Bob Marley Chant Down Babylon (Tuff Gong/Island)
Reviewed by Jay Trachtenberg, Fri., Dec. 31, 1999
Chant Down Babylon (Tuff Gong/Island)It's been nearly 20 years since the untimely death of Bob Marley, and still his music is more popular today than ever before. Legend, a basic greatest hits package, has been at or near the top of Billboard's "Pop Catalog Albums" chart for the better part of the Nineties. Since Marley's output is obviously finite, the past few years have seen his music interpreted and re-defined by people such as bassist/producer/visionary Bill Laswell, groove guitarist Charlie Hunter, and jazz pianist Monte Alexander. Currently a dance remix of Marley's "Sun Is Shining" is a huge pop hit in the U.K. Yet during his career, Marley was frustrated that his music and its timeless message of spiritual/political consciousness were ignored by America's "Urban" radio stations, and therefore not reaching this country's black youth. Now comes this Stephen Marley-produced collection of contemporary rap and hip-hop stars putting their spin on his father's songs, a seemingly overt gesture to court the same audience that eluded this music originally. Whether this will be a commercial success or not is yet to be seen, but artistically, it hits the bull'seye. Marley's original vocals provide the grounding around which the likes of Lauryn Hill, Rakim, Erykah Badu, Busta Rhymes, Chuck D, the Roots, Krayzie Bone, and MC Lyte do their thang while riding a def mix of Marley's yard riddems and the latest street beats. It shouldn't be surprising that these two styles are so compatible as rappers and reggae DJs have been crossing over onto each other's turf and finding common ground for decades. More significantly, Marley's topical lyrics appear to resonate with profound clarity to many in the current generation of urban youth. No doubt some reggae purists will find this cross-pollination to be grounds for blasphemy, but their arguments would miss the point that by engaging a like-minded audience, Bob Marley's music is proving to be as relevant as ever.