Vybz Kartel isn’t just the biggest star in dancehall. These days, it seems like he’s the only one. Kartel (aka Adidja Palmer) is, arguably, Jamaica’s most prolific artist, churning out provocative commentary and lowbrow throwaway tracks with Tupac-like (in)consistency. His latest project, Kingston Story, is different, though. Recorded entirely with a single producer, Brooklyn’s Dre Skull, the result is a rarity for singles-driven dancehall: a proper album with a uniform sonic aesthetic. It is dancehall to the core–although driven by a sense of melody and a palette of glowstick-friendly synths that is recognizably Dre’s. While the lyrics are primarily sexual in theme, the LP, with its quasi-orchestral rhythms, points to a new, more emotive direction for this most hedonistic of genres.
The 35-year-old deejay from the gritty Kingston suburb of Portmore has dominated also the Jamaican music conversation for the last year. His “Michael Jackson-like visual transformation” has seen him lighten his skin several shades, his hair suddenly long with extensions. A master of spin, Kartel first chalked his new coloring up to air conditioning and cake soap, a powerful cleanser used to wash clothes. Without actually copping to what most people suspect—that he bleaches his skin— he’s defended the practice by likening it to tanning white people and black women who straighten their hair. Fittingly, one of his biggest recent hits is called “Cake Soap.”
Photo by Ports Bishop