Sometime past midnight a heavily tinted black Mercedes pulls up to the gate of Circle House, the posh private North Miami recording facility owned by reggae veterans Inner Circle. The driver cracks the window and extends an arm to activate the intercom, his long dreads brushing across his dark skin as the gate swings open. This is Stephen Marley, second son to Robert Nesta and Rita Marley, who inherited from his father not only a harrowing wail but also his less-celebrated-but-no-less-keen sense for the business of music, making him a sought-after producer by both reggae and hip-hop artists. Beside Stephen sits little brother Damian, son of Bob and Cindy Breakspeare (Jamaica's former Miss World); he has inherited his father's nickname "Gong" (Jr. in his case) and his mother's long limbs, light complexion, and gorgeous face. Together the two Marleys recently scored the family's fourth Grammy, taking the reggae award for Halfway Tree, a star-studded multi-artist collaboration held together by Damian's pretty pout and Stephen's savvy production.
As a Melody Maker back in the day with big brother Ziggy and sisters Cedella and Sharon, Stephen also had a share in winning three Grammys in 1988, 1989, and 1997. Their father himself never won one, dying three years before that category was added to the awards in 1984. Indeed the Grammys' recognition of reggae is owed in large part to Bob's lifework; winning seems almost an extension of their birthright. But if so many things come naturally to the Marley brood, it is Stephen who has taken charge of putting nature to good use. His is rarely the picture on the record or the name on the marquee, but like his father's spirit, he is always present, even when his influence is unseen: coordinating the long list of guest artists and beatmakers; divvying up duties on every track; conjuring the actual sound in the studio.
Tonight the brothers are groggy. They've just awakened after spending all of the night and most of the day before in the studio, laying tracks with family friend Lauryn Hill. Slowly, slowly they are getting ready to do the same thing all over again. Stephen pulls a black equipment case out of the Mercedes trunk and hauls it into the studio. Damian lights a spliff, then wanders around the Circle House patio. He is shy and standoffish, huddled into the hood of his sweatshirt, even though he is ostensibly the Grammy winner, the star. Only when Stephen bounds back onto the patio does the interview begin as big brother tells how it is decided who will record what, when.
"Nature," says Stephen, sifting a handful of herb in his palm. "You have to understand we are blood. We don't have to say, Jr. Gong, six o'clock tomorrow.' It's our nature. We don't force."
"It was my time," Jr. Gong pipes in from his slouch on the opposite couch.
"Julian is the next project," announces Stephen, nodding his head toward yet another brother who has recently arrived. And for Damian and Stephen personally, what's next? "For us personally," repeats Stephen. "Our personal end is Julian's record. Same thing."
Bob Marley's twelve children grew up together with a shared sense of mission and religious fervor passed on by their various mothers. "It's plain," says Stephen, after taking a long toke, "My father being an icon, women a vehicle for bringing forth the seed. Them do their duty." So there was never any friction among the households? "Woman a woman," sighs Stephen, "have jealousy, but never animosity. When you see the seed, you see Bob. Women respect that."
Is there a lot of pressure in living life as Bob Marley's seed? "We are Rasta," says Stephen through a cloud of smoke. "It's very clear what we have to do on earth. Jah send a soldier to deal with the music for the revolution." Passionate now, he rises to his feet. "We have been chosen as an instrument, a tool, to bring people together. One aim, one destiny, one heart." He pauses, then walks toward a table laden with freshly delivered pizza. "No pressure in that."
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.