Kartel: His influence on dancehall - Mikie Bennett examines incarcerated DJ’s ability to brand himself
Producer Mikie Bennett, in a recent interview with The Sunday Gleaner on the influence and impact of Vybz Kartel on the music, noted that the controversial dancehall artiste is the “most dominant figure we have had in dancehall in many years”.
Kartel, who has been in custody since 2011, has managed to remain relevant, releasing albums and singles throughout his prison term and picking up awards along the way. At last month’s IRAWMA awards, for example, he was named Recording Artiste of the Year and Best Male Deejay for 2019. “For him to be incarcerated for so long and still be the deejay of choice is amazing,” Bennett told The Sunday Gleaner.
Pointing out that Kartel has had an extremely strong influence on youngsters, he noted that this has been backed up by his uncanny ability to brand himself. “We have had great lyricists before, but they have never enjoyed this type of cult following that Kartel commands,” Bennett said, quickly pointing out Kartel’s “great potential to do good”. He spoke of Kartel’s use of shock value to control and maintain his fan base, case in point, the bleaching phenomenon which took a different turn once Kartel publicly endorsed it.
“He said, ‘I am going to legitimise bleaching. I am going to make it a fashion statement.’ And it was done,” Bennett recalled. Kartel’s 2010 tribute to bleaching, Cake Soap, was embraced by his fans, who have acquired the name Gaza Nation. The YouTube video has over nine million views and still counting. To those fans who were shocked when he debuted his much lighter complextion, Kartel is quoted in a 2011 interview as saying, “You can expect the unexpected. I feel comfortable with black people lightening their skin. They want a different look. It’s tantamount to white people getting a sun tan.”
There was also talk that Kartel was capitalising on the popularity of bleaching by manufacturing his own brand of cake soap, which is a bar soap used to whiten clothes.
Turned the tables
The Grafton Studios CEO also zeroed in on Kartel’s relationship with the media. “Kartel has turned the tables on the media. He became the biggest story. Sort of like a Donald Trump and CNN. I saw him do an interview and he was controlling it. He was the one calling the shots. Because of how great a lyricist he is, he had the tools to do it,” Bennett said.
Among these tools is Kartel’s much-talked-about use of metaphors, which Bennett lamented, some fans took literally. “Unfortunately, a lot of young people, when they hear these metaphors, they don’t think metaphorically. I saw Kartel a long time ago and we had a talk. As usual, he asked about the old lady [Bennett’s mother who was Kartel’s former English teacher] but what he was saying was interesting. ‘Mr B, you know say half of the things ah say going over the people dem head. But, if a badman lyrics dem want, nobody can’t do do badman lyrics like me.’”
Vybz Kartel, he said, realised that there was a space for him which wasn’t taken up by Beenie, Buju and Bounty, and he filled it.
“His lyrics have influenced a lot of other people. So many others have come and sounded just like him. Lyrically he is potent, commercially he is viable. He knows how to stay relevant and how to make money,” the producer said.
Kartel, who also refers to himself as Addi Di Teacha, was the first dancehall artiste to star in his own reality show. Teacha’s Pet, which debuted on CVM TV network in 2011, assembled 20 women in a Kingston house, all competing for the Teacha’s attention and affection.