Facing Two Murder Charges, the Controversial Dancehall Star's Future Hangs in the Balance
Early this year, when I was talking up Kingston Story, Vybz Kartel’s collaborative LP with Brooklyn-based producer Dre Skull, I had a strong premonition that 2011 might be the year that Kartel gained the world and lost Jamaica. At that point, he was on a five-year upswing, a period wherein he’d pretty much run dancehall by himself. Yet the hype machine that propelled him ahead of the pack seemed to demand as much controversy as music in its fuel tank.
Even as his dominance of the Jamaican landscape began to translate into international recognition, his blatant disregard for the inviolable taboos that define the unwritten code of dancehall culture—talking more or less openly about skin-bleaching and oral sex, for instance—threatened to undermine his core support.
It hasn’t quite worked out that way, however. Vybz is still as popular as ever in Jamaica. And although KS briefly topped iTunes’ Reggae Chart and generated critical praise, a few months on from its release, Kartel’s presence in international media outlets is mostly limited to the headlines that he is being charged with murder. At the end of last month numerous press reports circulated that Kartel—government name Adidja Palmer—was being questioned by Kingston police about a partially-burned body recovered from a property in his name.
“That is not true,” clarified Christian Tavares-Finson, a key member of Palmer’s defense team, speaking by phone from Jamaica. “…I don’t know where the press got that from.” Those initial reports, it turns out, were somewhat overstated. Palmer was questioned and several of his properties raided. But the residence in question—a house in the Havendale section of Kingston—was apparently not Palmer’s.
The fact remains, however, that he is facing not one, but two, murder charges in connection with the deaths of music promoter Barrington “Bossie” Burton and Clive “Lizard” Williams, respectively (at least three other individuals have been jointly charged).
“The first murder, the basis of [the charge] is really conspiracy, in terms of him telling people that they should go and kill an individual who was shot in an area of Portmore,” Tavares-Finson expanded. Although the proceedings for the 2nd murder charge are still at the stage of entering documents and requesting bail, Tavares-Finson stated that “As far as we’ve been instructed, no body has been recovered in that 2nd murder [which] seems to be specific to a property in Havendale.”
In spite of the fact that Assistant Police Commissioner Ealan Powell described the charges (to the Jamaica Gleaner) as part of a larger investigation of Vybz’ activities, covering not only the two murders but other shootings and gun-running operations as well, Taveres-Finson professed confidence about the deejay’s chances in court. “I am of the view that if I were the police I would have put my best foot forward. So if you apply that theory, the first murder with which he was charged would be the most significant one…the most solid or the most probable for the prosecution to secure a conviction. As far we are concerned, that case is tenuous at best. So if that is the best case that they have at this stage, I am not sure what is to follow.”
That attitude seems to reflect Kartel’s generally unflappable spirit. By all appearances the dancehall star is taking the proceedings in stride, releasing a statement through another attorney Michael Deans that he “is shocked at these baseless allegations, but has the greatest confidence in the judiciary and the legal system” and elsewhere noting that artists on his Adidjaheim label are still available for bookings.
Vybz Kartel has, after all, weathered feuds, death threats and legal troubles before, without ever losing his cool. But even if these most serious of charges go away, the question for Palmer maybe how soon he can get more music into the suddenly controversy-heavy fuel mix…before the once-unstoppable Kartel machine sputters.
Feature image: Vybz Kartel working on his first album at producer Don Corlene’s studio in Kingston, 2003. Photo Credit: Peter Dean Rickards