There's a ubiquitous Marley reggae song bumping out of car windows and house parties this summer. . .but it's not by the late legend. The hit, a loping, bass-heavy track called ''Welcome to Jamrock,'' is the work of Bob's youngest son, 27-year-old Damian ''Jr. Gong'' Marley. The unlikely smash was released on seven-inch vinyl (like most reggae singles) last October in Jamaica, where it quickly caught fire, but also exposed Marley to criticism for its dark, ghetto-centric lyrics. ''Jamrock'' portrays a society where ''poor people are dead at random'' and ''thugs. . .won't think twice to shoot you.'' It's not exactly the kind of message one anticipates from a privileged member of the Marley clan. ''People expect from me, a person who grew up uptown, to come out with some pop stuff,'' says Marley. ''Jamaica is a small place. If you live in a rich area, the ghetto is only a stone's throw away.''
Though ''Jamrock'' has been on heavy rotation at mainstream hip-hop radio stations like New York's Hot 97, Marley's sociopolitical themes are miles away from the lighthearted tone of recent crossover dancehall artists like Sean Paul or Elephant Man. And ''Jamrock'' sounds different, too: The melodic chanting style and dubbed-out beat hark back to the conscious style of '70s roots reggae, making it an anomaly on the airwaves and Billboard's singles charts. So why has the tune caught on? ''People in general are ready for music with substance,'' Marley says, pointing out Jadakiss' ''Why'' and Kanye West as recent examples. ''It's just fortunate for me to be coming up right now.'' Fans interested in buying a copy of ''Jamrock,'' however, aren't so lucky. Since the single's success was so unexpected, it was available only on vinyl (since then, it's been rushed onto iTunes). Its quick rise has also attracted the attention of Universal, which will release a full-length album on Sept. 13. ''When you say something that is important, people react,'' he says. The wisdom of a true Marley.