Skip Marley on Tackling Trump With Katy Perry & Carrying On Bob's Legacy

Silverhub/Rex Shutterstock via ZUMA Press
Katy Perry and Skip Marley perform at the Brit Awards at the O2 Arena in London on Feb. 22, 2017. 

When Katy Perry recruits an MC for a guest verse on a single, the artist typically is a household name like Kanye West or Snoop Dogg. Yet for “Chained to the Rhythm,” the politically charged lead single to Perry’s upcoming fourth album, the pop superstar reached out to 20-year-old Skip Marley -- an unknown artist with a famous last name. 

A week after releasing his own debut single, “Lions,” Marley, whose grandfather was late reggae legend Bob Marley, joined Perry at the Grammy Awards for the song’s live debut, rapping, “Up in your high place, liars/Time is ticking for the empire,” before standing alongside the anti-Trump pop singer in front of a projection of the U.S. Constitution. When the single subsequently launched at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, Skip became the first Marley to appear in the top 10 of the chart. Marley, who plans to release his Island Records debut album in 2017, discussed Perry’s hands-off approach and why pop needs to get more confrontational.

When did you start playing music?
I started really young. Since around 6 or 7, I’ve been taking classes in piano, guitar, music theory. Around 13 or 14, my uncle Stephen was on tour, and he told me that I was going to sing [with him] that night. I had never sung in front of anybody, but it came out naturally. Ever since, it just stuck.

How did the Katy Perry single come together?
My manager [Brandon Creed] called and told me that “Lions,” which I made around election time, was being played at the studio in L.A. with Max Martin, and Katy heard it and said, “I want him to be a part of the song.” She reached out in January, and I went to the studio and delivered the message that I had to deliver. I had free rein lyrically. Katy said, “Just do you.”

Perry hasn’t made a song as socially conscious as “Chained to the Rhythm” before. What inspired the two of you to explore those themes?
We feel the times. We need to come together -- that’s what my message was [in the song], one of unification and love. That type of music lives on forever. Uplifting music with substance definitely has a place today.

Was there any fear of a backlash for making a political statement at the Grammy Awards?
No. We can’t have fear. My family was there with me, and they were so proud. That stage production was a new experience for me, but it had such a positive impact. People were listening and understanding, and I’m thankful for that.

The lyric video for “Lions” includes footage from protests concerning Black Lives Matter and the immigration ban. What point were you trying for?
We’re better when we come together, and we have to be strong in these times. It was inspired by things that are going on in the world. There’s a lot of confusion. We have to overcome our obstacles together.

Does your desire to make politically relevant statements stem from your grandfather’s legacy?
Of course. We’ll always feel that, and it’s always within us. The legacy is a light that will carry on. It’s a flame that can never be put out.

KNOW YOUR MUSICAL MARLEYS

BOB  MARLEY
Since Bob Marley’s death in 1981, his extended clan has won 11 Grammys for best reggae album. Study up on the members of this celebrated family tree.

ZIGGY MARLEY
Son, born 1968
The Melody Makers leader closely followed in his father’s footsteps, including the jammin’ theme song to the Arthur animated series.

DAMIAN MARLEY
Son, born 1978
“Junior Gong” followed his 2005 hit “Welcome to Jamrock” with Distant Relatives, a joint album with Nas.

RITA MARLEY
Wife, married 1966
Bob’s widow became famous after his death for 1981’s “One Draw,” a pro-marijuana single that cracked Billboard’s disco chart.

JULIAN MARLEY
Son, born 1975
The only Marley scion born in the United Kingdom, the singer is known for his Ghetto Youths International foundation.

CEDELLA MARLEY 
Daughter, born 1967
Skip Marley’s mother issued an acoustic cover of “Could You Be Loved” in 2016 and has ventured into dance, design and film.

ROHAN MARLEY
Son, born 1972
He played football in the Canadian Football League and dated Lauryn Hill for 13 years; they recently welcomed their first grandchild.

KY-MANI MARLEY
Son, born 1976
The hip-hop artist and only son of Bob and Anita Belnavis wrote the 2010 tell-all Dear Dad: Where’s the Family in Our Family, Today?

STEPHEN MARLEY
Son, born 1972
The 44-year-old’s first solo album arrived in 2007. Now he veers toward rap, recently working with Rick Ross and Busta Rhymes.

This article originally appeared in the March 11 issue of Billboard.