Like his brothers Ziggy, Stephen, Julian, and Damian, Ky-Mani Marley is an in-demand singer/songwriter/musician who performed nearly 100 shows in 2017. Unlike his brothers, Ky-Mani has penned an autobiography, Dear Dad, which details his tough upbringing in the tenement yards of his Falmouth, Jamaica, birthplace and in Miami’s notorious Liberty City ghetto where his family relocated when he was six years old. Ky-Mani is also an accomplished actor whose credits include a starring role as Biggs in the heavily bootlegged gangster flick Shottas (featuring DJ Khaled and Wyclef Jean) and the portrayal of a Rastafarian reggae musician who falls in love with a preacher’s daughter in the 2003 romantic drama One Love, co-starring a patois speaking Idris Elba.
Ky-mani, 42, now divides his time between Miami and Falmouth, a small, somewhat beleaguered port town located along Jamaica’s north coast, about 20 minutes from Montego Bay. Ky-Mani’s commitment to improving conditions for the youth of Falmouth is exemplified by his funding of a community soccer (or football as the sport is called in Jamaica and in much of the world) team, Falmouth United Football Club. Ky-Mani is also refurbishing Falmouth’s Elleston Wakeland Youth Center (and its adjacent football field, home of Falmouth United), a facility where he spent much of his early childhood. “Football was always my first love, my passion since childhood,” Ky-Mani recalled in an interview with Billboard on the phone from Falmouth. “But we aren’t just focused on football; my main objective is to bring back the youth center so the children have somewhere to go, play and be safe. We will provide table tennis lessons there (Ky-Mani’s mother Anita Belnavis is a former Caribbean table tennis champion) and open a computer lab. Many children are advancing to the next grade level in school without being able to read at a basic level so I want to bring in evening classes at the center in basic reading and math to give the youths a push start to a better future.”
Aerial shots of Elleston Wakeland Youth Center’s field and a Falmouth United football match are featured in the opening frames of the video for Ky-Mani’s latest single, “Best Thing.” Ky-Mani’s vocals possess a slightly raspy, seductive allure reminiscent of his father on “Best Thing,” a love song written for his female fans. “I have a very large female fan base but sometimes I don’t attend to them as much as I should so I decided that my next few singles would be love songs for that core audience, that’s how ‘Best Thing’ came about,” Ky-Mani explained.
Directed by Jamaica’s Jay Will and filmed entirely in Falmouth, the video for “Best Thing” debuts here.
“Best Thing” was recorded on the Art of Love riddim (rhythm track), released in January by 21st Hapilos Productions, the label arm of 21st Hapilos Digital. Founded in 2009, 21st Hapilos Digital is now one of the largest digital distributors of reggae and dancehall music, with offices in Manhattan and Kingston, Jamaica. “I don’t know if words can express the honor of having Ky-Mani Marley on this riddim; not only was he willing to do the song but he was so enthusiastic about doing the video and being a part of the actual production,” comments Nicole “Nikki Z” Duhaney, Executive Producer of the Art of Love Riddim and Music Executive, 21st Hapilos Digital, who also came up with the video’s concept. “This was my first time working with an artist of Ky-Mani’s caliber (on a 21st Hapilos project) and for him to be so humble about his craft made it an even more significant experience.”
Ky-Mani grew up outside of the Marley family spotlight, as he straightforwardly details in his 2010 book Dear Dad. Amidst the crime and violence surrounding his Liberty City home, Ky-Mani was selling marijuana by his ninth birthday and crack by age 15. He moved beyond those unsettling circumstances, rising to prominence as an artist in 1998 with the single “Dear Dad,” a heartrending letter to his father sung over the rhythm track to his dad’s classic “Crazy Baldhead.” Over the course of six albums including the 2002 Grammy nominated Many More Roads, Radio (which topped the Reggae Albums chart and reached No. 38 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart in 2007, the same year he was selected by David Lee Roth as the opening act for the Van Halen reunion tour), and 2015’s Maestro (another No. 1 on the Reggae Album tally), Ky-Mani conveys a charismatic assuredness within his versatile reggae brand, incorporating rock, R&B, hip-hop, electronic, even occasional country influences. “Since my career started I have said I refuse to be placed in a box so it has always been important for me to express myself how I feel to, on any platform that I can,” he states.
Ky-Mani’s upcoming projects, across numerous platforms, include establishing the first professional recording studio in Falmouth. He’s working on a screenplay for a film, Buffalo Soldier (also the name of a 1983 posthumous single by his dad), “about a group of individuals who are fighting corruption within the system.” He also intends to write a children’s book and will soon begin shooting the much-anticipated full-length sequel to Shottas. On March 31 Ky-Mani will headline The Marley Cup, a soccer match/family fun day concert in Charleston, South Carolina, which he is presenting in association with the Charleston Battery Soccer Club (reportedly, the oldest continuously operating professional soccer club in the United States) and Charleston based reggae band The Dubplates. “Charleston Battery and The Dubplates have visited the center in Falmouth; we talked about developing a relationship so that I can give the kids opportunities to go abroad, play football and possibly earn a living for themselves,” says Ky-Mani. “Most of the (Falmouth) players don’t have passports but I am trying to organize that so they can travel, see something beyond their norm and be inspired to work harder to progress in life.”
Ky-Mani will tour Europe for two months in the summer; an intended U.S. tour in September will coincide with the release of his (as of yet) untitled seventh album on Konfrontation Muzik. He will also perform alongside his brothers Ziggy, Stephen, Julian and Damian at the upcoming Kaya Fest (April 28-29, San Bernardino, California), presented by Stephen Marley’s Fruit of Life Productions. “In all that I am doing, the most memorable moments are when me and my brothers are together, that is the best time ever on stage,” Ky-Mani shares. “That is the fruits of the legacy trying to carry on that legacy.”