By David Rolland
By David Rolland
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Some last names in pop culture resonate beyond just celebrity status. They evoke emotions, nostalgia, even the feelings of an entire era. In music, think Lennon or Dylan and, of course, Marley. So imagine bearing that last name and trying also to live up to its powerful artistic legacy. Such is the case with Julian Marley, who physically resembles his father, the legendary Bob, so much that it's eerie. And close your eyes and listen to Julian sing — he even sounds exactly like him. It's a lot to live up to, but Julian, part of a constellation of musical Marley siblings and his father's fourth-youngest son, takes it in stride.
"Honestly, it doesn't really get to me," he says. "I'm just me; I live my life like everyone else, do my own shopping, cooking, you know — living." It's that humbleness that those close to Julian always stress. He's probably the most under-the-radar of his brothers, who all boast marquee careers: Ziggy, Stephen, Damian, and Ky-Mani. But as the saying goes, it's the quiet ones that you need to watch out for.
A well-rounded musician with particular prowess in guitar-playing and songwriting, Julian's career spans some 15 years. His first full-length album, Lion in the Morning, was released in 1996 and unleashed the radio and TV-favorite single "Loving Clear." A year later, Julian found himself touring with Lollapalooza with his then-18-year-old younger brother Damian. "Snoop was on that tour," Julian recalls. "There was definitely a lot of smoking going on!"
After an extensive touring season following that album, though, Julian decided to take a break. And that lasted seven years, until the 2003 release of his sophomore album, A Time and Place. It was well-received both by critics and the public; the single "Harder Dayz," especially, boasted an infectious pop hook and inspiring lyrics. But that critical mass of superstardom never really seemed imminent. Not that it bothered him. "I'm a musician that's for the people," Julian says. "I never wanted to blow up. I just want to create music that speaks for itself."
Unlike his other brothers — particularly Damian, whose song "Welcome to Jamrock" was an international hit in 2005 — Julian has always kept a low profile, shying away from the press. Still, he realizes the need to differentiate his own career from that of his brothers. His music is, basically, more organic and immediately soulful. There is not an ounce of the dancehall vibes that the younger Damian perfects, nor his older brother Stephen's borderline pop-rock sound. Julian, instead, specializes in a hybrid of jazz, R&B, soul, and hip-hop, fused with the classic roots reggae that his father made so popular.
In fact, some have called his style the best approximation of what Bob's would have sounded like if he were alive today. That's serious praise, and it almost gives Julian pause. "I wouldn't necessarily say that creating good songs is an easy process," he says. "Each song is so different, but then again, I am blessed with the knowledge that I have from growing up in such a musical family."
And while his own output stands apart, he does, in fact, happily work with his brothers. Together Julian, Stephen, and Damian founded Ghetto Youth International, a record label for their particular projects as well as a foundation that helps at-risk youth. With this mutual support, there's little sibling rivalry. "Of course, there's healthy competition amongst each other," Julian says, "but we all play on the same football team, you know?"
It's the team spirit that led him to consciously decide to wait another six years after his second album. He wanted the world's focus to remain on Damian's Welcome to Jamrock release and Stephen's Mind Control (both Grammy Award winners, by the way). With both of those well-received, Julian then graced us with his third studio effort, Awake, this past April.
The 14-track gem is Julian's best work to date, featuring tracks produced by both Stephen and Damian. "Violence in the Streets," featuring vocals from Damian, has been gaining significant buzz both online and off and has once again established Julian as the brother to watch. "It's all about collaboration and helping one another achieve that sound, that result," Julian says. "I know what my brothers are capable of, and they complete my goals."
Now this collaboration can be seen live, with Julian currently touring the States with his own band, the Uprising, as well as his brother Stephen. Their special homecoming tour-closer will also feature Damian when the three share the stage Sunday night at the Arsht Center. "Miami is definitely my home city," Julian says. "I spend most of my time here and in Jamaica, so to perform in my hometown is always a great feeling."