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Breaking Big: Skip Marley is pushing the boundaries of 'purposeful pop'

The Katy Perry collaborator (and Bob Marley’s grandson) is putting a modern pop twist on his family’s legacy

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Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Who’s topping the charts, going viral, and ruling our earbuds? Every week, EW introduces the freshest music talent you have to hear now. Below, get to know Skip Marley, who’s putting a modern pop twist on his family’s legacy.

Listen If You Like: the Marley family (duh), Swedish pop producers Wolf Cousins (Ariana Grande, Tove Lo, DNCE)

The Backstory: For a member of the Marley family, you might think that pursuing a music career is as inevitable as a young wizard going to Hogwarts. Not so fast says 21-year-old Skip, who is, yes, a grandson of Bob Marley. Though Skip says he was always musical, taking piano and guitar lessons as a kid, he never considered becoming a full-time artist until the age of 14, when his uncle Stephen Marley brought him out on stage during a concert to cover Bob’s “One Love.” “As soon as I started singing, it was an indescribable energy that I felt,” he says. “My mom and aunts were crying, my dad was happy and probably crying a little.”

He continued studying and writing songs throughout his high school years, but he didn’t have to wait long for his career to take off. After Skip’s mother, Cedella Marley, emailed an early song of his called “Cry to Me” to Island Records president David Massey — the Marley family and the label have a long history, as Bob Marley released several albums on Island — a record deal materialized quickly. “All of a sudden Island was in my dining room trying to sign me,” Skip says.

Why He Rules: Thanks to his collaborations with Wolf Cousins, the Swedish songwriter-producer collective that counts hitmaker Max Martin as a mentor and Skip’s labelmate Tove Lo as a member, Skip is pushing the sounds of mainstream pop into a rawer, rootsier, and more experimental place. Singles like “Lions” and “Calm Down” combine Skip’s influences — “a fusion of reggae, hip-hop, rock, soul, R&B,” he explains — with the slick sheen of modern radio hits, while the as-yet-unreleased “What Is Love” climaxes with a furious guitar solo not usually found on Top 40. “The songs just came out easy,” Skip says of working with Max Martin & Co. “They probably felt a little freedom in their creative process.”

It was Martin who eventually introduced Skip to Katy Perry, who featured him on her hit single “Chained to the Rhythm,” during recording sessions for Perry’s Witness album. “Katy took a break [in the studio] and Max started playing ‘Lions,’” Skip says. “Katy came back and was like, ‘Who is this? I need to have them on my record!’” Like Perry and her mission to create more “purposeful pop,” Skip also hopes to imbue his music with messages promoting social change. “Everyone loves the Beatles, but if you really dig into their music, they were actually speaking on things,” he says. “When you have such a following, you can influence all these people, not only older people, but the younger people. That’s where the change starts.”

Next Up: Expect Skip to release more singles this summer as he readies an EP or album for this fall. He certainly isn’t hurting for songs: Skip says he penned half a dozen on his first writing trip to Sweden alone. “It just flowed naturally,” he says.