VYBZ KARTEL: TEACHA OR BAD INFLUENCE?

The headlines and newscasts all led with it: Popular dancehall artist Vybz Kartel is facing charges of murder and ganja possession. Even though I’m far from being a fan, I’m disappointed, saddened…but not surprised. His ascendancy has always had the overtones of an imminent descent or downward spiral, one which has definite implications for and on our youth and culture.

Let me start near the end…ahmm, I mean with the most recent occurrence: the now cancelled reality show Teacha’s Pet, which I must admit I did not watch. I didn’t know it was premiering and to be honest, wouldn’t have watched it even if I had and frankly have no inclination to watch the episodes to follow. I have a pretty clear idea of what I’d be in for. I spent most of that night of the premiere laughing at, chiding and shaking my head at the comments and expressions of exasperation that many of my Facebook friends were posting rapidly about how bad they thought the show was. To a few of them I said: But yuh still a watch it doah! One person’s reply was: Fabian, it’s like a bad car crash; you know it’s going to be difficult to see and a shock to your system, but yuh cyan help but look. 

My complete disinterest in Teacha’s Pet aside, I have to admit that I continue to be intrigued and disturbed by Vybz Kartel/Adijah Palmer. I remain conflicted that this obviously intelligent and street smart young man (who attended my alma mater) seems committed to clinging to the lowest rung of lyrical content, especially when he is such a gifted lyricist (one of the best in the business). Could that be part of his gift? And if it is, is that OK? Hmmmm…..

I’m also convinced that he is master manipulator of publicity and the media. Even those of us who profess our disdain for him find ourselves talking about him. Though many of his conclusions and self-serving pleas were laughable, his arguments and reasoning regarding the hypocrisy related to carnival were sound. If you’ve ever listened to him defending a position or pointing out discrepancies in social and political mores, he is usually witty and articulate.

Here’s where things go awry for me: how much of Mr Palmer’s (mis)behaviour is calculated methodology and how much is hopeless inappropriateness? And where will it all end? Because it has to end, this kind of sideshow mayhem is simply not sustainable (at least I hope not!). Is this murder charge the sound of a bell tolling the death knell of his career? Will this make a difference to his fan base, which is predominantly made of our youth? Is it likely that they will hold him accountable? My experience thus far (via observation, eavesdropping and direct engagement) suggests otherwise.

Should anyone really be surprised? Have any of the other questionable and disturbing goings-on made a difference? A cursory review will include the ridiculous and dangerous Gaza/Gully feud, the Scott Todd fiasco, the tawdry Lisa Hype scandal, the blot on Jamaican music that was “Ramping Shop’, the supposed Masonic/devil-worshipping allusions, the recent arrest for ganja and alleged investigation relating to a burnt body found at a premises supposedly linked to him. This sundry list is interspersed with an array of disturbingly lurid and vulgar dancehall ditties and a few moments of lyrical greatness, which seem to have ignited his popularity and dominance.

I have saved the ‘best’ for last: the skin-adjustment/bleaching: I have been wrestling with this since its onset. Part of me believes (and still wants to) that this transformation was a publicity, attention-seeking stunt. I kept saying: its make-up, it has to be! Now I’m not so sure, but I can tell you I can’t look at him for too long at this point. The pallor of his skin, the brightness of his plethora of tattoos, the braces and the hair…no sah…mi canna cross it!!

What does it all mean? What is behind this mutation? What is Vybz Kartel trying to say, what point is he making, if any? Is that even in a country where over 90% of the people are of African descent, the most popular dancehall artist can so blatantly tamper with his skin and still hold sway over Jamaica? Or is that no matter how you look, some women will have sex with you and want to appear on a reality show vying to be your ‘pet’?

What will Adijah Palmer a.k.a Vybz Kartel’s legacy and stamp on Jamaica be? Is he friend or foe? Genius or mad man? Artistically advanced or artlessly vulgar? Teacha or bad influence?

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