Many Dancehall fans have questioned how Vybz Kartel, who has been in prison on a murder charge since 2011, continues to record and release new music. By this time tomorrow, he will have released two full-length albums within six months, To Tanesha (January 10) and Of Dons & Divas (June 26).
In an interview with Billboard Magazine today, the King Of The Dancehall was directly asked to reveal how he creates his magic from behind bars, which includes his two recent albums and an additional 25 standalone singles, since the start of the year, by DancehallMag’s count.
While Kartel did not reveal exactly how he was able to record 18 tracks for Of Dons & Divas, he had something to say about the speculation.
“Many people say YES! VYBZ IS RECORDING IN PRISON!! But where’s the proof? But this is Jamaica where you don’t need proof to imprison someone. For the record, I’m not authorized to answer such ‘above pay grade’ questions so I’ll say, ‘a tree fell in the forest and no one was there to hear it,” Kartel said.
Kartel, however, did reveal the secret to his continued dominance of Dancehall. It’s “like the Colonel’s recipe,” he said. “The true secret to success is commitment, hard work, smart work, self-analysis and most important, humility,” the singer continued.
He added, “Once I face a riddim (rhythm track), I’m not worldboss, just a man with a pen, paper, and a track. Other artists are working hard, so I think it’s just the formula.”
“A winning formula never really changes, it just gets wider, more ‘depthy’ so it’s Kartel in his usual vybz. This album has more features than the new S Class Benz, a new generation of dons and divas,” he told Billboard magazine.
Jamaican prison authorities have always denied giving Vybz Kartel special privileges to make music from prison. Kartel has also insisted that the material used to produce his songs were from unused music archives he had made before he was sentenced to life in prison. He told the Rolling Stones in 2016, “I’ve always been a prolific songwriter, and I record at breakneck speed as well, so I have a lot of surplus material to choose from.”
While there might be some truth to that, it doesn’t explain the use of present-day lyrics in some of his songs.
When To Tanesha was released earlier this year, questions arose about Kartel’s privileges inside prison from Jamaican singer Diana King.
King, who is best known for the hit single Shy Guy, said that convicted artistes like Kartel, Ninjaman, and the now released Jah Cureshould not be given the opportunity to release music from jail. King asked her Twitter followers how they felt about the issue, saying, “How do u all do it? Is it because it wasn’t u who was raped or your luved one killed?” The backlash from Kartel fans was immediate.
There are radio stations with recording facilities at both of the island’s main correctional centers (Tower Street and St Catherine), as part of a “Rehabilitation Through Music” program, according to the Jamaica Observer.
Working with music producer Mikey Bennett, Jah Cure was a poster-child of that program which started as a way to bridge the gap between the police and the inner-city communities.
Bennett, who taught Kartel at Tutorial College in Kingston, has said that the singer has not been a participant in the program, “by his own choice.” The program, which reportedly requires inmates to show remorse for the crimes they have committed, is probably a non-starter for Kartel unless prison rules change since he has maintained his innocence all through the trial and a failed appeal.
The Worl’ Boss is confident his conviction will be squashed in a final bid at the UK Privy Council, long before he is scheduled for parole in 2046. Until then, he hopes to continue producing not only lovable music but music that highlights the issues faced by the poor.
“Reggae and dancehall music have always brought awareness to the plight of the poor, but the truth is, how much more awareness do we need? Music has shed as much light as it can on social injustices. Evil doesn’t sleep so the good messenger cannot rest, either. The message must be broadcasted but I think music is overrated in the amount of change it can bring; we gotta get up and go do if we want som’n tangible.”
Kartel says that has kept him motivated to keep producing the hundreds of dancehall tracks released since his incarceration.