A legend in his own right, Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley has surpassed the shadow of his legendary father’s career to make a name for himself in reggae. Rather than rely on clout, Damian has worked just as hard as someone starting from scratch, touring and recording non-stop. A singer and performer since the age of 13, Marley fuses electronic and hip-hop-influenced elements with traditional dancehall and reggae stylings to put his own spin on the culture he comes from. He has been a part of supergroups and collaborated with dubstep stars, but still manages to keep his feet planted firmly on the ground.
In addition to being a creative force, Marley is also Rastafarian with interesting insight into the spiritual properties of cannabis as well as the business and medical opportunities the plant brings. With a new album, Stony Hill being released this spring, CULTURE was lucky enough to catch up with Damian Marley to talk about his upcoming projects, the power of cannabis and the way of the future.
“I’m a Rastafarian, so [cannabis] is considered a spiritual sacrament. We smoke herb to put us in a meditative state, to think of thoughts that are a little more spiritual or expressive than the normal thoughts you’d have in day-to-day life.”
Obviously, you grew up with music and with an amazing role model for playing dub and reggae in your father. What made you decide to follow in his footsteps, and how has having him as an influence shaped your music?
Being a fan of music more so than anything else has shaped me and made me want to do what I do. It’s not so much trying to follow my father’s footsteps, as it is wanting to express myself through music. Of course I’m influenced by my father just like so many other musicians, but I’m influenced by so many other artists too besides by father. It’s really just all about my love for the music.
What is some of the music you are most proud of creating so far?
All of it. I can’t really single out anything specific. When I listen back to some of my earlier recordings I can appreciate a point in my development and growth as an artist and as a person, so each point is kind of historical for me as an artists and as a person.
Do you have anything exciting in the works in terms of touring or writing songs?
I have a new album coming out in spring, and the name of the album is Stony Hill.
What is the best show you ever played, in your opinion?
There have been too many great shows to really single out any one. To me what makes a great live experience is kind of when the performer and audience are on the same page, and they are both engaged in the show. It’s a relationship where the energy goes back and forth, so the more energetic the audience is, that usually makes the performer more energetic.
Who are some of the artists you like the most today? Who are you listening to or inspired by?
I am listening to a lot of young people from Jamaica and a lot of music from Jamaica–Kabaka Pyramid, Iba MaHr, to name a few.
“I think that the progress that is being made right now is great, in terms of it becoming medical and it being accepted, and a lot of research is being done. A lot of the healing properties are coming out, and there is a lot more to cannabis than it getting you high.”
Dub and reggae have inspired so many forms of music, from underground dub bass in the electronic scene to ska in the punk scene. Do you listen to any of these offshoot genres, and how do you feel about this influence?
Well to tell you the truth, I spend so much time in the studio making music, and especially because I’ve been working on my record for some time now, I haven’t really been listening to a lot of outside music, if that makes sense to you. Of course there are a lot of different genres that are influenced. I have done stuff with Skrillex, as far as the dubstep genre goes. Seeing all the influence it has had, it really inspires and validates how valuable reggae music is and how much it has inspired the culture.
As a Rastafarian, cannabis is clearly a big part of your life. How does it fit into your life as a spiritual and inspirational substance?
I’m a Rastafarian, so it is considered a spiritual sacrament. We smoke herb to put us in a meditative state, to think of thoughts that are a little more spiritual or expressive than the normal thoughts you’d have in day-to-day life. You have thoughts that grow a little more than what is in your day-to-day life.
What do you think of the mainstream acceptance of cannabis? Do you see any of the people who smoke it as not appreciating its sacred properties, or do you think it should be something enjoyed by everyone?
I think that the progress that is being made right now is great, in terms of it becoming medical and it being accepted, and a lot of research is being done. A lot of the healing properties are coming out, and there is a lot more to cannabis than it getting you high. I also think it’s good that a kid who smokes a joint isn’t necessarily going to get locked up or get a criminal record. A lot of people in Jamaica get a criminal record just for smoking a joint, and that’s not right.
How does cannabis factor into your creative process and the music you make?
Well, usually we are smoking whenever are making music; when we are writing and stuff like that. We get into that energy here and we get into our creative space, so a majority of the time when we are in the studio there will be herb smoking. It is a part of day-to-day life for me personally; I smoke pretty much daily.
“That’s cool if they don’t accept it; it’s not for everyone. As long as you don’t judge someone else for using it, you don’t have to use it personally; that’s cool with me. There are a lot of things that aren’t for everyone, and as long as we are all free to choose what we want then there shouldn’t be any problems.”
Have you ever used cannabis to medicate, or as medicine? How do you feel about the fact that cannabis can be so healing as someone who believes it has spiritual qualities? Do these two things seem related to you?
That is kind of what I touched on earlier–the healing properties of the plant that have been discovered now–the research is so early but the benefits that are being discovered so far are great. I haven’t really used it so far for any personal medical reasons, but I’ve heard the stories of people who have been using the herb, children with epilepsy and that kind of thing. We are looking forward to the possibilities that are on the horizon as people learn more and more about this plant.
How do you feel about how legalization has been handled so far, in the U.S., Jamaica or anywhere else in the world?
One of my concerns that I’ve been touching on recently is that the original people who sacrificed for the herb for so long, the original farmers and people who have sold herb out on the streets, we really want them to still be a part of the business. That is my concern, that it doesn’t become something that the corporate people take over, and the little local farmers and hustlers can still be a part of it all and still continue to feed their families by growing and selling the herb. We don’t want to take that away from them.
What do you hope the landscape of legal cannabis will look like in five years?
Hopefully a lot of other places legalize the cannabis in terms of other states and other countries. Hopefully more recreational will come in and be voted on. And with all this, hopefully they will discover some great cures for illnesses.
In what ways are you involved with legal cannabis? How are you either financially tapping into the market, or using your influence to create positive change?
We’ve partnered up with a dispensary named Tru Cannabis in Colorado to open up a Stony Hill store in Denver, Colorado, right across from the Mile High Stadium. That is one of our first ventures. We are also looking to do some things with a company called Ocean Grown. So that’s basically what our involvement so far is, in the industry.
What would you say to those who still do not accept cannabis spiritually, recreationally and medically?
That’s cool if they don’t accept it; it’s not for everyone. As long as you don’t judge someone else for using it, you don’t have to use it personally; that’s cool with me. There are a lot of things that aren’t for everyone, and as long as we are all free to choose what we want then there shouldn’t be any problems.