Reggae’s Explosion: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Bob_Marley_and_the_Wailers_-_ExodusFinding national success with his group the Wailers but unable to garner a wider audience, Marley
relocated to England in the mid 1970’s and in 1977 released the hit album Exodus.

Marley quickly exploded to international fame bringing reggae, and Rastafarianism, into the spotlight. This spotlight became so big, so quickly, that even the government of Jamaica began to support the movement.

“So important has reggae proven to our economy that it is seen as a major foreign exchange earner as well as a major promotional entity for industry, particular tourism… Indeed, Reggae is to Jamaica what boxing is to the United States- national economic benefit, promotion and the improvement of the lot of many poor and impoverished youths.” (King et al. 121)

Though this explosion provided an opportunity for poor youths to try and “Be like Marley” and make it big on the exploding reggae scene, not all heralded Marley. Between his relocation to England and his mixed racial descent, many doubted his dedication to the Afro-Centric anti-western Rastafarian faith. At the time, many “style Bob as a white man. That made a difference in our yard.” (Stephens 169) Despite the doubts, Marley maintained his Rastafarian message, saying in 1978 that “we black people cannot deal with in America is color prejudice. You mustn’t bow to the white man. You must be superior to him. That means you cannot be prejudice, because if you are superior, how can you be prejudice?” (Stephens 182)

Bob Marley- Exodus (Live 1978)

Though Marley brought Afro-Caribbean culture and Rastafarianism into a favorable light through Reggae, other themes did not hit home with western audiences. Having eleven children in his short life from multiple women, Marley’s romantic lifestyle was relatively normal in Afro-Caribbean culture at
the time but rejected by western audiences. On top of this came his drug use- rejected by most of the western world and the download (1)Afro-Caribbean community. In Rastafarian tradition, God sent marijuana to humankind as a gift, intended to expand the minds of the enslaved Israelites to avoid succumbing to the influences of Babylon. Like many Rastafarians, Marley was an avid marijuana smoker- something that put him at odds with the adoring Jamaican government that saw the marketing potential of their new international icon.