Bob Marley passed away over 30 years ago but remains a renowned reggae legend whose music, from his conscious lyrics and revolutionary anthems, is deeply rooted in Jamaican culture and radiates throughout the works of the generations that followed. Bob Marley’s children have kept his legacy alive, including Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley, whose latest album Stony Hill — an ode to the Jamaican neighborhood the Marley siblings grew up in — has his father’s influence peppered throughout.
“[Stony Hill] is in uptown Jamaica, the privileged area, so it was good. But still, I grew up exposed to my roots and my family’s tradition so I had a connection with people who came from the places where my father grew up,” he told Billboard. Damian, the legend’s youngest son, was just two years old when his father passed but felt a connection to Bob Marley through his catalog of music and conversations with his family members.
Now a father and celebrated reggae artist in his own right, Damian Marley says it’s the perfect time to expose his own son to the Jamaican culture and the history of the Marley family. On Stony Hill standout “Living It Up,” Jr. Gong celebrates his father’s rise from the streets of Trenchtown to provide a better life for his family. Damian teamed up with Tidal for an exclusive mini-documentary and music video for “Living It Up” where he toured his hometown of Kingston with his son to teach him to count his blessings.
Below, Billboard caught up with Damian Marley to discuss the mini-documentary “Living It Up” and experiencing Jamaica with his son.
What was it like growing up in Stony Hill?
It was good, I didn’t have a need for anything – my stepfather and my mother made sure of that – I was very comfortable. I went to one of Jamaica’s best schools here in Kingston in a very safe neighborhood, so I didn’t have to worry about violence or anything of that nature. It’s in uptown Jamaica, the privileged area, so it was good. But still, I grew up exposed to my roots and my family’s tradition so I had a connection with people who came from the places where my father grew up. He grew up in Trenchtown and Nine Miles, the countryside of Jamaica so I grew up very rounded in terms of my exposure to different walks of life and society here in Jamaica.
How was Bob Marley’s legacy and influence explained to you as a child?
I was young when my father passed, just two years old so I learned a lot about my father through his music. Discovering his albums and songs was another way for me to get to know my father. Of course, through conversations with my bigger sisters and my mom, I learned more but the music was definitely a way for me to connect.
“Living It Up” is a celebration of your success and your father making “out of the ghetto.” What has growing up in both Stony Hill and Trenchtown taught you about yourself?
Even the probability of me being conceived is not something that happens regularly in Jamaica, where you have a man that comes from Trenchtown who gets with a woman from where my mother comes from. So the whole story of “Living It Up” is an inspiration in itself; I’m saying my father was disciplined enough and worked hard and stayed focused so much that he was able to elevate from where he grew up to have a child like myself who grew up in a more privileged environment than him. The point of the song is to highlight that, that’s it’s possible once you stay focused on your dream – anything is possible.
That’s also what you teach your son in the video. Was that his first trip to Jamaica?
He went there once at a very young age but this is the first time he’s really been to Kingston, so it was a great experience and feeling to show him where his family comes from.
How long did the video take to shoot?
It was two days of shooting. We did one day of shooting down in the Port Antonio at the mansion and then the documentary was done on another day here in Kingston.
Where was the mansion scene from the video shot?
That was in Port Antonio, Jamaica at a castle – you can go there and go on tours and stuff.
We get a snippet of your talk with your son in the video. What were the conversations like that day as you both toured Jamaica?
I was basically explaining to him the contrast between the two neighborhoods but also, the contrast between where he lives in America and Jamaica. He sees his grandfather on posters but explaining to him why his grandfather is important to reggae music, why reggae music is important to the world and Jamaica so he can understand the deeper meaning behind my songs and our family. I try to break it down so he understands the culture of Rastafari, the Jamaican culture, and making it out of Trenchtown.
Based on the video, he seems like a natural star. Was the dancing moment with you and your son intentional?
It all happened on the fly, organically. Whatever he saw me do, he just mirrored it for a couple takes and we kind of figured it out along the way. It was all very natural because that’s how we are every time we hang out, we didn’t have to put on for the camera so we were just being ourselves, I didn’t want him to be too conscious of the camera.
Has your son ever expressed interest in music?
Yes, he actually plays drums better than I do. [Laughs]
Why was it important to document this experience not only for you and your son but the visual as well?
It was actually my idea to include in the video. We were playing around with some different ideas to bring this story to life and with or without the video, I always wanted to bring my son to Kingston. I wanted to bring him and document it so it can be a part of the video because it works with the concept of the song. The song is very personal and I just wanted to document my personal history for him because he was saying to me that things are going to great and he can’t wait to show his kids so now that history is documented.
He was able to meet my grandmother, which is his great-grandmother, while he was here. I wanted him to keep the memory of his first time in Kingston and meeting his great-grandmother, hanging out with his cousins he has never met before. Hopefully, that’s just the beginning of him having a closer relationship with each of there family members.