees, as the father before H.I.M.; the Jr. Gong rings redemption songs and continues the legacy.
“The last shall be first and the first shall be last.”
And read our exclusive interview from our Jr. Gong print issue here.