I heard it from boomboxes on the beach. It played in every club. I heard it in cabs. I heard it from limousine windows. I heard it over Loco Moco in a roach-filled beach shack. Across booming hip-hop drums, a weary voice shouted solidarity to weed dealers:
"One time for my warriors, my lye smugglers, and all my buffalo soldiers..."
The swaying, minor-key rap anthem was infectious and easy to mimic. Everybody sang along to its Rasta refrain.
"One time for my warriors, my heat carriers, and all my buffalo soldiers..."
It got stuck in my head for seven years and I never knew who it was. Last week I found it on YouTube.
The artist is Ky-Mani Marley (Bob Marley's 12th kid) and the song is called "Warriors" off The Journey, Ky-Mani's second album. "Warriors" was huge in the tropics but never crossed over to the continent or into the mainstream.
If you've heard rap-sounding reggae in the past few years, it's probably been Ky-Mani's brother Damian. He's the Marley who wins all the Grammys (three). He's the one on TV and radio ("Welcome To Jamrock" dominated MTV, BET and Clear Channel rhythm stations in 2006), the one who makes songs with rap legends like Nas and Black Thought. Damian is the only Rasta currently connecting with rap fans on a mainstream level.
Rather than occupy his brother's market, Ky-Mani did obligatory tours and acted in B-movies.
A reggae musician in One Love (2003), Ky-Mani strummed a guitar and sang at girls while looking into their eyes. The movie sucked; the music was good. A bit part in Haven -- a movie with actual actors (Bill Paxton, Orlando Bloom) -- upped Ky-Mani's profile, and in 2006 he co-starred with Spragga Benz and Wyclef Jean in Shottas, a shoot-'em-up about Jamaican gangsters in Miami.
Shottas is not a great film by any means, but a lot of rappers watched it, and after rap group Clipse mentioned Shottas on its last album, Ky-Mani started guesting on hip-hop records again.
Then he made his own album, Radio, and it's easily the most rap-influenced thing he's done. He's even acting like a rapper, starring in his own mildly exploitative reality show ("Livin The Life Of Marley" on BET J).
Now that Damian is a safely established pop/rap/reggae force, Ky-Mani is getting back to the dark, dramatic hip-hop he should never have stopped making. His ravaged voice evokes pain and also sounds painful, like Marley's throat is bleeding. He uses it three ways: singing, toasting (Jamaican-style rapping) and rapping. He does his own hooks.
During the first few verses of album opener "I'm Back," Ky-Mani's jumping registers like it's nothing, rapping and singing at the same time with bristling intensity. Full of minor-key melody, the beat thumps like a freight train.
It's the "Warriors" formula, and I've heard it work before.
Ky-Mani Marley with DJ Yochanon and Real Life Sound at the Big Easy on Tuesday, Dec. 11, at 8 pm. $15. Visit ticketswest.com or call 325-SEAT