Vybz Kartel: Jamaica’s Rude Boy
“Look up ‘controversy’ in the Jamaican dictionary, and you might find a photo of Vybz Kartel,” according to Rolling Stone Magazine.
Although Jamaican Reggae and Dancehall artist Vybz Kartel is one of the most talked about entertainers in Jamaica, those of us here in America may have heard of him through gossip websites as the rapper who bleached his skin, the rapper who is creating his own skin-bleaching line for men, or the rapper with the ongoing murder trial. Whatever the case, what has made Vybz so unique is his ability to profit from each of his controversial situations, beefs and court cases.
Born Adidja Palmer in Kingston, Jamaica, Vybz Kartel grew up in a musical household where his father played records ranging from R&B to Country and his uncle was a DJ, exposing him to the music of Will Smith and KRS 1. At age 10, Palmer started writing his own lyrics and performing at a weekly talent show he constantly lost. At 16, Palmer was expelled from high school but finished his education at a tutorial college and began to take his music seriously.
In 1996, he and two other friends formed the group Vybz Kartel, named after a movie about infamous drug dealer named Pablo Escobar. As quickly as the group formed, was as fast as the group disbanded, leaving Palmer to take the name for himself, giving birth to Vybz Kartel.
“You know, each level you go up, not everyone has the same skill to go to each level, so we disbanded the group and I got the name.” Vybz told The Jamaica Star. In 1998, while DJing during a show, Vybz caught the attention of Dancehall artist Bounty Killer, who saw his potential and made Vybz his protégé. Under the wing of Bounty Killer, Vybz wrote lyrics for more than 30 of his songs including hits like “High Grade Forever,” “Warlord Rule The World,” and “Gal Clown.”
Soon enough Vybz began making his own music as well as working with other Reggae artists such as Elephant Man and Wayne Marshall. With his success came beefs with other artists like his mentor Bounty Killer and Dancehall DJ Ninjaman, to name a few. After a while, his music began to get attacked for having a negative influence on Jamaican society with its sexual and violent content, but Vybz refused to carry the burden of being the blame for the way society is.
“In a third-world culture like Jamaica,” he explained to Rolling Stone. “Crime and violence is rampant because of lack of social infrastructure for ghetto youth. There is corruption on all levels of society, from political corruption to corruption within the police force and the overall private sector, and all of that has led to the [decline] of society. Then society wants artists to take the blame, and be scapegoats labeled as role models? No, man, f*ck that! I don’t want that title.”
Vybz goes on to say: “It has to do with social upbringing – it’s society. And it starts with the family, which is why I always say ‘family first.’ My kids listen to my lyrics and I don’t see them running rampant. It’s the fault of society, of postcolonialism, of politicians – and then people want to blame artists. I refuse to take that blame,” he also told the magazine.
Not one to stay out of controversy’s way, Vybz found himself having to defend himself once again when he popped back up on the scene with skin 10 times lighter than before. Although he won’t reveal what he actually did to lighten his skin, he joked that he used cake soap and has now began creating his own line of skin-bleaching products for men.
“When people were talking about whether I bleached my skin, I made a joke that I used cake soap,” he explained to NY Times. “I made some songs about it, and cake soap started to sell like hot bread in Jamaica.”
In defense of his controversial beauty regime, Vybz explained that a black man bleaching his skin is no different from women getting weaves and hair extensions.
“And cosmetic surgery,” he added in his interview with Rolling Stone. “Or when a girl straightens her hair, or gets collagen or silicone. I have said in a statement that when everyone stops doing all of that sh*t, we can all live naturally ever after. But until then, f*ck you all!”
Of all the Hip-Hop artists out today, Vybz told Rolling Stone that he compares himself to Rapper/Entrepreneur Jay-Z because of his business savvy.
“I am a lyrical prodigy and I am also an astute businessman,” he told the magazine. “I have done things business-wise that no other dancehall deejay has even tried to do. I started Street Vybz Rum, and I have a club in Kingston, The Building. For the future, I am working on a new tonic wine, which will hit the streets by Autumn. Vybz Wear is my clothing line and it will launch for the summer: belt buckles, limited edition t-shirts, sneakers called “Addis,” dogtags – but we prefer to call them “Gaza tags.” And I also have my cake soap brand – a face soap that lightens the skin and removes blemishes.
Aside from his skin-bleaching and entrepreneurial endeavors, Vybz also has his hands in other areas of entertainment like reality TV. Earlier this year Vybz got his very own dating show entitled “Teacha’s Pet.”
“This will be another first for dancehall music: a reality show similar to Flavor of Love,” he explained to Rolling Stone. “Twenty girls from all over the world, vying for the quote-unquote love of Vybz Kartel, vying for my heart. Wherever that is.”
The reality show is currently on hold due to the fact that Vybz is currently in jail. As time goes on it seems the Jamaican star will remain in jail for quite a while. Earlier this year he was arrested for possession of marijuana, then he was charged with murder, conspiracy to murder and illegal possession of a firearm in the case of a local businessman. Shortly after that, Vybz and three other men were charged with the murder of another man. With these two murder cases already pending against him, earlier this month, Vybz was slapped with two more charges: one for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and the other for attempting to pervert the course of justice, according to the Jamaican Gleaner. With all the different charges, it is unknown how much jail time he is actually facing.
Nevertheless, no matter what situations Vybz comes against he is seemingly able to turn it around or shock us once again with something knew, all as his fan base continues to grow.
“Everything I do surprises people,” he told Rolling Stone. “Tomorrow I might put in color contacts, or go right back to being black. What you can expect from Kartel is the unexpected.”