Damian Marley: Standing Ground On Stony Hill

“I don’t really hold anything back. It’s really very much organic for me.”

There are codes of conduct because no human is an island. We are interconnected to everyone and everything by forces both powerful and benign, governed by laws that never age, a cosmic order that deems it is written. Yet words, spoken, are oftentimes never written.

To survive and thrive, humans have adapted to cohabitant and congregate. We are communities and in our interdependence lies our strength. What lies beneath every hood are codes. Codes of being, enshrined to foster care and growth. Wisdom passed downstream by word and mouth.

Allow Damian Marley to explain…“In some of the most respected communities, when you go there, as notorious as they might be for being a very tough place when you go there, there is still a rule. Kids can’t be out on the road in the night, kids can’t skip school – that kind of mentality. So it’s really trying to remind this younger generation, because a lot of those elders now are not there anymore. Either who is in jail or some of them have passed away and you know what not, so you kinda have a likkle generation gap happening now, and its kinda to remind the younger generations now to be that big brother, to not be a nuisance to your community. But to more, as I said before, defend it. You know what I say.”

“The prophets in the beginning were musicians, they were the poets, the writers and that’s what we’ve been tasked with in this life,” observes Jay-Z in his latest short film for his collaboration with Damian on ‘Bam’. Bestowed as a legacy, music is taught, learned, a tradition passed on from generation to generation, I ask Damian what he would say about his own music, “I mean you know what, I would always say my music can speak for itself. Sometimes I don’t want to come across too preachy, when I was young I never used to like it sometimes, somebody try to tell me how to live – you know what I say. But you’re not young forever, so make use of your time.”

There are divergent types of education, I don’t think you judge what the type of education our society needs but your community is crucial to the form an education takes, it becomes the thing that you need. “We have a lot of illiteracy. So first and foremost I’m talking about what is a traditional education in terms of being able to read, being able to do arithmetics  – you know this kind of thing. And of course you always have education of self, because you have a lot of illiterate people who are still very wise because life’s experiences have taught them so much. And wisdom it always depends on the situation. If you’re here trying to get around in the streets of London and you’re coming from where you’re used to riding horses… you might not be so efficient here. But if we’re out in the wild it’s a different situation. So it’s always how it’s applied. Definitely, I’m definitely in all support and endorsement of people having opportunity to be formally educated, in terms of like I said, being able to read. If you think of this, I can’t look at that sign and not read it – if I see it it’s automatic. So, someone who is illiterate there’s a world happening around them that they’re not a part of.”

Consciousness – at what point does a musician realise that the burden of responsibility that rests on their shoulders doesn’t afford them to slack even if they wanted to? ” What someone’s opinion of slack is varies from person to person, me no really have that kind of thing. Anything I wanna say, I basically say it still to tell you the truth. Every now and again I might curb certain language, maybe my language might be a little too hard, but in general I don’t really hold anything back. It’s really very much organic for me.”

It’s a hard line for anyone to walk but I love the way Damian can take a phrase like “Rastafari stand alone” and flip it.“I mean, it’s important to…. if you’re trying to communicate… if you’re trying to do so successfully, you have to keep a lot of things in mind. The audience is trying to communicate with the language that they use.”

Damian’s collaborations over the last few years have been really interesting, generationally he’s an MC on the rap side of the generation, lyrically he’ll even spit bars. “You know, what I say to people all the while, I say as a lyricist most of us who are trying to soak all conscious artists then. As lyricists to me sometimes I feel like we have a… more of a challenge, because we have to say something that’s gonna come across really cool to someone. What you’re saying to them is basically the same thing that their parents are saying to them but you have to come across as cool. So we have a challenge in that sense, most of the communication is important.”

In his latest collaboration for ‘Bam’, Damian did his part in Los Angeles and Jay-Z “wanted to go to Jamaica to get some visuals to support his project, and therefore we made a plan to link up there together.” Collaborations for Damian feel like a natural extension of real friendships or a part of just connecting with other soul. “I’m a fan of music, majority of the people that I work with, I’m a fan of their music previous to either meeting them or working with them. Every now and then somebody approaches me, for example I wasn’t familiar with Skrillex music before he had approached me to do the song, but then after that I became a fan right. Just as musicians I think, you’re trying to be creative, in collaborating with people you learn, you try things new, for the love of the music really. Everything else becomes the advantages, yes it introduces you to new audiences, yes it works out in the business world to.”

It’s music first really, that’s what it comes down to? “Yeah” says Damian.

The album, Damian’s 4th, is definitely about forgiveness but there’s more to it than surface level – you have to give and take and that’s what comes across in Damian’s music. I ask him how this new album feels in its message? “I mean there’s a lot of different topics on the album. I would say probably the best way to try and sum it up is it feel real. So, sometimes we can come across as dreamy, like we’re dreaming of this utopia where it’s all you know, everything is perfect you know. I’m not saying that at all, I’m saying that as a matter of fact things perhaps may never be perfect and we have to accept that and accept one another as such too. We’re gonna make mistakes, I’m gonna make mistakes, my friends… yea gnaw mean. But its really getting though that and that is part of forgiveness and that kind of thing is big you know.”

Touring hard since he dropped, ‘Welcome 2 Jamrock’ almost over 10 years ago, ‘Stony Hill’ begins a new round of touring. Will new music dictate where the live show goes next? “Alright so, traditionally my set is like we have a backbone that we work with, so say maybe like 75% of the set will be the same at any given time. Depending on where we’re playing or if we feel like we’ve done maybe a certain song or a certain running order too much, we don’t want to be redundant. But again, I like it when we have a foundation that we’re very familiar with. And that’s what’s going to be fun for me that’s going to happen now over the next say month and a half that there’s going to be a brand new set because we’ve been playing the same skeleton set for the last four five years. Actually the show we just did in London at Somerset House is probably the last time that I’ll ever play that set.”

Damian’s songs are stories, and the video’s are literally an extension of those stories, I ask if this an episodic part by part accompaniment to the album? “Yes. You know if I get my way, we’ll probably have a visual for every song, I really love that. Even when I’m making songs in the studio, I’m in a visual world at the same time. A lot of artists are like that, from the start they make that song, ya hear theym say “the video should be this, or the video should be that” you know what I mean. So we always have visual ideas of how we like things presented, so I would love to see more visuals from my music.”

Noting that the ‘Medication’ video was shot in a prison, I ask Damian why that location? “That’s actually our prison, the same people that we’re teamed up with for the strain, we were really looking for a facility to do a grow and the prison came upon the market and we buy the prison. So basically we now own an abandoned prison that we’re growing herb in. It’s cool story, people were housed there for possession of marijuana and now we’re growing there, it’s kind of poetic even though we didn’t plan it, it worked out great.”

The abandoned prison in Coalinga, California was closed five years ago and it’s part of a venture in partnership with Ocean Grown Extract, where Damian has also developed his own strain of weed – “Speak Life OG Kush”. Transformed into a huge medical cannabis production facility, the reformed prison has at the same time revitalised an economically depressed town that depended on the original prison for jobs.

Stony Hill, is released on July 21st via Republic Records, is available now for pre-order!