Vybz Kartel is the most famous inmate in Jamaica’s prisons. Since 2014 he has been serving a life sentence for the killing of an associate, Clive “Lizard” Williams and despite repeated efforts by his lawyers and public support from his legion of fans, he will not be entitled to apply for parole until he’s served 35 years.
The heavily tattooed Kartel is a divisive character. He is internationally admired for his dancehall music with such hits as ‘Summer Time’, ‘Ramping Shop’ and ‘Dancehall Hero’ but apart from his connection with criminals he has caused controversy by advocating skin bleaching which he evidently does on himself. A complex character, there is no doubting his charisma as he seems even more popular now than when first imprisoned. Even the evidence against him was overwhelming, Kartel’s supporters were adamant that he didn’t deserve to be incarcerated and some even thought this was a case of injustice.
Born into a middle-class family Adidja Azim Palmer arrived on 7 January 1976. He started his career as a teenager in 1993 with his first recording ‘Love Fat Woman’, using the moniker Adi Banton, as homage to Buju Banton.
Palmer was later part of the three-member group Vybz Kartel, keeping the name after the group split up, and became a protege of Bounty Killer, for whom he claims to have written nearly 30 songs.
Kartel rose to prominence in 2003 after a string of hits in Jamaica. The year culminated in a pre-planned on-stage clash with Ninjaman at the annual dancehall festival Sting in Kartel's hometown of Portmore. The clash turned violent when Kartel's crew members, as well as Kartel himself, threw punches and assaulted Ninjaman onstage. While Kartel's manager initially blamed Ninjaman, Kartel himself quickly apologised to Ninjaman and Sting organisers for the fracas. Four days after the incident, the two artists appeared before the press to announce a settlement of their differences and to end any animosity.
As his fame and wealth grew through his music, Kartel launched his own liquor line, Street Vybz Rum. He hosted a weekly dance party Street Vybz Thursday, at the Building, a Kingston nightclub he managed with Street Vybz Rum business partner, Corey Todd. The rum was officially distributed by Vybz Distillers Limited. The same year, he also released his own condom line, Daggerin Condoms. Street Vybz Rum production was stopped in 2011 because of a disagreement between him and Corey Todd. However, the collaboration resumed in 2012 as the two settled their differences, and despite Kartel's ongoing incarceration.
In 2011, Kartel released his own shoe line, named Addi's, as well as his own line of "cake soap", a type of soap primarily used for clothes. Cake soap is less commonly utilised for skincare, to treat skin conditions such as acne. However, Kartel's brand was intended for skin lightening/ bleaching.
MTV's Vice Guide to Dancehall featured Kartel at his weekly dance party, Street Vybz Thursday. Kartel also hosted his own reality television show Teacha's Pet on CVM Jamaica broadcast channel, the first reality television show hosted by a dancehall artist in Jamaica. The premise of Teacha's Pet found 20 women living in a Kingston house vying for the artist's affection; the show's lascivious content elicited condemnation of its sponsor, telecommunications company LIME. The show came to a halt with Kartel’s arrest on murder charges in September 2011.
Despite being imprisoned, he continues to release new music prolifically, with over 50 new songs in 2016 alone.
In fact, last year Kartel released his most internationally successful album, King Of The Dancehall which peaked at number 2 on the US Billboard Reggae Charts. The album included the single ‘Fever’ which topped various local music charts and became his most successful on streaming websites.
Kartel has two sons who are also recording artists, namely Little Addi and Little Vybz