His name is Marley, but Ky-Mani didn't grow up as Jamaican royalty like most of his brothers and sisters.
He was born in poverty in Falmouth, Jamaica, without even the luxury of an indoor kitchen or bathroom. His mom, table tennis champion Anita Belnavis, had a brief romance with reggae king Bob Marley, who had children with and without his wife, Rita.
When he was 9, Ky-Mani and his mom resettled in Miami, where he expected to live the American Dream. Instead, he ended up in a crack-infested ghetto where he watched people getting shot from his window. Before he was even out of middle school, he was hustling drugs himself. He grew up outcast from the family with no access to his father's fortune.
The best way out for him was music -- but not always his father's beats.
His struggles are captured in the controversial new book "Dear Dad: Where's the Family in Our Family, Today?"
"In telling this story, it was for friends and fans to get an insight on who I am and what I'm about," says Ky-Mani, who will appear at the Waterworks Barnes & Noble Saturday.
"I told my story from my heart and soul. After writing the book and reading over the first edit, I didn't realize some of the stuff I had bottled up inside of me. So this book, for me, became therapy."
One of the controversies swirling around the book, printed by Farrah Gray Publishing, is the provocative second subhead "The Story the Marley Family Apparently Doesn't Want You to Know." Ky-Mani contends he didn't know that it would be on the book, and that there were some last-minute edits he wanted to make that were never done.
"That, I think, was a malicious act by the publisher at that time," he says. "That has nothing to do with anything my family is feeling. ... When I received the edit of the book, one of the first people I brought it to was my sister [Cedella]. She said, 'Wow, Kym, this sounds like a big e-mail that should have been written directly to me.' I said in so many words, that's what it felt like to me also. There were edits that I wanted to be made. When I talked to my sister we came to some understandings of misunderstandings that we had. Just a few minor edits."
One small example is that Ky-Mani notes in the book that his brother deleted him from his MySpace, but it turned out to be a glitch.
"Farrah Gray at that time thought it was in the best interest to have as much controversy as possible to sell a book. My thing was, this is my story. I should have the right to tell it like I want to tell it."
The publisher also adds an impassioned plea in the forward for the family to make Ky-Mani part of the Marley estate. In the book, Ky-Mani notes that he got a settlement when he was 18.
Musically, when you hear the Marley name, you generally know that you can file it under reggae. That's not always the case with Ky-Mani. He did debut in 1996 with "Like Father Like Son," an album of Bob Marley cover songs, and his 2001 album, "Journeys" was nominated for a reggae Grammy (it lost to his brother Damian's album). On his new album, "Radio," his sound leans toward harder urban hip-hop.
"I have my own story," he says. "People assume that because my father was Robert Nesta Marley that my music would be one way, that it should follow the traditional lines of reggae. But I'm of a different era. I'm influenced by a vast variety of music. If I was to follow in my father's footsteps, then what would they say? Oh, he's trying to be like his dad. [he laughs] Then if I take a different path, they say, 'He's supposed to be like his father.' So, you can't please everybody. I just have to be true to myself and true to my art and do what comes naturally to me."
As he describes in "Dear Dad," Ky-Mani has one vivid memory of Bob Marley. His father visited him in Falmouth with his brother Stephen, and presented him with a toy slingshot, which the boys promptly lost. According to the book, Stephen told him "Daddy gon' beat you for it," but when they got back to the house and he told him about the lost slingshot, the reggae star just smiled and burst out laughing.
"It's a beautiful only memory," Ky-Mani says. "That's the way the cards were meant to play. That's the way the creator set it. I'm just happy that I was able to have a memory. Being so young, it was quite possible that I wouldn't have a memory."
Not long after that, he was playing soccer and told to get home right away. When he got there a young girl from the community blurted out to him "Ya fadda dead." It was May of 1981 and he was nearly 5 years old.
Now, in the spirit of his father's generosity, one of Ky-Mani's missions is to give back to his hometown of Falmouth through his Love Over All Foundation (LOAF), which is trying to improve conditions for school children there.
"I've received a lot of desks and computers from the Children's Museum of Brooklyn. Other organizations in Atlanta have donated about 20 computers. They're all in storage waiting to be shipped off to Jamaica. The other part is, I have a cousin who plays for the Green Bay Packers [Atari Bigby] and we're trying to get the athletic department started down there, maybe build a basketball court and provide the necessary jerseys, soccer balls and cleats and everything else."
Scott Mervis: email@example.com ; 412-263-2576. First Published April 8, 2010 4:00 AM