Armed with an air horn, an Ini Kamoze sample, and a gritty tale of life in Jamaica, Damian Marley made a huge splash with his massive single "Welcome to Jamrock," a reggae-meets-hip-hop track that dominated urban radio and street-level mixtapes during the summer of 2005. Dancehall kings Elephant Man and Beenie Man had made some worthy crossover progress in 2004, but Damian's hit was the biggest Jamaican splash on mainstream American radio since the days of Shabba Ranks, maybe the days of father Bob himself. Delivering on the promise of the single, Welcome to Jamrock the album is the full-length revolution that's filled with purposeful material, guest appearance from reality television star Bobby Brown included. There's more than enough slick studio trickery to alienate earthy roots fans and this is reggae in one of its loosest definitions, but anyone who's kept his eye on Damian and his brother Stephen -- who is all over the album as a producer, songwriter, and singer -- can tell you this is where the talented, genre-blending duo was headed. Reggae with guest rappers can end up sounding horribly contrived, but the sonic stew the brothers create allows for rap, samples, and all things synthetic and acoustic, along with everything else you'd expect on a Massive Attack album if the dour bunch were fueled by Red Stripe and ghetto Kingston spirit. The slinky "Beautiful" with Brown is the only time the polish threatens to take over, but its new jack-meets-smooth jazz sweetness sounds legit coming from the R&B-loving Damian. "Move!," which borrows a bit of Dad's "Exodus," is a less hooky but no less urgent successor to "Jamrock," as are the trip-hopping "For the Babies" and the opening "Confrontation," which features dialogue from revolutionary heroes Marcus Garvey and Bunny Wailer. Less earth-shaking but just as rich are the swashbuckling "The Master Has Come Back" -- a more spiritual "Return of the Mack" -- and "All Night," a playful number that is very fun, very Fatboy Slim. "We're Gonna Make It" proves Damian can still kick it in a full band and roots style while the heavy reverb with lively jestering on the closing "Khaki Suit" gives the album its most dancehall moment, bringing things comfortably home after 13 tracks of uninhibited exploration. Besides the fantastic single, this album has "legs," with a bulging lyric sheet filled with vivid and crafty lines that offer plenty to focus on once all the sonic brilliance has sunk in. A career-defining moment that lives up to a huge hit, Welcome to Jamrock is a tremendous achievement.
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AllMusic Review by David Jeffries
feat: Stephen Marley
feat: Bobby Brown
feat: Stephen Marley