Bob Marley is a very important figure in reggae music because he was one of the people who contributed most to its creation as a genre and its rise to the attention of the world. Since reggae is now a huge part of Jamaican culture, Marley is also important in that way.
In the early 1960s when Marley started to record as a member of The Wailers (with Neville Livingston/Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh), the music they played was generally ska. This was a genre of Jamaican music that featured a very fast beat and a relatively light sound with horns. This sound can be heard on such early Wailers songs as “Judge Not” and “One Cup of Coffee.”
Over time, The Wailers, working with a number of influences such as producers Coxsone Dodd, Leslie Kong, and Lee “Scratch” Perry, started to move towards the style that we now call reggae. They were not the only band making this move, but they did become the most famous and influential. Reggae was a much slower genre with a heavy emphasis on the rhythm section of a band. This style can already be heard on the band’s first LP with Island Records, Catch a Fire. It is easily noticed, for example, on such songs as “Slave Driver” and “400 Years.” These two songs also show a great deal of the social consciousness that was important to early reggae.
When The Wailers (and then, more importantly, the offshoot Bob Marley and the Wailers) became internationally famous, reggae became a symbol of Jamaican culture. It, along with sports, was one of the only ways that the island got positive international attention. Because Marley helped to pioneer reggae and bring it to international prominence, he is important to the genre and to Jamaican culture.