When asked to recall the first time he heard Third World’s music, Damian “Junior Gong” Marley, who has known many of the legendary band’s members since he was a baby, briefly paused before responding. “It’s hard to say the exact moment because I was so young,” Damian said, “but it must have been at Cat’s house (Third World guitarist/cellist/vocalist Stephen “Cat” Coore, the father of Shiah Coore, Damian’s lifelong friend and bassist in his band). I remember Cat would come home from the studio where he was working on an album and play the music, I remember seeing album covers, the plaques the band had received. Really, Third World’s music has had a presence throughout my whole life.”
For several years, Damian had wanted to produce an album for the band with the intent of introducing their music to a younger demographic. However, with their respective hectic schedules, finding a mutually convenient time frame to write and record proved somewhat challenging. But the outstanding result, More Work to Be Done (out on the Marley family’s Ghetto Youths International imprint), was well worth the wait. “Third World had many songs they were working on; because they are top notch musicians, they were all good songs, but those songs wouldn’t have accomplished my goal of moving them into this new generation of music,” Damian, a four-time Grammy winner, told Billboard on the phone from his Miami studio. “We had discussions about re-approaching some of the songs, even the songwriting, so we almost started the album from scratch halfway through working on it. We had songwriting sessions together, came up with ideas and developed what was most attractive to us. That’s what you are hearing on the album.”
More Work to Be Done, the band’s 22nd studio album, is nominated for a 2020 Grammy for best reggae album. On Dec. 17, Third World will participate in a Q&A and album listening session at the Grammy Museum Experience in Newark, NJ, moderated Mark Conklin, the museum’s director of artist relations and programming.
“Seeing how Damian has progressed, especially after the success of Welcome to Jamrock, words can’t describe the very special feeling of working with him,” Cat Coore told Billboard in an interview at the Issa Trust Foundation charity concert in Jamaica (Third World shared the bill with Koffee and Air Supply), which raises funds to upgrade equipment and improve overall conditions in several of the island’s hospitals. “Damian’s work ethic, the time, effort and heart he invested in this album is quite exceptional; everything had to be perfect.”
Formed in Kingston, Jamaica in 1973, Third World embarked on their first international tour in 1978 — the year Damian was born — opening for Bob Marley, Damian’s father, on the European leg of his Kaya tour. A powerhouse live act, Third World flawlessly blends roots reggae, R&B, jazz and even operatic/classical selections. Their best-known hits include a timeless reggae reinterpretation of The O’Jays’ “Now That We Found Love”; the joyous, disco-tinged “Try Jah Love,” co-written and produced by Stevie Wonder; and the song that best describes their esteemed role within the global soundscape, “Reggae Ambassador.”
Third World has been recognized with nine Grammy nominations and countless awards worldwide, including a United Nations Peace Medal in 1986 for their inspirational lyrics. The band’s lineup has changed over the decades, with Cat and bassist Richard Daley onboard since 1973. Beloved lead singer William “Bunny Rugs” Clarke passed away in 2014; current lead singer AJ Brown retains Rugs’ soulfulness while bringing his distinctive vocal strength to the band’s music. Maurice Gregory (keyboards, vocals), Norris “Noreiga” Webb (keyboards, vocals) and Tony “Ruption” Williams (drums) complete the six-member outfit.
A younger generation of reggae artists complement Third World on some of the album’s tracks, including millennial reggae superstar Chronixx (“Na Na Na”), popular dancehall sing-jay Busy Signal (“Feel Good”), dynamic singer Pressure Busspipe (“People of a Different Color”) and season 5 winner of The Voice Tessanne Chin alongside the charismatic Tarrus Riley (“Island Dreams”).
“Third World’s music stands for substance so we chose collaborators who would rise to the occasion and help introduce them to new audiences,” Damian commented. Adds AJ Brown: “Damian’s visionary approach was based on particular rhythms and other musical elements that resonate within his age group; the younger entertainers he brought in embraced us as their cool uncles.”
Damian’s feature with Third World, “You’re Not The Only One,” seamlessly merges their respective, well-defined talents. Damian’s mesmeric sing-jay rhymes honor each band member prior to his shouting out the collective: “give the legends them props, real uptown rebels put reggae ‘pon the map.” He then segues into the song’s theme, addressing the isolation that is often felt during personal struggles. AJ’s smooth vocals over an intricately crafted reggae beat offer a comforting reminder that whatever you are going through, “you’re not the only one.”
The song’s video was filmed in Miami and features Third World, alongside Damian, his older brothers Julian and Stephen Marley and Stephen’s son Jo Mersa. Directed by Jay Will, whose resume includes videos for M.I.A., Sean Paul, Shaggy and Kanye West, the video for “You’re Not the Only One” premieres above.
Damian’s ongoing relationship with Third World includes his set at the Third World and Friends concert in Kingston last December, the band’s two appearances at Damian’s annually sold-out Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise (Dec. 9-14, 2019) and a shared bill at the Hollywood Bowl in July. They’ve also discussed a possible showcase/performance of More Work To Be Done with all the featured artists.