Guest post: Who will be the Bob Marley of hip-hop?

[Another guest post as I lollygag somewhere in southern Thailand where the music of Bob Marley can be heard more often than you’d think. This one comes from Chris Donaghue. – AC]

Hip-hop has never had its Bob Marley. What I mean by that is that there hasn’t been an artist who is so good they transcend the genre and make everyone from grandmas to kids love it. Lots of people who would normally never listen to reggae can tell you their favorite Marley song. Some people dislike reggae but like Bob simply for his songwriting, style be damned.

Rap has never produced that artist who is so good they make converts, even if only for one song, the way that even people who don’t like any other Marley, like “Redemption Song.”

Marley is beyond huge. His appeal is global. There are few places on Earth where his music is not heard.

Hip-hop has always delivered great poetry, cutting social commentary, clever wordplay, and thought-provoking worldviews. You’d think that a Marley-like figure would have risen by now to capture the world’s attention. You could argue that such figures exist in America (Eminem and Kendrick Lamar immediately come to mind) but what about the rest of the planet?

Does the problem with hip-hop have to do with the fact so is that so little of it is done with real instruments? So many artists rely on the producers to make the music. And many of them can’t play either, and solely rely on samples or studio musicians at best. Dr. Dre is one who doesn’t play an instrument but has come up with some of the neatest two chord progressions that I have ever heard. But they and he are rare and not world-beating to the point of being in your gran’s repertoire.

There are very few hip-hop bands, The Roots being a notable exception. Sometimes it seems that if you can turn on a drum machine and rhyme “cat” with “hat,” you can be a star.

There are exceptions besides The Roots. Janelle Monae straddles worlds very competently. But there is no Bob Dylan-like character/personality to say “The times they are a changin’”–or, again, a Bob Marley giant urging people to get up and stand up for their rights and have mainstream culture-wide impact. It seems that it’s all just all about the bling sometime. Lots of people love Drake and I tip my hat to K-os, but I bet your gran doesn’t sing them in the shower like I am sure lots of grandmothers have sung “Redemption Song” once or twice.

It is ironic that the bi-racial, bi-cultural Drake, the most popular rapper today, is from multicultural Canada. Because it has only recently come into the public eye that “Redemption Song,” the anthem of the Rastafari has lyrics inspired by a speech that the Jamaican Marcus Garvey, the founder of pan-Africanism, gave in Afriqtown Nova Scotia.

And the naturally mystic herb of choice that is now no longer suffering from “nature nausea” in Canada was re-legalized on the anniversary of the death of Canada’s poet of choice.  The most surprising thing about the death of Gord Downie, (who actually raps–sort of–on “Hundredth Meridian), was from the massively influential rapper Chuck D. who tweeted, ‘Rest in music Gord.’  It is up to the rest of us to continue the unrest in the name of the Gords of Ontario, (Downie, Sinclair, Lightfoot), and the Chanie Wenjack’s of the world.

So will hip-hop ever produce a star like as big as Marley? The problem would seem to be that Marley said he wanted all of his melodies to sound like rhymes of the nursery.  But most rappers aren’t going for nursery rhymes. But maybe they will start to make music for everyone the way that Canada is striving to be a place for everyone.  Perhaps Canada is a place where rap will grow up and become more childlike at the same time.

I hope so.  Because that would be an idea I could dance to.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

2 thoughts on “Guest post: Who will be the Bob Marley of hip-hop?

  • November 23, 2018 at 10:01 am

    This article might be too Canadian for most people. Cause I was waiting for someone to call me on my purposeful misnomer. Garvey gave the speech in Sydney, not Afriqtown. Afriqtown is gone but we have a black Nova Scotian on the money now. Viola Desmond was from New Glasgow, New Scotland, (NS being Latin for New Scotland), Better than just the queen. Now how about some funky music sampling a speech by the Queen? I bet someone could make her rap, maybe Mick Jones could do it?

  • November 26, 2018 at 10:36 am

    Actually I had thought that Jones was in The Good The Bad & The Queen with Simonon, but it’s The Gorillaz they have both played with. But Queenie has already starred in a skit with James Bond. Why doesn’t somebody sample her, and This Is Radio Clash, and make her a rap star? She says she always dances to Dancing Queen when it comes on. Maybe I should get a sampler pedal.


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