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VYBZ KARTEL LOCKED UP: THE END OF A DANCEHALL EMPIRE?


In the world of Jamaican dancehall, this week may well go down in history as the time when the Vybz Kartel empire, as we know it, officially ends.

After dominating the charts for nearly four years, a judge ruled Vybz Kartel aka Adidja Palmer is to be held without bail while he waits to face two separate murder charges.

Meanwhile, rumors run abound. There are the more frivolous ones, such as police are holding a collection of Vybz Kartel sex tapes with famous married women. And then there are the more damaging allegations. Police say they are looking to tie the celebrity with even more murders and prosecutors claim they have graphic cell phone video evidence of his involvement in one of the killings.

Kartel may be in the spotlight because of these allegations, but attention is nothing this self proclaimed “Dancehall Hero” is unfamiliar with.

Junior Rodigan, DJ for Big City 101.3 FM, and a staple in the Boston dancehall scene for the past quarter century, estimates that Kartel has consistently held about 10 out of the top 15 tracks over the past few years.

“If you asked any selector or DJ who played in the club, “What’s your top 20?” Whether it’s old or new…you’re going to see that he has more Vybz Kartel than anybody else,” said Rodigan.

But, it seems Kartel’s success could fast become the stuff of legend.

The first arrest came early October, for ganja charges. Right after, a body appeared in a home linked to one of Kartel’s properties. It was Barrington “Bossie” Burton, a promoter. Kartel was charged with his July killing, along with charges for possession of illegal firearms and conspiracy to murder.

Meanwhile, officials announced they planned to arrest 10 other entertainers in connection to murders and shootings.

Then Kartel was slapped with yet another murder charge.

This time for the August killing of Clive “Lizard” Williams. His fashion designer, Calvin Haye, and fellow dancehall artist Shawn “Shawn Storm” Campbell are also charged. William’s body has yet to be recovered.

These are shocking charges for anyone, but especially so for a man so clearly at the height of his game.

Kartel’s career exploded in 2008 when he switched his style up, and started to sing in the track, “Romping Shop” featuring Spice.

Since then, “[He’s been] coming out with a new release every 10-12 days,” according to Rodigan.

His most notable releases in the U.S. are two summer hits.

First there was the 2010 anthem, “Clarks,” a song that changed up the dress code, not only in Jamaica, but as far as the fringes of white hipster culture, too.

Then there was this summer’s hit, “Summer Time,” with a joyful chorus that seems to be channeling
Splash Mountain.

The budget in two videos alone is enough to chart his rapidly rising success. The comparison also reveals his rapidly whitening skin. The cosmetic alteration is one of his many controversial actions that define his character.

Another defining characteristic is Kartel’s rise, not only as a musician but as an entrepreneur. He has branded himself to market everything from beauty products, to condoms, to his own reality dating show, “Teacha’s Pet.”

Self branding may be standard operating procedure for American celebrities, but in Jamaica, it is safe to say Kartel is the first of his kind.

It is also safe to say that while the allegations are shocking, this is not the first time Kartel has been accused of criminal acts by his peers.

Earlier this year, his former longtime producer Notnice went public to say that Katel’s crew, Gaza, went to his studio and destroyed his computer and his equipment.

Notnice and fellow Gaza crew refugee Jah Vinci stress respect for Kartel’s artistry but note a sudden shift in his personality.

Today, a little more than a month after his arrest, fresh Kartel music is still spinning on a heavy rotation. But the new tracks may soon start to wear thin.

Though there is a chance we will be hearing more from Kartel, even with a guilty conviction. He would not be the first Jamaican artist to record from behind bars. Jah Cure recorded songs from jail. However those prison recordings were done before he became a famous and profitable artist, it is unlikely Kartel will have access to the same equipment.

Kartel’s figurative predecessor, Buju Banton, an artist who himself once dominated the dancehall charts, has made little noise since he was arrested in Miami in 2009 for conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

With new vacancies expected on the top charts, Kartel’s absence from the dancehall scene is certain to cause a dramatic shift in the sounds coming out of Jamaica.

“It will open the crack in the window for other people to get a little more exposure on the play lists,” said Rodigan.

And so while Kartel’s verdict awaits, other basic questions remain; who, if anyone, will step up and take his place and what will they sound like?

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