Vybz Kartel is a world-famous Jamaican dancehall singer-songwriter with a huge discography and a history of chatting over blazing dancehall riddims with heartfelt lyrics touching on the political, personal, and sexual.
In August of 2009, Vybz Kartel delivered the single “Yuh Love” for Mixpak Records on Dre Skull’s Smoke Machine Riddim. The single grew in Jamaica and worldwide, and the video (starring Kartel) has only pushed the exposure to a new level.
Kartel was born Adidja Palmer on January 7, 1976 in Portmore, Jamaica. Growing up, he listened to a wide range of music, from dancehall legends Ninjaman and Buju Banton to American rappers like Will Smith and KRS-One. He spent his youth recreating the lyrics of his heroes and performing them in his neighborhood, frequently participating in local talent shows. Despite repeatedly being gonged off these shows (often for simply being too young), his determination to make a name for himself brought him back again and again. Describing his youth, Adidja states that he was far from a problem child.
I was a child who always wanted to be on the road and that was a cause of concern for my parents. That’s where we really had altercations, but otherwise academically it was good… In high school, I found that I wanted to be a deejay and I took it semi-professionally and started leaving school to go to studios and yuh know wha I mean… I knew that I wanted to be an artist from in high school so I just set out to accomplish that.
Kartel’s rise to fame began after being noticed at a performance by dancehall superstar Bounty Killer. Soon after, he began writing songs for Bounty Killer, as well as taking on additional songwriting for Elephant Man and members of the Scare Dem Crew. In 2002, Kartel broke out as an artist with an unprecedented run of hits which led him to be crowned Deejay Of The Year at Stone Love’s 30th Anniversary. He followed up commercially, coming into his own with the release of his 2003 debut album, Up 2 Di Time. In 2005, Kartel and Bounty Killer had a falling out which remains a cause of tension to this day. On his own, Kartel started his own label, Portmore Empire, which has become the home to a number of new artists including Spice, Gaze Kim, Blak Ryno, Shawn Storm, Doza Medicene, Lisa Hype, Jah Vinci, Popcaan, Gaz Indu, Sheba, and Dotta Coppa.
In late 2008, Kartel released a single “Rompin Shop” that took the Yard by storm. Its explicit sexual content (even by Jamaican standards) caused a backlash; in February 2009, the Jamaican Broadcast Commission issued a ban on “any song or music video that depicts sexual acts or glorifies violence” in response to the single, effectively censoring it. This controversy only helped propel the song internationally and by August 2009 “Rompin Shop” had reached number 87 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States.
When asked about the often explicit nature of his lyrics, Kartel explains,
Well, yuh see music is art and art is the expression and an artist has a right to express how he feels to let the people worldwide see his experiences, whether they be firsthand or secondhand… Music is just art. And sex really plays a great role in everybody’s life regardless of their culture, skin color, nation, or language. I’m a person who studies sex and studies circumstances and situations surrounding sex and I build my songs accordingly… Most females I have met love my songs, incidentally, so I guess I ain’t saying nothing wrong.
An expert when it comes to baiting the cultural critics, since the controversy, Kartel has taken to recording both clean and explicit versions of songs. For example, his recent hit “Virginity” was delivered with a reworked version for the radio titled “Versatility.” This approach has allowed him to continue his reign of the Jamaican airwaves.
In 2011, Vybz Kartel and Dre Skull teamed up again for the release of a full length album, Kingston Story, and the first chart-busting single, ‘Go Go Wine’. To much critical acclaim, Kartel also came to be featured on the cover of the Fader, as well as inside Dazed & Confused and The New York Times in the summer of 2011. Still riding high, the second single from the album, ‘Half On A Baby’, was accompanied by 5 remixes in October 2011 from established and up-and-coming producers: Mosca, Dubbel Dutch, Schlachthofbronx, Funkystepz and Bert On Beats.