(L-R) Wayne Marshall, Sammi T and Stephen Marley.Minako Ikeshiro
GYI’s sing-jay Wayne Marshall and Stephen’s son Jo Mersa, both of whom are supporting Marley on his upcoming Fruit of Life tour, were at the listening party. (Mersa featured on global dance track “Revelation Party”; other guests include Wyclef Jean, The Roots’ Black Thought, Rick Ross, Bounty Killer and Junior Reid.) Among the crowd of 160 patrons was Stephen’s brother Rohan Marley, founder of Marley Coffee and chairman of various Marley family businesses; several representatives from Queens-based reggae independent VP Records, including CEO Chris Chin; Grammy Award winning musician/producer Jerry “Wonder” Duplessis (Fugees, Gyptian); chief selector of the formidable Japanese reggae sound system Mighty Crown Sammi T; and the president of Ghetto Youths International Cristy Barber.
Barber outlined the label’s release schedule, which includes recent EP’s by Wayne Marshall (“Tru Colors”), singer Christopher Ellis (“Better Than Love”) and Mersa’s “Comfortable” EP, scheduled to drop in June. “We have a few tracks left to mix on Stephen’s album, which will be ready for his [West Coast] tour with Slightly Stoopid in July,” noted Barber, a reggae industry veteran based in Nashville. There, she is working with Big and Rich's Big Kenny Alphin on his forthcoming country-EDM hybrid project “Big Kenny Presents Electro Shine” (Glotown Records), which includes “Hope Chant” featuring Stephen’s brother Ky-mani Marley.
The listening party got underway with DJ Norie of New York’s Power 105.1 (WWPR) FM playing a lively selection of reggae and dancehall hits. The track-by-track presentation of “The Fruit of Life” commenced with the current single “Rockstone” featuring Rastafarian sing-jays Capleton and Sizzla, with Stephen’s dizzying speed-rap (a tribute to Papa Levi’s 1984 dancehall classic “Mi God Mi King”) delivered over sputtering effects in a stunning blend of one-drop riddims, deejay inflections, and hypnotic electronica.
“We are very impressed by Stephen’s diverse album, especially the way he blends doo-wop and soul with hip hop and ballads; it is to date the best showcase of his production skills, which we want people to take notice of again,” commented Olivier Chastan, SVP at INgrooves and former president of Greensleeves Records and Publishing. Marley’s album will be distributed through INgrooves’ In Residence distribution program, which offers label services including marketing and promotions. INgrooves also handles Marley’s publishing.
“I have heard many of these songs as they were developing but I haven’t heard the entire album yet, so I am excited to be here,” said Marley’s good friend producer/songwriter and EVP of A&R at Sony Salaam Remi whose expansive production credits include dancehall classics like Ini Kamoze’s “Here Comes The Hotstepper”, which topped the Hot 100 in 1994. Remi is currently working on Bermudian reggae artist Collie Buddz’s forthcoming album, which will be released through his Sony imprint Louder Than Life. “I produced tracks for albums by Shabba, Patra, Super Cat for Sony 20 years ago, so reggae is part of my warehouse," added Remi. "I understand how to take it to the forefront and I am glad to be in a position now where I can further support it."
Stephen Marley's birthday cake. Cristy Barber
The 1990s saw several Jamaican acts reach the upper tiers of major US charts, a phenomenon the reggae industry views nostalgically in light of today’s slumping sales.Tamoya Daum and Mike Primo, CEOs of New Jersey’s Smokestack Recordings LLC, shared with Billboard.biz their plans to launch a reggae/Caribbean series on a new, major music TV network (the contracts will be finalized in May before its debut on May 11, the 33rd anniversary of Bob Marley's death) which will “focus on reggae’s effects on pop culture, while bringing reggae back to the mainstream where it belongs,” explained Daum. The as-of-yet untitled weekly program will incorporate artists’ interviews, video debuts, and exclusive concert footage. Its debut will feature a special segment devoted to Stephen Marley.
Irrespective of reggae’s mainstream ranking, the Marley name continues to resonate with audiences beyond the music’s core audience, whether it is Bob, his sons and now, his grandsons. “The Marleys headline shows other Jamaican acts cannot, especially in non-Caribbean markets; by doing so, they break down barriers for other Jamaican acts,” said Bobby Clarke, CEO of the New York-based Irie Jam Media Group, promoters of the upcoming Oracabessa Festival on May 26 at Roy Wilkins Park in Queens, NY, headlined by Jamaica’s Tessanne Chin, the December 2013 winner of NBC’s "The Voice." “I am here tonight because Stephen’s album is important and the industry needs to push it because its success can help elevate the entire reggae genre,” Clarke said.