Awake (Ghetto Youths International)
It's been six years since Julian Marley's last full-length. Awake, his third major release, comes to us at the height of spiritual and political alertness. The first African American president is in power, and our ever-growing global village is becoming even more interconnected, one Twitter as a time. It's as good a time as any for Julian to take us on a journey of what it means to be "awake" in both mind and body.
The fourth-youngest son of reggae legend Bob Marley, Julian is among the lesser-known of Bob's many talented offsprings. Still, it's always the quiet ones that you need to watch out for. Musically and vocally, Julian might be the closest thing to what Bob would have sounded like if he were alive today. Julian's music is a cross-pollination of Ziggy's pop sensibility and Damian's dancehall vibes, mixed in with Stephen's stripped-down musicianship.
Awake might be the best representation to date of this brotherly blend. Expertly produced featuring Julian's in-house musicians, Tthe Uprising Band, the album highlights their true artistry. And the 14 tracks comprise a straight-through listen that one can play without needing to skip a track.
What's more, the singles "Boom Draw" (an ode to the high-grade herb) and "Oh Girl," featuring Mr. Cheeks of the hip-hop group the Lost Boyz, might make you do a pull-up (repeat) or two. "Oh Girl," in fact, features neo-soul hip-hop beats mixed in with Julian's falsetto chops, sounding more, perhaps, like a Maxwell single than a Marley record! And then there's "Violence in the Streets," featuring Mr. Jamrock himself, Damian Marley. It's a sure more-fire single -- the lyrics are powerful and empowering while the rhythm is relaxed but somehow still rowdy.
But the hidden gem on Awake is "All I Know." It's lyrically and musically solid, with a catchy bassline and singable hook: "All I know, if you keep taking water from the well. It will all dry up." This song is what you call perfection -- like so many tunes that Julian's famous father created. Julian has obviously taken after Bob, and Awake should stand the test of time.
-- Esther Park