With his highly anticipated debut album, not only does the sound and soul of Stephen Marley come into vivid focus, but the 34 year-old artist is now inevitably stepping to center stage for the first time in his 27 year career. Appropriately, Mind Control is all Stephen and a cornucopia of the sounds and styles that he loves: a blend of reggae, rock, R&B, nyabinghi rhythms, flamenco and hip-hop. It's an album with the grit and flavor to rock old-school Kingston sound systems and slippery, waxed Miami Range Rovers alike.
Featuring cameos from roots-rock star Ben Harper, hip-hop hero Mos Def and younger brother Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley, it's a collection of songs that range from conscious critiques of society ("Mind Control") and politics ("Chase Dem"), to the sweet and open-hearted ("Hey Baby"), to the simple and fun (the sexy, club-rocking, Latin-tinged grinder "Let Her Dance," which features Maya Azucena & Illestr8).
The album's breezy, horn-spiced title track casts a light on a modern day form of slavery, its words conscious, its groove monstrous.
Tapping into the disillusionment triggered by elected leaders in both the U.S. and Jamaican governments, the vintage, easy-skanking roots reggae of "Chase Dem" rips into the insincere, crooked politicians by shouting "run them away." If the balance of Mind Control sounds wholly created in the 21st Century, "Chase Dem" blasts out of the subwoofers like a long lost jewel from Bob himself. With that song, Stephen says, "It's like me post a bill saying, 'Just say no to politics.'"
The softer and sweeter side of Stephen is also on full display in the album. A smooth, smart slab of hip-hop featuring a dose of Brooklyn flow courtesy of Mos Def on the album's first single, "Hey Baby," is based on a song Stephen would sing to his children to keep them from being sad while he was on tour with The Melody Makers.
Blending modern sounds with classic roots vibes, Mind Control finds Stephen carrying the Marley legacy even further into the future with such samples as the smart piece of the Martina Topley Bird song "Sandpaper Kisses" heard throughout "You're Gonna Leave."
The genre-meshing "Fed Up" is a flute-led lament of romantic missteps-"She said, 'How could you treat me this way?'/What we had was more than words could say"-while the album closing "Inna Di Red," featuring Ben Harper, is a thoughtful, shaker-dusted meditation on inner peace.