Donned in white and armed with smiles instead of the lyrical bullets they shot at each other for three years, Vybz Kartel and Mavado, two of dancehall’s greatest in this or any era, put their differences aside in a joint performance at a West Kingston Jamboree in December 2009, seemingly putting an end to Jamaican music’s fiercest rivalry which segregated the island and caused endless violence along the way.
Fast forward to the fall of 2016 and dancehall’s version of a dormant volcano has suddenly erupted again, sending social media into a tizzy.
This all started after Mavado took on Kartel’s ex-protege, Popcaan in a slowly building battle. where the two unleashed pent up frustration dating back to the Gully vs. Gaza era. Despite the buzz it was creating, Popcaan decided to back out, apologizing for his involvement and stating he had nothing to gain from it. All of a sudden, Popcaan’s ‘father’ Kartel added fuel to the fire with a song called Step where he took thinly-veiled shots at Mavado and Bounty Killer after a lyric in one of Mavado’s disses toward Popcaan referenced ‘stepping over the father. The two have been trading vicious barbs ever since
With old feelings simmering, new questions must be asked as to whether cooking up this long-standing beef is worth it for dancehall or either deejay amidst rumours that more tracks are incoming. In this top 10 feature, we look at the pros and cons of a feud (possibly) renewed; exploring five reasons why this is great for dancehall and five reasons it’s not worth it. Let us start with the positives.
5. Dancehall is in dire need of the hype – Full credit to the likes of Popcaan, Alkaline and Spice on the hardcore side and Dexta Daps, Ding Dong as well as Chi Ching Ching on the more fun, soothing side of dancehall for resuscitating the genre with a slew of hits in the last year and a half.
That said, the industry has been rather quiet in terms of producing consistent media buzz unless its the silly and just plain bizarre stunts nowadays acts pull off. Mavado vs. Popcaan had the streets and media talking as everything seemed on course for a hot clash at Sting 2016. A Mavado-Kartel renewal would do that times 100 and give the genre an injection of energy and anticipation that has been lacking for some time
4. Creates avenues for other Gully/Gaza acts: The Mavado-Popcaan feud not only put both artistes in a bigger, it saw the return of artistes largely erased from our memories such as Flexxx (Mavado’s friend turned ex-friend turned friend again) and Chase Cross. Should the Mavado-Kartel feud reach anywhere significant, expect some of Kartel’s former Portmore Empire stable mates to jump into the fray and make things even more tense.
3. Neither has anything to lose: At its summit, the Mavado-Kartel feud was a battle to prove who dancehall’s true alpha male was, a head-to-head for top spot that produced various classics and allowed them to challenge themselves and give their absolute lyrical best.
Having changed the landscape and affirmed their legendary statuses in the music game thanks in part to their past battles, neither artiste’s legacy is at any real risk, thus allowing for both to really go at it without fear or anything huge at stake.
2. It can be a true money maker for dancehall: The previous installment of this lyrical war was not only huge for boosting each deejay’s status, but it put a fair bit of money into each of their pockets considering the amount of songs, dub plates, media and other content they offered to the masses.
It can make more money for both as well as for disc jocks, radio stations and media alike who all profited from this feud in one way or another. Especially in an industry where units are no longer being moved at a satisfactory pace, everyone can benefit from such a feud if it’s promoted right and has staying power.
1. Arguments can finally be settled: The biggest takeaway amidst the physical and emotional roller coaster this feud took us on was not all of the above, but the fact that this longstanding disagreement was never truly settled.
Kartel’s fans will point to their clash at Sting 2008 where the concensus was that the ‘World Boss’ eviscerated Mavado in one of the most memorable clashes of all time. However, there are many who still dispute that concensus and, when u look back at the feud as a whole, it’s hard to say with conviction who had the better diss tracks and who proved himself to be the better combatant. The 2009 truce came following a second government intervention – showing how serious this got – so it ended rather abruptly with no real resolution. This new installment might be the proper ending this classic feud deserves.
Now let’s look at five reasons a revisiting of this feud may not be worth the hassle:
5. Neither artiste has anything to gain: Having duked it out on wax for so long and cementing their legacies along the way, neither Kartel of Mavado have anything to prove, as said earlier. As a result, does engaging in this again really do either any favours?
There really is no end game to this, especially since both artistes are past their primes, ensuring that the new edition of Gully-Gaza will not be as high quality or full of wow moments to get us excited like it’s 2008 all over again. Plus, the fact legal restrictions are limiting Kartel doesn’t help things, which leads to the next point..
4. Kartel being incarcerated could kill any chance of a resolution: With Vybz Kartel not eligible to come out of prison anytime soon, there’s little chance the two can settle their differences in a clash a la 2008. Additionally, the quality of his songs since going to jail simply aren’t great by his very lofty standards. Plus, there’s that never-ending debate of the debate over whether or not he has been recording from behind bars and where material for a trilogy would come from.
The obvious restrictions prevent him from giving his best and really seeing the lengths he would go to carry this war on. Also, they prevent any possible truce from happening should this war get out of hand.
3. It may unnecessarily trigger other feuds: While feuds are often good for dancehall and provide it with an added sizzle, they can also be counter-productive. The Gully-Gaza war helped up the ante in another legendary feud, Beenie Man vs. Bounty Killer as well as Beenie’s personal battle with Mavado.
A feud of this magnitude may cause both of those feuds to re-emerge considering the old wounds that still exist. Bounty in particular will feel conflicted considering these are his two greatest prodigies and he has made peace with both as well as Beenie. At a stage in his career where war should be beneath, his hand may be forced if things get out of hand.
Additionally, other non Gully or Gaza artistes who have issues with Kartel and Mavado, such as Demarco with the latter, could jump in. In the first two rounds, Gully vs. Gaza was a big part of a more serious problem, when physical confrontation between artistes was rife – Deva Bratt vs. Munga for example – and the overall vibe, while entertaining, became a concern
2. It could lead to revived tensions in the streets: The Gaza-Gully feud not only changed the lives of these two men, it completely fractured the Jamaican music community to the point of violence between residents of both communities, in high school and members of both deejay’s camps.
Rekindling those fires could very well cause some of the same violence that triggered the Jamaican government to get involved in 2007 to get both artistes to call a cease fire. When that failed and tensions were at a peak leading into Sting 2009 when Kartel was set to clash Bounty Killer, the government again stepped in and this time got the former Alliance teammates to call a truce. A third installment of this rivalry might trigger the same fears of unnecessary confrontation once more.
1. Does anyone really want to see a trilogy? Let’s be honest, the prospect of a third installment of Kartel-Mavado would be intriguing on its surface, but considering they are both past their magisterial best, will there really be the same interest and fireworks enough to draw in more than the hardcore dancehall audience.
No rematch at Sting is forthcoming, they’ve exhausted every possible issue with each other since Kartel left the Alliance and while the street buzz might be there, the media landscape has changed after the Broadcasting Commission seriously restricted the playing of gun lyrics, so ‘badman’ tunes from both won’t warrant the same mainstream rotation unless both artistes get really creative.
Part three of Kartel-Mavado simply won’t be as memorable as the previous two given how the industry as a whole has been transformed and given the lack of classics they have produced in recent memory, so what’s the real point of it and what are we tuning in for? Only time will tell.