“When my first song was released, I needed some reassurance. I went to my grandmother and she said to me, ‘These lyrics are like something your grandfather would sing.’ ” For most musicians, this might be a heart-warming anecdote about finding your artistic footing, but when your grandmother is Rita Marley, and she’s comparing your first single, 2015’s “Cry to Me,” to the music of her late husband, Bob, the shoes being filled feel quite a bit bigger.
Such is the promise of—and challenge for—Skip Marley, the latest in a long line of musical Marleys. Like the 21-year-old’s uncles Ziggy, Stephen, and Damian, Skip has inherited Bob’s warm rasp, but his music has a distinctively modern tone. Drawing on influences that include Metallica and the Jamaican dancehall artist Popcaan, Skip manages to both honor and update the roots reggae sound on his debut album, due to be released this fall on Island Records. On “Good Enough,” he chats confidently over a flange-y electronic dancehall hybrid that evokes M.I.A., while heavy rock guitar emphasizes the revolutionary spirit of “Lions.” The lyrical ideas on the album are varied, but with his natural vocal grain, he completely embodies the emotion of each song. “I’m more of an organic writer,” he says. “I like building things from the bottom, from scratch.”
Beyond talent, part of why Skip’s music connects is, of course, the Marley legacy, which implies a deep commitment to social change. Delivering that message on a mass scale today requires proficiency in the genre-mashing pop lexicon. Case in point: an appearance on Katy Perry’s “Chained to the Rhythm,” for which Skip became the first Marley to chart a Top 10 hit while also introducing millions of young listeners to the one-love ideals of reggae. “Yeah, man, my songs have to start with my generation,” he says. “And I’m not only talking to my generation, but also to the next one coming.”