Vybz Kartel gives first major interview since incarceration, calls out state of dancehall and claims innocence

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Dancehall superstar, Vybz Kartel has granted his first high-profile interview since being jailed and subsequently convicted of murder as he spoke in-depth with Rolling Stone magazine about his situation, the state of dancehall music since his incarceration and whether he has been recording music behind bars.

The piece, Vybz Kartel Speaks: After Five Years in Prison, He Still Rules Dancehall was published on Wednesday and includes quotes from some of Jamaica’s heavy hitters in the music industry including award-winning director, Jason ‘Jay Will’ Williams and highly acclaimed selector and producer, Stephen ‘Supa Hype’ Davis. Through his lawyer, Tom Tavares-Finson, Kartel maintains his innocence as he waits on his appeal against his conviction to be heard by the courts.

“I cannot speak much about it since it’s ongoing, but I’d like to reiterate to the fans that I’m an innocent man,” he told the magazine. “Once you have been convicted of a crime, you have the right to appeal your conviction and or the amount of time you were given, so I’m exercising that right as a Jamaican citizen. It’s a very delicate issue.”

Though a report Tuesday stated Kartel was being transferred from Horizon Adult Remand Centre to Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre after recorded devices were founded on his person, Kartel insists all of his recorded material was recorded prior to his initial September 2011 arrest.

“I’ve always been a prolific songwriter, and I record at breakneck speed as well, so I have a lot of surplus material to choose from,” he said. “There is a recording studio at another correctional facility [in Jamaica] but none here … cellphones, laptops, or any internet-capable instrument are prohibited items.”

Kartel praised the use of dancehall  in the works of international acts such as Drake and Rihanna but suggested Jamaica has not seen any benefits from such increased visibility due to lack of promotion while blasting the ‘imitators, lookalikes and soundalikes’ in the genre who have failed to capitalize on his absence from the streets.

“When I was on the street, other artists used to say, ‘Oh, I’m just as good as Kartel, he’s just on top because of this or that, his controversial persona,'” he said. “Now I’m off the street, and out of their way. No one can fill the shoes.”

“I think the reason Jamaicans themselves haven’t gotten that crossover love is simply promotion – major record labels pumping money and resources into a Vybz Kartel or Mavado, getting the nationwide U.S.A. radio plays, things like that,” he added. “Jamaican music is very popular worldwide so it wouldn’t even be that hard to do, you know. It comes down to companies willing to push the product.” 

The feature looks at Kartel’s continued impact on local airwaves, the party scene and how international musicians continue to cite him as an influence. Read it in full here.


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