jamaican artist zuri marley is much more than her last name
She talks to i-D about her roots and working with Dev Hynes, and premieres her latest island-tinged single, “Beg for It.”
Photography Anna Pollack
When Zuri Marley moved to New York four years ago, leaving behind the beaches and jerk chicken of Jamaica to attend NYU, she had a notebook full of songs — but was scared to share them with the world. Despite her nerves, Zuri starting recording music in a bold fashion. She sung on Dev Hynes's “Love Ya” for his 2016 album Freetown Sound and performed the song live with Dev at festivals. Zuri says Hynes taught her “not to give a fuck.” And it seems like she has taken the lesson to heart: her eccentric fashion, asymmetrical haircut, and patois-filled lyrics eschew labels. But it’s also possible that penning epic lyrics comes naturally to Zuri because music is in her blood. Yes, she’s related to that Marley.
”I feel like I grew thick layers that were really hard to scrape off after moving to America,” Zuri tells i-D. Now, she is ready to dive headfirst into her career after attending NYU’s prestigious Clive Davis Institute. Zuri’s busy working with a carousel of producers and discovering who she is as an artist. But she decided to dig through the archives for her first release. She wrote “Beg for It” almost two years ago while walking around Manhattan. The self-described "makeshift pop" song is a strong display of self-assuredness. “I don’t wanna fall for it… if you’re not the one” Zuri sings, her voice full of defiance.
In an exclusive premiere, Zuri shares “Beg for It” with i-D and talks about laying the foundations for a career that has nothing to do with her last name.
Describe the creative process behind “Beg for It.” The song is so vulnerable and honest. What were you going through emotionally?
I was texting this guy and wondering, Yo, why is he not texting me back? Everyone goes through this when somebody doesn’t text you back within five minutes! I never want to be an “undercover love” for somebody. And I feel like I’ve been this before. So I wrote “Beg for It” while I was walking around Manhattan thinking, I’m not gonna beg for shit. I’m not begging for dick, I’m not begging for a premiere, I’m not begging for my freedom. Anything.
The song has a very radio-ready chorus. How do you approach building your songs?
Usually it’s really out of thin air. I’m just sitting there and listening to the silence. Then I hear everything at once — the chorus, the drums, and I’m tasked with taking it to a production level.
For a long time I would sit in my room and write songs, but then never actually try to make them. All my friends were making music and confidentially putting stuff out there, but for a long time I sat in the background. I’ve been singing for a long time, but I only started publicly doing it after I worked with Dev Hynes. That’s when I was like, Yo, I need to get my ideas out there.
You obviously have an insanely strong musical pedigree. What was it like growing up in that musical environment?
Music was always around me. I get so much attention for being a Marley, but there is an entire other half of me that’s been so influential. I have to honor that. So, in honesty, I really attribute a lot of my musical influences to my mom. She’s the one who put me on to artists like Tracey Chapman and Gwen Stefani and she’s the biggest Kanye fan!
The history of both sides of my family moving from rural Jamaica to the city and making something of themselves is what inspires me the most. The aspect of freedom. That’s what my family and Jamaica mean to me. All the other things people try to peg on me… I don’t even look at that. Because in reality, no one was pushing me to do music. My dad [Ziggy Marley] always pushed me to explore other avenues.
You recently released a song with Nosaj and performed “Love Ya” with Dev Hynes on television. What has working with such innovative, boundary-pushing artists taught you?
Those live shows I did with Dev changed my life. They were a dream for me. I really don’t do this to be in a studio for 24 hours. I do it to perform and give something to people. That’s when I feel good. And that’s actually how Nosaj spotted me, when I was performing with Dev at the Ace Hotel. What I really gained from Dev is seeing the level of control he has over his vision. As a one-woman show, I was inspired to do the same for myself.
Listen to "Beg For It" below: