Vybz Kartel remains a critical cultural touchstone for…

iamvybzkartel
It has been almost five years since the artiste Adidja “Vybz Kartel” Palmer was arrested, and two years since he was convicted, and yet he continues to top local charts while maintaining his presence in international music. More importantly, he remains a critical cultural touchstone for the youth who listen to his music.

Why is this?

It is my opinion that this is so because he says what the youth feel in their heart but are afraid to say, or don’t have the platform to speak on.

As it relates to social issues, no artiste as popular as Vybz Kartel, in a long time, can boast as lengthy a catalogue of ‘conscious tunes’. This may come as a shock to many who are not acquainted with dancehall music, but he speaks consciously at times.

He continually calls for educating those living in squalor, calls for free managed health care and education. He highlights the plight of nurses, teachers and all the oppressed as seen in his book, while shining a light on how the nation reached the depths we are at now. In short, he says out loud what many have been saying quietly for years about the country.

We then hit upon his more crass side, his ‘gyal tunes’. A lot of his songs can be called nothing short of lewd, others would go so far as to say offensive even, but why sing them? The answer is simple, that’s how people interact with one another nowadays. How many times have we heard people on the street make utter sentences that would make a sailor blush? How many times do we hear women openly endorsing ‘slackness’? What’s more, this type of music is nothing new, just review Prince Buster’s song list from the 60s for proof.

Then we hit out against his hugely popular ‘gangster tunes’. Again the answer as to why they are popular is staring us in the face. We are a traumatised people, from slavery to crown colony to independent people. Violence has been with us every step of the way. Not only have we idealised the gangster life (something first begun in the 70s), the gangster is seen to embody all things, protector, breadwinner, patron, and Robin Hood. This is what much of the youth aspire to and that’s why those songs are huge hits.

In short, Vybz Kartel remains influential because he continues to be everything to everybody. He represents the underclass and dispossessed, he represents for the ‘gyalis’ and he also represents for the gangster.

He does this at times with witty lyrics and at other times with words that feel like a sledgehammer on the ear. He can be soft, yet brutal. He is, in my opinion, the embodiment of the Jamaican experience thus far, incredibly brilliant, yet patently insane. Love him or loathe him, he is the voice of a generation.

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