Brooklyn’s once ferocious politi-rappers X-Clan spluttered buzzed words like culture and education and Mesopotamia over Zapp and P-Funk breaks, then made a demand: “We gotta hear more voices, because . . . um, it’s hip-hop, you know what I’m saying?” Damn, has this preachy so-called conscious hip-hop ever written itself into impotence—partially by being so self-assured, mostly by calling itself “conscious hip-hop.” The man who performed after X-Clan—he danced with a stick—had bigger spurs.
And so here in the Big Rapple, the youngest Marley roused the rabble our hip-hop can’t with much import anymore, or just doesn’t want to—at least not without a television audience and Mike Myers’s dismay. Really this unspecific crowd seemed relieved, as the knee-length knottied Jr. Gong and his fabulous band led them through his father’s classics and cuts from his own latest album, Welcome to Jamrock.
Damian’s voice has less honey in it than Bob’s, and his music bears the mod imprints of hip-hop and dancehall, but the Marleys’ simple, never professorial messages clearly share a bloodline. Using his band as a live sound system to mimic a DJ spinning out a platter and bringing it back, Jr. Gong played reggae standards “War” and “Exodus” alongside “In 2 Deep,” his warning to those who fill their cars with premium but their stomachs with McNuggets, and “Confrontation,” a somewhat bald call for political responsibility. These were heavy songs, and heavy-handed ones, which put an even greater onus on Jr. Gong’s band to sugar the medicine. Shawnuff, just when Marley’s buttery patois would give out, in came the band with rubato to propel the lesser-knowns like “It Was Written” past tedium.
Not to say the show wasn’t sexy. “Move!” showcased Marley’s toasting chops, sure, but the song struck something much bigger with those female backup singers of his, who spent the rest of show outdoing each other’s azzbacking. “For the Babies” was too pro-life an encore that night (“You’re wrong, dude!” someone shouted), but radio hits “Road to Zion” and “Jamrock” and a Shabba Ranks cameo got Marley off the coat hanger. But hey, at least he got on it.