By ALLISON KUGEL
Singer-songwriter Skip Marley, born to the late Bob Marley’s daughter Cedella Marley and David Minto, was thrown into the deep end of the Marley music legacy when, at 13, his Uncle Stephen Marley brought him on stage to sing his grandfather’s iconic hit One Love in front of thousands of fans. From that moment on, music wasn’t an option, but a providential imperative for the now 25-year-old singer-songwriter. The Marley family dynasty and its mission of spreading love and social change through meaningful lyrics and reggae-infused beats has crowned its new prince in Skip Marley. By 2017, Skip was collaborating with Katy Perry, when she featured him on her hit Chained To The Rhythm, bringing him mainstream attention. The year 2020 led to another high-profile collaboration when Marley featured R&B artist H.E.R. on the remix of his single Slow Down. In spring 2020, Slow Down, with over 185 million global streams, became the quickest and biggest-streaming song in Marley family history, and elevated Skip to over 417 million total global artist streams, also making him the first Jamaican-born artist to reach the #1 spot on the Billboard Adult R&B chart. Collaborations with family, including his uncle Damian Marley on the single That’s Not True, deliver Bob Marley’s time-tested message, while Make Me Feel, featuring rap icon Rick Ross and singer Ari Lennox, introduced Skip to an audience that embraces a fusion of reggae, R&B and rap sounds.
You were born in Jamaica. When did you move to the States?
I think officially when I was five years old, but we were always back and forth.
What three pivotal life events have made you the person you are today?
I would say the first is when I was born! The second was in 2005, at my grandfather’s celebration concert in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. That was the first time I had seen a million or more people come out and celebrate my grandfather’s music and the message. It’s the reason we do what we do, so even at that young age it touched me, and I began to have more of an understanding.
Of who he was…
Right, for the first time. And the third one was probably when my uncle Stephen [Marley] brought me on stage, because that gave me the push that I needed in music. That was my first shot, and I was about 13 years old. He brought me up there to sing, and I sang One Love. That was the first time I really sang. They threw me in the water, so music chose me.
What does it feel like to carry the last name Marley? Does it feel like a tremendous responsibility?
It’s an honour and it’s a responsibility, because I have a duty. I feel like I have a duty as a next generation Marley to keep on [going with] this legacy that we built; keep moving forward and taking it into the world. So, I do feel like I have a responsibility, but it’s not a dark pressure. People always ask me that, but what we do is like a light, the words of a speaker. It does a lot for people, and for me. If my song affects one person, it has done its job to me.
You’ve reached a great number of people with your music. Your song Slow Down has been streamed more than 185 million times, globally. I’m sure you know that.
I don’t really check those things too much, but wow!
What did your uncles and your mom say to you when they heard that?
They were proud for me, but it’s not for me. It is always “we.” I’m representing all of them, so for me it’s a family victory and it’s not just about me.
It’s interesting you say that. Obviously, I knew who your grandfather, Bob Marley, was. But it wasn’t until a friend of mine said to me, “You know, I really admire the Marleys, because they understand that the collective is more important than one person. They understand what it is to serve something greater than each individual.”
We all strive together. We might not all sing, but we have our own lanes for us to go on. Music wasn’t forced on me. Music is something you have to choose. You have to pursue that for yourself. It wasn’t like I was told, “You’re going to make music.” My life was school, school, school growing up.
Were you an A student?
No! I was in school and would always think about music. As I got to junior high and then high school, I was always thinking about music, and even after school I would have three or four hours of music. I had a drive to learn as much as I could.
I’ve heard that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master anything you want to do.
Yes. If you love something and have a passion for something, and if you are driven towards something, whatever it is, you are not going to give up when you love it. I have had countless hours where my mom would have to say, “Yo, that is enough [practice] for now.” I have such great examples of hard work, discipline, and dedication. From a young age it was instilled in me, that kind of work ethic. It’s taken me to where I am, and it is going to take me further.
You are close with your mom Cedella, your grandparents, Bob and Rita Marley’s daughter. What’s the best advice she’s ever given you?
Work harder than everyone. Nothing is going to be given to you. Perfect practice makes perfect. You have to believe and get up and work for it. Nothing is given. She was a living example of that, so every day was an example for me.
Is your Uncle Ziggy [Marley] the head of your grandfather’s estate?
Yes. I think my grandmother, my mother, and my Uncle Ziggy all work together.
Do you guys have family meetings where you decide how you are going to license and distribute the Bob Marley brand, his music, and Bob Marley merchandise?
Yes, for sure. Always family meetings. If it’s not in person, it’s Zoom [meetings].
Tell me how Covid transformed you as a person?
I would say it made me focus more and made me more disciplined. You had more time to think things out. It gave me time to work on myself and work on my music; to work on my mind and things like that. It was a fitness thing. I worked out every day, six days a week, so that has been my thing from Covid.
One of my favorite songs of yours is That’s Not True, featuring your uncle Damian. How did that collaboration come together?
I had a couple of songs and brought them to my uncle, thinking I would love to have him on a song. He went through a couple of them and liked That’s Not True, so we took it from there and built the song.
It’s reminiscent of your grandfather’s social messaging in the lyrics. Who wrote it?
Me, my Uncle D, and a guy called CyHi da Prynce.
Do you like putting social messages in your music?
For sure, because the music is a message. Music is a vehicle and a tool. Music is used to unify people and spread messages of upliftment. I think we should use music as a benefit and try spreading messages of love, equality, and freedom. All of these things are important. I try to always make sure the music speaks.
Where do you place material things, objects, and material wealth in your hierarchy of priorities?
That is not my priority. My family is my main priority, my first priority. For me, possessions are not. I can have nothing as long as my family has something. That is how I am.
I don’t understand people’s obsession with handbags, shoes, clothes, jewellery, and all of that stuff.
Yes, those things are only for a while. It’s momentary. It doesn’t really have use. But to each their own. I’m not going to tell people how to live, or whatever, but if you want more of that kind of living…
Your new song Vibe is definitely a vibe! I was listening to it on rotation over and over, and it is such a great feel-good song.
That was the intention. I was doing that song during Covid and people want to free up, feel good, be with each other, and dance. All of those things were missing. The human experience, the connection, and the good vibes. So, “She wanna catch a vibe, she wanna spend some time, into the light…” It was a light party kind of a song. Then Popcaan, who is featured on the song, was the perfect [collaborator].
The first time I ever heard you on the radio was in the Katy Perry song Chained To The Rhythm in which you are featured. How did that collaboration happen?
It’s a funny story. At the time, around 2016 or 2017, I was working with the whole MXM camp, which was Max Martin and all those guys, top producers. He was playing my song Lions in the studio when Katy [Perry] walked in and said, “Who is that?” He said, “Oh, that’s Skip Marley.” She said, “I need him on my next single.” So he calls me and says, “Katy Perry needs you in her next single.” I said, “Katy Perry?!” He said, “Yeah, boom.” I gave him a verse and she came in when I was finishing. I met her for the first time, and everything took off from there; Grammys, Brits, I Heart Radio. It was all a beautiful journey and I’m glad Katy reached out to me and I got to spread the message to such a big platform and audience.
When your grandfather was alive, he was passionate about the island of Jamaica. But there came a point when it was dangerous for him to stay there, for political reasons. There were attempts on his life and he had to relocate to London, where he lived until the end of his life. Are there still safety issues for your family in Jamaica, or is that something that is long in the past?
That is in the past, but [we have] security for sure, always. That is our home and a place that we love, and we take care of it. That is also part of my responsibility as the next generation.
And your grandfather’s home at 56 Hope Road is now a museum.
Yes. It’s his home and a museum. If you haven’t gone, I would suggest it when you are in Jamaica. Visit Hope Road.
What do you want people to know about the island of Jamaica?
It’s a spiritual place with loving people. A beautiful place. Nowhere else feels like Jamaica. The people speak for it and the music speaks for it. You can see how the world gravitates towards it, because there is an energy there. It’s almost like a spirit that moves you. That is what I would say about Jamaica, when my grandma was there. It’s like a connection for me, personally.
Are you close with your grandmother?
Very close. From her I learned that when all odds are against you, don’t give up. When the whole world turns against you, my grandmother never gave up. She built Tuff Gong to where it is now, and my grandfather’s [legacy] to where it is now, and her humanitarian efforts as well. She’s also a doctor, Doctor Alpharita Marley, so I have a lot to aspire and look up to. She took on the world. And my mother, they are both my examples in that sense, of the work ethic and discipline, and selflessness. It is rare nowadays, but selflessness is important.
And how have they shaped how you view and relate to women?
Everything. And the way I carry myself.
This year you are embarking on your first solo headlining tour. Why 2022, and how do you feel about it?
I feel great, and I feel excited. Why 2022? Why not? I was supposed to tour two years ago, so it has been a long time coming. I’m looking forward to taking the message to the people and the music on the road.
The tour is called Change. Tell me about that.
We have to make a change in this world so we can see it’s not impossible. You’re free to do whatever you want and free to be whoever you want to be. The whole concept of the album Change, and the name of the tour, is people are always waiting on things to change, when people can be the change they want to see.
Are you a spiritual guy?
For sure, I think I’m spiritual, naturally. I feel like it has a lot to do with my family, even to when I was growing up. I used to go study my grandfather a lot, so that opened up my mind from a young age and was so beneficial. You can’t have one without the other. You have mental good, spiritual good, physical good. and it goes hand in hand. You need balance. It’s like Yin and Yang.
When you are writing lyrics, do you ever feel like you have to hold back in terms of social or political messages? Or do you feel unrestrained, like you can just write whatever you feel that you want to write and sing about?
Whatever inspiration comes to me, I always try to write about. I’m not saying there haven’t been times I’ve had to go back and adjust things, but I try to feel what the music is saying. I don’t really try to sit down and think too much. I kind of feel it, because music talks to you if you listen. It can talk to you, so you can kind of hear what the music wants, in a sense.
What is your creative process?
It depends. Since I play music too, I produce my own stuff as well as write, so for me, a lot of time it starts with me on guitar, piano, bass, or wherever. Or I am humming something, or I hear words in my head, or if I have an idea and start it from there and slowly build with a couple of chords and progressions. I slowly build until I have a chorus, hook, or verse. Whatever it is first, I follow it. I go with the feeling and follow the flow. I don’t really try to overthink it too much.
Where do you stand on substances? Do you use marijuana as a creative conduit, or are you more of a sober person?
Yes, herb opens up inspirations, opens up higher heights, for sure. Herb is beneficial. I’m not saying you have to use it, but I don’t see why not. You don’t have to smoke it. You can eat it, drink it, boil it, apply it as lotion. So, it benefits. I’m glad to see America is slowly taking those steps forward in terms of the plant, and the plant can save the place, you know? The more the merrier!
Tell me about when you are on tour. How is the show going to go? Do you have a band you are going to work with?
Yes, I will have a five or six piece band. It’s like an hour to hour and a half set. My current songs and some new songs, some unheard songs – and my grandfather’s songs, of course. People will enjoy themselves, have a good time, and catch a good vibe. That is what it’s all about. I want them moving, people feeling something. Music is food. You have to be careful what you ingest nowadays.
What kind of diet do you adhere to?
I’ve been pescatarian for a while now. I just eat fruits, veggies, and fish. Sometimes I’ll eat a piece of chicken, but most times I eat fish, veggies, and fruit. Clean eating, natural eating. I don’t really drink sugary drinks or anything like that. I make my own drinks, I make my own juices, and make my own food.
If you could have a conversation with your grandfather and ask him anything, what would you like to ask him?
I would ask him which books to read.
Do you know what some of his favorite books were when he was alive?
The Bible. Some books about His Imperial Majesty (referring to Haile Selassie, the founder of Rastafarianism), The Wise Mind of Emperor Haile Selassie, and things like that. [He] definitely read a lot of African books. There are a lot of things I would love to ask him, but that’s the first thing that came to my mind.
What do you think you came into this life as Skip Marley to learn, and what do you think you came here to teach?
What I came here to learn is purpose. Once you find your purpose, like for me, personally, it is to spread love. These messages are just within me, from the connection of my grandfather, to my mother, to me. I feel there is a responsibility, and these words and messages need to be spoken and things need to be said. I would say I’m God’s soldier, a music warrior. I’ve come to fight with music. I’ve come to take on the world with music and come shape the world with music. That is my thing, music, the consciousness, and the collective community of mankind; and restoring that kind of connection.