Fri | Dec 1, 2023

‘Kartel is a victim of the system’ - Music industry insiders believe the DJ will always be society’s biggest scapegoat

Published:Sunday | April 5, 2020 | 12:30 AMShereita Grizzle - Gleaner Writer
Vybz Kartel
Vybz Kartel

The world was already at a standstill, but for at least half an hour on Friday morning, many social media users were glued to their cellular phones as the much anticipated Appeals Court verdict in the murder case involving dancehall deejay Vybz Kartel was handed down.

In the end, the hearts of Gaza fans across the globe shattered as the murder conviction of their beloved deejay was upheld. The deejay, born Adidja Palmer, would at best be given a reduced sentence but freedom would continue to elude him.

After waiting two years, a ruling in the ‘Worl’ Boss’ favour was what many hoped for, and so the decision for the deejay to remain behind bars triggered a wave of emotions. Anger, disappointment and sadness washed over the artiste’s loyal fan base as the sting of his murder conviction reopened old wounds.

Though they hoped for the best, music industry insiders with whom The Sunday Gleaner spoke said the decision has not come as a shock. To them, Vybz Kartel has been, and will always be, society’s biggest scapegoat.

“I understand the power dynamics socially and politically in terms of how the system is set up. All the way, I had a question sign up regarding his return. I know that until you cross the finish line with the baton in your hand, you don’t win the race. I know how the system works and I’m not surprised by the ruling,” said Professor Donna Hope.

“At the end of it all, the decision was always going to be left up to the courts. The justice system in Jamaica had to ensure that it maintained its integrity and so they had to stand by the work that they did. There was a lot of jousting going on, and again Kartel was on the losing end.”


Michael Dawson, business partner and co-author of Vybz Kartel’s book, The Voice of the Jamaican Ghetto, shared similar sentiments.

“I will defer to QC Neita-Robertson when she said that at least in the Privy Council they won’t know who Vybz Kartel is and so there will be no bias. Kartel totally understands the system; he has no illusions about it. He tried to be confident about being given fairness in Jamaica but deep down he knew how it was,” Dawson said.

“The system has always been after Adidja Palmer. There have been many practitioners in the dancehall genre that can talk about the system but when Kartel did, it resonated with people. No one else in history has done that. He took the deficiencies of the system to the people in a way they liked and they (the powers that be) can’t have that.”

Dawson went on to say that while the system is doing its best to silence Vybz Kartel, his connection with the masses is only getting deeper and deeper.

“On the cover of our book it says ‘incarcerated but not silenced’. His words are too powerful, and when someone like Vybz Kartel speaks on behalf of the people, you can’t just dismiss that voice. No matter what they do to Vybz Kartel, he’ll still be a powerful voice,” he said.

Hope agreed.

“Anything he puts out, even if it’s just one line or a sound, it’s going to be even bigger. One of the things that has made him so popular is that people see him as a victim, and that kind of anti-hero figure is very popular in Jamaican music, and remember he’s behind bars so that will make him even more of a martyr,” she explained.

“He’s going to be held up as a victim of the system. That is what the music is going to say about him and people will feel a connection, especially now. He will continue to get a lot of support from people because he continues to represent as someone who rejects the status quo and is still seen as persona non grata to many. And even though he’s older than this generation, he still manages to plug into it, and that has kept his fan base alive and growing.”


Speaking of an unshakeable fan base, many of the artiste’s followers, including fellow musicians, took to social media to show their support for the entertainer during this time. Though too taken aback to engage the media in interviews, artistes like Popcaan, Spice, Squash and Gaza Sheba were among those who reached out from their own platforms.

In her post, Spice, who has countless collaborations with Vybz Kartel, expressed that “history day” will come soon enough and encouraged the incarcerated deejay to stay strong. “Nuh worry urself mi don, Gaza Nation forever. History day affi come one day,” her post read. Popcaan’s post encouraged the deejay to stay prayed up.

One of Kartel’s sons, @likklevybz.utg, made a simple but resolute statement on Instagram: “still stand strong”.

Both Dawson and Hope believe that though his freedom still hangs in the balance, the deejay will not be broken by the recent developments. “This would take a toll on any normal human being, but Adidja Palmer is extraordinary,” said Dawson.

“He has prepared himself for this and I cannot fathom an Adidja Palmer that’s beaten and discouraged. He’s too strong a man for that to happen. This is just another part of the journey, and he said it himself, ‘the more dem fight a di stronger we get’.”

Hope stated, “Based on the persona that Kartel has exhibited so far, I wouldn’t expect him to give up and roll over. It’s going to be difficult because anybody would feel deflated by this decision, but his team is resolute and he’s also very strong, so we just have to wait and see how it turns out at the Privy Council.”