A conversation with Damian Marley about his latest joint, Stony Hill, and his new dispensary
Damian Marley marks his return with his latest album, Stony Hill, set to debut on July 21st. It’s his first solo album since Welcome to Jamrock in 2005. He’s been busy between solo albums, including guesting on Bruno Mars’ “Liquor Store Blues,” collaborating with Nas on the brilliant, slept-on Distant Relatives and collaborating on the album SuperHeavy in 2001, a short-lived grouping of Marley, Mick Jagger, Joss Stone, Dave Stewart, and A.R. Rahman intended to be a convergence of musical styles. In 2012, Marley released the groundbreaking track “Make It Bun Dem” with Skillrex, with a video that examines the fallout of eminent domain, gentrification, greedy developers, and cultural resistance. The single became an instant classic.
In a merging of his music, political and spiritual beliefs Marley formed a partnership with Colorado-based cannabis leader Tru Cannabis for his brand Stony Hill to create a full retail dispensary in Colorado. He also partnered with Ocean Growth Extracts, a local California cannabis company, to grow cannabis in a space that was once a 70,000 square foot prison in Coalinga, California. The facility will be used for medical marijuana cultivation and as a manufacturing and testing facility.
The new album, Stony Hill, named for his childhood neighborhood, is an amalgam of adventures from slow jams and reggaestep, to hip-hop and roots reggae with samples from Dennis Brown and Black Uhuru’s “Solidarity.” This album, he says, is the statement of his return.
And he makes necessary and timely statements throughout the album. For the video for the lead single, “Nail Pon Cross,” Marley is nailed to a cross alongside a black man, a Mexican, a Muslim man and a Los Angeles cop. Inspired by Nas’s “Hate Me Now” the song deals with judgments that people make and is meant to be a modern-day crucifixion.
Wax Poetics talked to Marley ahead of his album release.
The title of the album, Stony Hill, is also the title of the dispensary—is there a link between the business venture and the album? Did you look at it as an extension as your artistry?
Stony Hill is in Jamaica, it’s the neighborhood where I grew up and spent my childhood up to my early teenage years there. It has always been my intention to name the album Stony Hill. When the opportunity presented itself to get involved in the marijuana business we were looking for a name for our company, Stony Hill kind of lent itself just because of the use of the word stony and being stoned. It just worked out great that we get exposure for both platforms.
With the state of mass incarceration and the war on the drugs, there is an irony of taking over a former prison where people were incarcerated for marijuana to build this dispensary…
It is a time of awakening right now. With the intel right now everything is put out on the table, the lies the truth, everything is being exposed. With the legalization of marijuana I only see it as a positive. I always express a concern about cooperative entities coming in and taking over things and the original people who sacrificed to feed their families through the cultivation or selling herb or whatever the case may be we don’t want them to get muscled out. Regardless for young people to not have to worry about getting a criminal record for a few buds of herb, that’s definitely a plus.
There are different genres on this album: roots reggae, big band, gospel, why did you decide to do things differently for this album?
Prior to this I did the album with Nas. We also did an album called SuperHeavy, which was an album with us and four to five prominent musicians. I am trying to express a little bit more of myself on my own. I did some of the production, my brother Stephen Mc Gregor and Anju Blaxx who are popular producers in Jamaica and David Chee and King Jammy legendary producers from Jamaica. His son Baby Chee who I worked with also. So far as collaboration I only have my brother Steve and a young youth by the name of Major Minor who is Bounty Killer’s son.
On the single “Time Travel” you talked about a lot about the internet and space travel and where we are as a society…
Some of the lyrics on that song were from the year 2012. That was when they had the Mayan calendar. It was supposed to be another year 2000 when something was supposed to go wrong. That was the inspiration really on how I started to write that song. It was comparing ancient knowledge to modern technology and it led me on the journey for the rest of the song.
The song “Medication” I took as an analogy of a woman to weed or a love song about weed..
I can imagine what inspired that.
The song “Slave Mills” is talking about materialism and there’s a woman that speaks at the end, is that a clip from somewhere?
Yes, she says something like I can remember when the slavery days..
My brother Steve found that clip. That’s actually a recording of a lady that was actually alive during the time of slavery. That’s her voice.
And “Nail Pon Cross” is the lead single..
Yes, the song itself is inspired off of people who judge others even to some day to day relationships in your own household and translate to world affairs like we are judging other countries and other religions. I think the feel and sound of the track was articulated by the beat itself is from a popular Jamaican song from long ago named “Solidarity” from legendary group named Black Uhuru. They were the first winners of a reggae Grammy. That track was on the album. The track itself in terms of music has a historical significance as far as Jamaican music. We could hear it being played in the dancehalls in Jamaica.
What inspired the ballad “Autumn Leaves”?
I am a fan of music from Nat King Cole and Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra. I started off I was vibing with my keyboardist, one of my musicians. I had been listening to some Stevie Wonder earlier on that day too, and I was kind of in the mood of singing. The track didn’t start off really so seriously, it was just like a jam. The more the people heard the jam they was like yo this is a really great song and you should build on it. Because of all of the encouragement we ended up taking their advice and went to cut the song properly. This song shows a growth in that I never tried to do a ballad of this nature before, so it’s something new for me.
What are the misconceptions about the dispensary industry? People have been having issues around licensing. I don’t know if having you as a celebrity will help because a lot of people have been having trouble getting licensing.
That is the only trouble. Weed is becoming legal, cooperative entities and people who ten years ago who wouldn’t put their name beside anything having to do with marijuana are now investing money in it because now it is profitable and business is opening up. What we are concerned about is the small man who hasn’t been able to provide for himself over the years, doesn’t get muscled out. Knowledge of how to get yourself a permit..they’re not lawyers, they’re farmers and not all of them are equipped to know about getting a permit, let alone be eligible to get one. That’s a concern, but it’s good that people like myself are getting involved so we can be a voice on behalf of those.
What would it do morally for the U.S. for it to have every state legalize marijuana?
I just think it’s not morally right to be locking up kids for a few joints and they get criminal records and you ruin a good start for them with a joint. Morally I think it’s the right thing to do. I don’t think man should have the power to legalize plants in the first place, it’s a bit presumptuous. I myself am not a criminal but we always have to keep an eye out if we smoke herb. You don’t disrespect the law of a country or you don’t disrespect an officer. That freedom is a stress off your shoulder.
I read a Guardian article where your father said herb is the healing of the nation.
This is true. I think the healing properties that researchers will now be able to take time and discover and learn about it. I think that will open up a lot of opportunities and benefits for humanity in general. They talk about CBD now, which has been doing wonders when it comes to, for example, cases of epilepsy. And that’s only one chemical in a plant that has hundreds of chemicals that we haven’t been able to research just yet because it has been illegal. If it’s legal we can find out what kind of powers and medicines and magic that’s in store for us. That’s what I’m really excited about.
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