When you’re the offspring of a famous person, especially a musician, one is often found in a no-win situation. If you decide to follow in the same footsteps in the same genre, media can’t satiate its need to either name drop or compare parent and child. Do the opposite, and in most cases criticism or indifference comes to the fore. For Damian Marley, he is one of the few who while continuing to develop his own style, still uses the unmistakable assets papa Marley became legendary for. Although Ziggy Marley, another sibling, has paved a credible way, Damian is intent on doing it his way. His new album, Halfway Tree, is his strongest album to date, mixing hip-hop and rap with reggae, man!
With an unusual amount of collaborators, the album gets off to a great start with “Educated Fools”, a rap and orchestral reggae tune. The tune talks about the current global and political landscape using a style which resembles P. Diddy’s contribution to the Godzilla” soundtrack, “Come with Me”. Bounty Killer and Bunny Wailer contribute to the track in an abrasive yet attractive rap in style artists like Shaggy has maximized commercially. The dub reggae sounds are found on “More Justice”, one of the better numbers here and with another social message. One noticeable trait is how concentrated the lyrics are, saying so much in so little time without any catchphrases or “bling bling”. “King of Kings and Lord of Lords / Everlasting Everlaster / Inspire I and I to be a microphone blaster / We nah goin bow down to no slave master” he sings with sincerity while mentioning “spiritual pollution” in “It Was Written”.
The topics range from the institution of slavery and current institutional slavery in “Catch a Fire”, a tune consistent more with a Clash arrangement more than Bob Marley. A few of the lyrics here could be considered controversial, but the overall tone is more about ending oppression than revenge. But Damian doesn’t mind a nice, simple pop friendly love song if “Still Searchin’” is the criteria. A very lighthearted, upbeat and uplifting tone is taken with the Salsa and Latin groove running throughout “She Needs My Love”, which has some vocals from Yanni Bolo as well as Sabor. The best track could appear to be little more than fluff pop and r’n'b, but “Where Is the Love”, which features a duet with Eve, is far better than it deserves to be when listening to the lyrics closely.
Although the record lists 16 tracks, two of them are brief interludes, but those perhaps tell more than one or two other of the filler songs within. The first interlude “Harder” features dialogue from the classic film “The Harder They Come”, a possible way of saying thanks to those that came before him as he continues to fight the good fight. Unfortunately, “Born to Be Wild” (no, not the Steppenwolf song) is far too unoriginal to be given credence, particularly since the last of the song repeats the previous interlude. Only adding to the song’s weakness is the same malaise lyrically. The second interlude, also one of two songs dubbed the title track, is a brief spoken work track about the best of both worlds.
Another positive of the album is how fearlessly Marley approaches each song, regardless of what arrangement is used or how the message is transmitted, so long as the point is driven home. A seventies guitar riff and assorted sounds in “Stuck in Between” adds to the song’s funky, hip-hop groove. But the guitar sounds similar to Tina Turner’s “Nutbush City Limits”, that same wah wah atmosphere. “Half Way Tree” is a more electronica friendly song, despite the fact it has some funny, puppet like vocals. The lyrics also hit close to home with the following, “And watch everybody run / To the record outlet / Tell me who CD / Do you think they get / The one closest to the Bob Marley boxset”.
On the whole, the album is perhaps his best work, but there could be some improvement in the track order as well as the removal of some songs that act as nothing more than filler. The inclusion of his father’s “Could You Be Loved” near the conclusion of “Stand a Chance” exemplifies that although he might not reach such lofty heights, Damian Marley is still moving in the right Rastafarian reggae direction.