Vybz Kartel Facing Murder Charges: The Reggae Biz Reacts
Vybz Kartel Facing Murder Charges: The Reggae Biz Reacts

Murder Was the Case: Vybz Kartel is facing murder charges following the death of promoter Barrington "Bossie" Bunton.

As dancehall artist Vybz Kartel faces his latest and most serious criminal charges, speculation is rife within the reggae industry about the impact on his already contentious career. Kartel (born Adidja Palmer) was arrested on September 29 and charged on October 3 for conspiring to murder Barrington 'Bossie' Burton, a 27-year-old businessman and music promoter based in the Kingston, Jamaica suburb of Portmore; Kartel is also charged with murder and possession of a firearm. On Monday July 11, 2011, according to police reports, Burton was murdered while standing with friends on a Portmore street.

Kartel's lawyers will seek his bail today at Kingston's Half-Way Tree Resident Magistrates court. "The Magistrates' Court is the lowest court in the land," explains attorney Tom Tavares-Finson, who is leading Kartel's legal team. "So if I decide that the judge is unduly keeping him in custody, I can go into the Court of Appeal with the bail application. So today is not the end of the road."

"If Kartel is found guilty, that would mean a physical removal from pursuing his career, which would severely impact his revenue stream. But if he is not convicted, he could very well continue just like hip-hop or rock artists charged with crimes have done," says Kingston based Andrea Davis, business manager for legendary singer Toots Hibbert and the founder of International Reggae Day.

Vybz Kartel, Jamaican Dancehall Star, Charged with Murder

Vybz Kartel was born in Kingston's gritty Waterhouse community and raised in Portmore, where he wielded tremendous influence as a party promoter prior to achieving island-wide notoriety as a recording artist. The leader of a consortium of artists he branded as Gaza, Kartel is a cunning media manipulator whose headline-grabbing antics include bleaching his chocolate brown complexion into a pallid beige tone.

Christina Aguilera
Promo for Vybz's dating reality show "Teacha's Pet."

A shrewd entrepreneur, Kartel also uses several pseudonyms - including "Di Teacha." He has successfully marketed his own rum, condoms and skin care products, and on September 23 he debuted as a reality TV star with "Teacha's Pet", which features 20 women living in the same house competing for his affections. LIME telecommunications withdrew their support of the program shortly after Kartel was charged, but "Teacha's Pet" continues to be broadcast on Jamaica's CVM network.

Can Vybz Kartel's Business Empire Survive Split With Partner?

Kartel's ascent to dancehall dominance was propelled by sexually graphic imagery and glorification of gun violence within his songs. In February 2009, his X-rated single "Rampin Shop," featuring female deejay Spice, prompted pitched debates and served as the catalyst for the Jamaica Broadcast Commission's banning of explicit lyrics from the island's airwaves; "Rampin Shop" peaked at no. 76 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.

Tad Dawkins, founder of the Kingston based label Tad's Records -- for which Kartel has released two albums and an EP -- reports an increase in physical and digital sales of Kartel's music since the arrest. Notable gains have come from "Rampin Shop" and the "Coloring Book" EP, released in July, the title track of which references the artist's seemingly innumerable tattoos (see video below). Kartel will "turn this negative situation around to his benefit," Dawkins predicts. "If he is found guilty he will pay the penalty. But if he walks, who is going to apologize for tarnishing his name."

Kartel has had several previous brushes with the law. In January 2004 he was held in police custody for four days, charged with illegal possession of ammunition. In February 2008, the Jamaican government's crime-fighting initiative, Operation Kingfish, questioned Kartel and dancehall artist Aidonia (Sheldon Lawrence) over a widely circulated photograph of them posing with high power weapons. Police shut down Kartel's Gaza recording studio in February 2010 following the seizure of two loaded M-16 magazines found in a bag in front of the premises.

Then in July 2010, Kartel turned himself into the Greater Portmore Police Station three days after he was named a person of interest in relation to gang activity there; he spent two weeks in jail, then was released without being charged. Two nights later, he headlined Reggae Sumfest's Dancehall Night in Montego Bay, eliciting deafening support from the crowd when he strode onstage, handcuffed, clad in a bright orange prison jump suit, as a news bulletin announced his arrest.

The repeatedly adverse headlines, coupled with the outrageousness of some of his songs, have obscured Kartel's immense talent as a lyricist -- a skill profoundly evidenced on hard-hitting social commentaries such as "Thank You Jah" and "Life We Living" (see video below). Each offer urgent portrayals of the struggles endured by Jamaica's poor, many residing in politically aligned ghettoes infested with guns and violence and devoid of basic amenities. Kartel maintains that Jamaican authorities have targeted him because he has risen from similar circumstances to a vastly influential position.

In Waterford so many people are on the corner, without jobs, so bullshit is going to happen. It has nothing to do with Vybz Kartel," the artist told Billboard in May. "The system has created a monster that they cannot manage, and they need to blame someone. Like slave drivers, much of Jamaica's middle class has grudges against artists for coming from nothing and becoming something."

"Kartel is up against a court system and a class system," observes Pat McKay, Program Director for Reggae & Gospel at Sirius XM Satellite Radio. McKay's June 2011 interview with Kartel on Sirius XM's reggae channel The Joint was recently rebroadcast, due to listeners' overwhelming demand. "When this high profile negativism occurs, it marks a turning point for dancehall reggae; it tarnishes the whole thing," McKay declares. "Now Kartel is representative of a tainted image, something way bigger than himself."