Vybz Kartel: The Interview! (Part 2)
In the second part of our exclusive interview with Vybz Kartel (part one), he speaks to Marvin Sparks about the controversy surrounding ‘Ramping Shop’, reinventing himself to become the self-proclaimed 'Dancehall Hero', working with UK rapper/MC Kano and whether we'll get to see a much-anticipated collaboration with friend-turned-foe-turned-friend-again, Mavado...
The Wrap Up: Going back a little bit, to late 2008/early 2009, ‘Ramping Shop’ is where this current wave of international success began. Why did you choose to record over the instrumental to Ne-Yo’s ‘Miss Independent’?
Vybz Kartel: There’s a saying in Jamaica, ‘Thief from thief God laugh.’ Anybody that listens to that track knows that it’s a straight hardcore dancehall track. I’m a straight hardcore dancehall artist, so that is the best collaboration. From I heard the riddim, I knew it was going to be a hit song. I got the riddim from a selector/DJ called Cutty, from Coppershot, I was vibing to the riddim and the first thing I got was the melody (hums chorus) then the lyrics followed. When I first heard that dancehall track, I just knew it was going to be a hit. Regardless of what the person who built the riddim says, it is dancehall.
TWU: Although Ne-Yo said during an interview at Reggae SumFest in ’09 that he had no problem with the song, his publishing company eventually sued you for it. What was your reaction to that?
Vybz Kartel: I wasn’t surprised, because I know how the corporate music business is and how corporations act. The good thing about it is that it had already broken down loads of barriers. It’s funny, because they thought that I couldn’t really defend against their actions to try and ban the song. But when it reached Hot 97 and was on playlist, I didn’t hear anything more about the cease and desist. That’s why I said, ‘Thief from thief God laugh,’ because they stole the dancehall music from us and I stole it back from them.
TWU: So did they take all future royalties?
Vybz Kartel: Yeah, they took some of the royalties but not the performance royalties, because I was the one that actually performed the song, they couldn’t take that away from me. We know the business also; we are not the average 70s and 80s dancehall artists. We are the new millennium prototype (laughs).
TWU: The Broadcasting Commission in Jamaica clamped down on the play of censored songs on radio, insisting all songs have to be 100% clean. Many see ‘Ramping Shop’ as one of the main reasons for that decision. Despite disagreeing with it at the time, you have obeyed, and make both a clean and raw version of songs. Why make an explicit version when you are capable of making a clean?
Vybz Kartel: Because dancehall is art and anything that I express artistically is my opinion and my creative right. Anyone who tries to hamper that right, I would call that intellectual slavery and Vybz Kartel is no slave – physical or otherwise. So if I choose to do a hardcore track, it’s not its place in society, it’s not its place for dancehall, but for the viewers who might think that it is too hardcore, we have a clean version for them.
TWU: Do you think there is too much criticism levelled at you for explicit songs?
Vybz Kartel: I love it! Vybz Kartel lives for controversy. The more you fight me, the more I get stronger and it is evident. But I guess it’s like it is right in front of their eyes, but they are wide shut.
TWU: As one of the most well-known dancehall artists throughout the world; what has been your key to staying relevant in a fast-paced industry almost 10 years down the line?
Vybz Kartel: Well I can’t really tell you what the secret is, you know, because the colonel never gave away the KFC ingredient. I can’t give away the secret (laughs).
TWU: Because you’ve adopted a more singjay style than what you had previously...
Vybz Kartel: OK, well, you have to keep reinventing yourself. That is what I can say about why Vybz Kartel is still relevant and is not Bounty Killer nor Elephant Man (laughs).
TWU: Some say you borrowed that from Mavado...
Vybz Kartel: No, because that would be like saying Celine Dion borrowed a style from Mary J. Blige. Music is about melody, and as I said before about reinventing, when somebody is reinventing themselves... Vybz Kartel came with an original style, Mavado came with an original style, Vybz Kartel has grown into the style that he has now. I didn’t borrow anything from Mavado. Melody is something that is out there for anybody who is doing music, because music was put to melody.
TWU: For a lot of your career, you were more known for hardcore gangsta songs and clashing. Nowadays though, there is more emphasis on songs for the ladies (‘Bicycle’, ‘Virginity' / 'Versatility’, ‘Nah Let Go’, ‘Come Breed Me' / 'Completely’) and male-female collaborative songs in the same vein as ‘Ramping Shop’ feat. Spice (‘Do Me Dat’ feat. Shebba, ‘Like a Jockey’ feat. Gaza Slim) have been successful for you. Your new single, ‘Like Christmas,’ is another in that style...
Vybz Kartel: Man and woman union is what creates life and life is the ultimate. In music, a man and woman union within the music, as long as its good music, it’s gonna be a hit song. History can prove that, whether it’s R&B, calypso or dancehall.
TWU: We have to talk about the ‘Dancehall Hero’ song...
Vybz Kartel: Oh! That song is the truth, because you have to remember, Vybz Kartel just talks the truth. Some people cannot properly digest it, but it is the truth and it is what is in front of the people. I wasn’t the first to do it, but Vybz Kartel is the one that brought dancehall music back to the true origin of dancehall music, which is to just keep it real. I talk about experiences, not just deejay a gun song like, ‘Ay me aguh shot dat bwoy inna him head’ or matey (girl on the side/mistress) songs like, ‘Oh, your matey look better than you’, we get deep into relationships, social-issues. That’s why songs like ‘Ramping Shop’ have to work because it is real, songs like ‘Completely’ because it is real. You know one thing why I have a problem with these dancehall artists? They don’t go to the studio and think about lyrics and music, they think about Vybz Kartel, and that is going to be their downfall and that is going to be my rise. If I make a song about popcorn, they make a song about potato chips (laughs). But it’s good for Vybz Kartel. Imitation is the biggest form of flattery. That’s why I have respect for artist like I-Wayne, because he tries to be different.
TWU: You’ve worked with UK rapper/MC Kano twice. How did the collaboration come about and what was he like to work with?
Vybz Kartel: The connection came about because he is a fan of my music and vice-versa. Our connection came about through (producer) Don Corleon, because apparently he is a friend of Don Corleon and Don is a good friend of mine. He came to Jamaica, we recorded the song, we love it and the rest is history. He’s like a Jamaican deejay with a British accent and it sounds so amazing.
TWU: The infamous Gully VS Gaza beef ended almost a year ago. Will we be getting a song from you with former foe Mavado any time soon?
Vybz Kartel: Yeah man, definitely, early next year. The reason why we haven’t gone into the studio is because of the hectic schedules between both artists; if I’m on the island, he’s away, if he’s on the island, I’m away. Sometimes when we are both here we have so much things doing, it’s hard to get in touch with the artist. We were even speaking while we were in custody – planning this whole song. We’re going to do four or so songs: one hardcore song, one about unity and love, those kinds of topics.
TWU: Tour-wise, where can people catch you next year?
Vybz Kartel: We’re working on England for February next year. Is there something for the Olympics in London next year?
TWU: I’m not sure…
Vybz Kartel: I’ve been approached by the Olympic committee of Jamaica because they want me to do something at the Olympic Village. But probably I’ll be there next year. Apart from that, I’ll be all over the world.
TWU: Can we expect a follow-up album to ‘Pon Di Gaza 2.0’?
Vybz Kartel: Yeah, we’ve got a record that we’re working on for next year with Dre Skull from Mixpak records. He’s this white kid from New York that builds some sick beats. So next year me and him - Adidjaheim records/Mixpak records - it’s going to be for April. We haven’t even started the promotion for the album yet. It’s going to be like 14 exclusive tracks.
Vybz Kartel's new album, 'Pon Di Gaza 2.0', is out now
Stay up to date with Vybz Kartel - www.twitter.com/IAmTheKartel
Words: Marvin Sparks