Sunday Book Review: Facing Double-Murder with Dancehall Superstar Vybz Kartel

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Sunday Book Review: Facing Double-Murder with Dancehall Superstar Vybz Kartel

Sunday Book Review is a recurring feature devoted to bridging the gap between music fans and music books. We aim to give you a taste of new and classic books that dive deep into the psyches of musicians.

Since bursting onto the scene in 1993, Adidja Palmer aka Vybz Kartel has become the closest thing Jamaican dancehall has to a demigod. He came up linked to two dancehall legends, first Bounty Killer, who American audiences remember from his feature on No Doubt’s “Hey Baby,” and later Beenie Man, Bounty Killer’s arch nemesis and lover of rum and Redbull. As Kartel climbed over them in the charts and the dancehall public consciousness, he distinguished himself with his lyrics. These lyrics have proved divisive, with some Jamaicans viewing them as poignant and expressive, while others consider them vulgar trash. He also began to set himself apart from the crowd in appearance, donning platinum braces and bleaching his skin. He seemed to be climbing fame to a place where no one else could hope to follow, to a place where he was untouchable.

But Kartel’s otherworldly status was shattered in 2011 when he was arrested on charges of double-murder. While awaiting trial, he released a book entitled The Voice of the Jamaican Ghetto. The cover of the book bears a picture of Kartel photoshopped to look like Malcolm X, along with the unattributed quote, “I pray this book helps to change Jamaica forever.” If these seem like lofty ambitions, one only has to remember that for Vybz Kartel, the self-proclaimed “World Boss,” the stakes are high. He’s fighting for his legacy, for the answer to whether he will be remembered as a hero or a villain by Jamaica.

That’s why his book is not an autobiography, not a pulpy tale of a ghetto upbringing giving way to untold riches, but rather a 271-page cultural-political manifesto that is Kartel’s attempt to speak to Jamaica for his home turf of Gaza. He tells the story of a people with a “burning internal desire for better,” that is “kindled with the feeling of stagnation coming from the stink of the gullies or dumps.” It’s equal parts insightful and self-indulgent, and since it doesn’t have widespread distribution outside Jamaica (there are only three copies currently for sale on Amazon), we’ve distilled the ten most interesting lessons so you can hear Kartel’s arguments and judge them for yourselves.

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