Sun | Mar 18, 2018

Garth Rattray | Vybz Kartel is only a symptom

Published:Monday | March 6, 2017 | 12:00 AM

I used to like some of Vybz Kartel's (Adidja Palmer's) music. I've never heard any of his dirty or violent lyrics, but I know that they exist. I only listened to the songs fit for airplay. I liked the rhythm, the way that he rode it, and the unique and interesting way that he strung his words together.

I stopped listening to his songs when he was convicted of murder - I felt that I would be contributing to the financial and ideological support of someone found guilty of a heinous crime.

When Palmer was convicted of the beating death of Clive 'Lizard' Williams and sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole before serving 35 years, he was sent to the Horizon Adult Remand Centre. He attracted publicity because it was strongly suspected that he was receiving special privileges. Editorial cartoons expressed this belief, and then 'new' chart-topping songs were released. It was claimed that the songs were from old recordings, but many did not believe that assertion.

Prisons are enigmatic, so the public didn't know anything for certain. Incarcerated individuals retain their human rights, but their citizenship rights are suspended. As far as I am aware, they should not be able to generate or benefit from active income generated during their incarceration. And, more recently, it was pointed out that Palmer is appealing his sentence, which also suspends certain prison privileges (including use of recording equipment).

Music producer Cordel 'Skatta' Burrell made the incredulous suggestion that there may have been no corruption since the music could have been recorded during allowed phone calls. No phone technology can reproduce voice at studio standards. His utterance only served to increase suspicions of corruption.

Amid all this speculation, Palmer was transferred to the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre for 'confinement' (whatever that means). Was he transferred because he transgressed by recording songs at the remand centre? As far as we know, Tower Street has the facility to record music digitally. So, was he transferred to facilitate him recording permissibly?




Kartel's fans and followers are elated at his several 'new' releases because they love his songs, adore him and they feel that he has conquered imprisonment because he was still making and releasing music.

But many citizens were troubled by this apparent flouting of the rules at the Horizon Adult Remand Centre. No one knows if his transfer was tactical, punitive or meant to facilitate his music production. The authorities have been mum about the whole thing.

Opposition Spokesperson on Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna was partaking in a (Cliff Hughes - Nationwide radio) discussion on how violence is "intertwined with certain negative aspects of popular culture". She exercised her rights and voiced her opinion that the music of a convicted murderer, like Kartel, should not be allowed to be recorded in prison, should not be released from prison, and should not make it to airplay or released to the general public. She questioned if the new releases represented corruption behind bars.

This earned her the ire of Kartel's worshippers, who spewed venomous and nasty condemnations and even death threats. Some openly charged that "Lizzad a murderer", suggesting that his death was welcomed. Others questioned the conviction, stating that the body was never found. Their ignorant rants only served to bolster Ms Hanna's concerns and significantly undermined their arguments. Ms Hanna merely expressed what many were feeling.

The usual question about art imitating life or life imitating art surfaced. Obviously, art (in this case, music) is imitating life (in this case 'ghetto' life) and they have become synergistic. Life influenced art and art strengthened life and life strengthened art, and so on.

Kartel's music is a symptom that we should not ignore. It is expressive of the flip side of our society. We are focusing on a fever and not seeking to deal with its cause. Until we pay attention to the poverty, politics, gang and gun culture, dependency, hopelessness, marginalisation, social, class and colour prejudices within our society, we will continue to experience high crime levels, thuggery and songs legitimising them.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to and