Up until his death, Bob Marley never felt he was connecting with the youth of America the way he felt he should. Despite tours with The Commodores, rapper Kurtis Blow and a four-day set at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, Marley did not feel that reggae had found its way into the hearts of America’s youth.
A new Bob Marley tribute album tries to complete Marley’s goal of bringing reggae’s message of unity and peace to a younger generation. Chant Down Under (Island Records), produced by Marley’s son Stephen, combines classic Marley tunes with lyrics and remixes from contemporary hip-hop artists.
While it is hard to say if Chant Down Under will achieve its goal of reaching out to America’s youth, it does have some incredible hybrids of current sounds and the chill sounds of some of Marley’s greatest songs.
The highlight of the album is Lauryn Hill’s rendition of Turn Your Lights Down Low. It strikes the perfect balance between using Marley’s original lyrics and mixing in new beats and lyrics from Hill. The love song is played as a duet, but it is more than simply two people singing with each other on the same track. Listening to the song, you get the impression that Marley and Hill are blending more than just their words together. They are blending their styles.
Other notable tracks on the album include Busta Rhymes and the Flipmode Squad doing their version of Rastaman Chant. Again, it is the blending of style that makes this track so powerful. Busta Rhymes uses Marley’s slow and steady beat and repetitive lyrics as a base to his own beats and lyrics. The song is the definition of the word chill.
Krayzie Bone of Bone Thugs `N Harmony mixes his style with the reggae legend’s sound surprisingly well. For someone with a marginally successful rap career, Krayzie Bone shows innovation in his remake of Rebel Music. He adds a new beat to the song and does voice-overs with Marley while contributing his own style of rap.
Sadly, not all the songs on the album are as good as these three. A common problem for many of the songs on the album is that they don’t deviate enough from Marley’s originals. This is the case in the song by The Roots, a band in which Marley’s influence can be seen. They remake Burnin’ and Lootin’ but really only add a slightly more distinct beat and a few more lyrics to the original.
The same problem occurs in the opening track of the album, No More Trouble, featuring Erkyah Badu. Other than adding some background vocals and a short interlude, Badu doesn’t significantly change the song. Badu’s singing ability is underused and the song, while still good, is somewhat disappointing.
Old school rappers such as M.C. Lyte and Chuck D. have the hardest time molding their styles of music to Bob Marley’s. M.C. Lyte’s version of Jammin’ is a far departure from the relaxed atmosphere of the original song. M.C. Lyte’s hard-core, rhyming lyrics are superimposed over a beat derived from the original’s classic guitar riffs.
The most surprising part of the album features Steve Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith fame. It’s surprising that Tyler and Perry found their way onto an album filled with hip-hop stars paying homage to reggae. It’s even more surprising that their rendition of Roots, Rock, Reggae is so good. Tyler doesn’t let his voice get too whiny and does an incredible duet with Marley. Tyler feeds off Marley so perfectly, you can barely tell that one part of the song was recorded 20 years before the other part.
Other artists featured on the album include Guru, Rakim and The Lost Boyz. While the album may not have enough hip-hop influence to reach the youthful audience it’s looking for, anyone who ever enjoyed a Marley tune will appreciate this album.