Joseph Marley, the eldest son of eight-time Grammy-winner Stephen Marley and second grandchild of reggae legend Bob Marley, has died at age 31. The Jamaican-American recording artist and DJ, known professionally as Jo Mersa, was found unresponsive in a vehicle on Tuesday, Dec. 27, according to Kingston, Jamaica-based journalist Abka Fitz-Henley, who was the first to report the news. A representative for Jo Mersa later confirmed the news to Rolling Stone. A cause of death has not been revealed, although South Florida radio station WZPP has reported that the artist died of an asthma attack.
Joseph Marley was born on March 12, 1991, in Kingston, and the third-generation Marley grew up surrounded by music, performing onstage at age 4 with Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers — his father, his uncle Ziggy, and his aunts Cedella and Sharon — during that group’s concert finales. He moved to Florida at age 11, where he studied studio engineering and observed his father and uncle Damian Marley working in Stephen’s Lion’s Den studio. Joseph made his official musical debut in 2010 with “Hey Girl,” a collaboration with his older cousin Daniel Bambaata Marley, released on the Marley family’s imprint record label Ghetto Youths International and produced by his father. This was followed by the breakthrough track “Bad So” in 2012, with his debut EP, Comfortable, coming out in 2014.
Joseph also worked with Jesse Royal, Alborosie, Farruko, Jemere Morgan, Barbara Fialho, the Grandpickneys, and Morgan Heritage, appearing on the latter’s Grammy-winning album Strictly Roots in 2015. But of course, he often recorded with his large and talented family. Comfortable featured production by both Stephen and Damian Marley, and Joseph appeared on his father’s album, Revelation, Pt. 2: The Fruit of Life, in 2016. That same year, he teamed with his younger brother, Yohan Marley, for the single “Burn It Down,” and the brothers joined forces again in 2020 for “Brickell (When Tears Fall),” inspired by their adopted home city of Miami. In spring 2022, Joseph appeared with his uncles Ky-Mani and Julian Marley on Dominican music producer Maffio’s reggaeton track, “Blessings.”
Joseph often spoke of his sense of responsibility to carry on his family's legacy, telling The Pier in 2014, “That’s a lot of power, influence, it’s magic, but I don’t let it get to my head. [Bob Marley] made a big step for Jamaican music and it is time for me to add my works to it, to build on it.” In a 2021 interview with Reggaeville, he reflected on his grandfather’s influence, saying: “Family-wise, you would hear memories from my father or from our uncles, you would see them posting pictures or even just speaking to us in an environment talking about ‘I remember when Daddy did this or when he came from Africa or when Daddy did this interview or when he was in Italy.’ So, we always hear those reflections, speaking about those things, about the role that [Bob] played not only as family member and father, but also in the world and the impact he had on the reggae community and the reggae culture, the roots, bringing forward the message of Rastafari and love, over all love. ... It's family to us, it's normal to me, but it's still special.”
Joseph’s most recent release under his Jo Mersa moniker was 2021’s Eternal EP, which featured collaborations with Kabaka Pyramid, Black I Am, Melii, and Busy Signal, and was critically heralded as his biggest step yet towards coming into his own as an artist. A press release for the EP conceded that “the status of the Marley bloodline comes with its fair share of expectations,” and said Joseph was “eager to bring honor to his family while maintaining his unique sound and style… setting Jo Mersa Marley's work apart as a force to be reckoned with in the modern reggae scene.” In an interview with Jamaican publication The Gleaner, the self-admitted perfectionist described the experimental Eternal project, which incorporated dubstep, dancehall, EDM, hip-hop, and reggae-roots influences, as being “out of my comfort zone,” specifically saying of the track “That Dream,” which was produced by his cousin Soul Marley: “Whereas many times, I would have done the chorus, it took a minute to sound like what it sounds like. I would usually deejay and sing on some low keys. I guess listeners will hear me do falsetto or high notes at the end of the words, so when I sing, ‘All I know I would sleep at night, when I dream that dream it’s all a nightmare,’ I had to keep on doing it over and over just to get it right.”
Aside from his many Marley relatives, Jo Mersa is survived by his wife and daughter. In 2020, he recorded the single “Nothing’s Gonna Harm You!” for his daughter, with his father Stephen once again producing, explaining in a statement: “The inspiration for this song was mainly a message to my daughter letting her know that she’ll be well-protected because that’s my job as her father.”
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