Being an S.O.B. (that’s reggae-speak for “Son of Bob”) can mean one of two things. It’s either a license to laziness— imitate Daddy and sit pretty as nostalgia- heads eat it up—or just the opposite: fiery incentive to be your own man and take the Marley legacy to higher heights. With 2005’s Welcome to Jamrock, a flawless album with a dancehall body and a roots soul, Damian Marley, the youngest of the clan, headed staunchly down the latter path. Taking the same route is Stephen, the Marley behind the curtain—a Grammy-winning producer credited on all of Damian’s albums.
Stephen’s stellar debut is a winning union of dancehall and hip-hop, but not the sort you’ve heard before: While plenty of reggae artists (Cham, Vybz Kartel, Lexxus) serve up hip-hop flow over dancehall riddims, Stephen flips the script, lacing sweet reggae melodies over hip-hop beats. The result is striking. On “Hey Baby,” he croons a lullaby and steps aside as Mos Def deftly rides the beat. “Iron Bars” finds Stephen huskily barking about being an “angry lion.” And the Caribbean-wide smash “The Traffic Jam” is brilliant in its retro-flavored simplicity: Backed by a beat box, Stephen and Damian chat leisurely, proudly, and deliberately about run-ins with the law. On “Mind Control” and “Chase Dem,” Stephen proves he can dole out predictable Marley-esque reggae, but aren’t we past reproducing what Bob did? Gems here imagine what he might’ve done.