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Vybz Kartel Speaks On 'Of Dons and Divas' Album With 'Boomshots'

Little known fact: the very first post on Boomshots.com went live February 10, 2009. The title? Don't Ramp With Kartel. Adidja Palmer and Grace Hamilton's smash collab "Rampin Shop," an X-rated excursion on Ne-Yo's "Miss Independent" version, was taking the streets by storm and had the internet spinnin' like a satellite dish—just as a new platform for dancehall and reggae was born. VIBE had not yet ceased print publication but the mighty Boomshots brand, which started as a monthly column in Quincy Jones' glossy hip-hop magazine, was already leveling up on the digital frontier—at the same moment, Kartel and Spice were about to elevate hardcore dancehall to new heights.

Over the years Boomshots and Kartel have kept in touch. The first of our timeless interviews, "Reasoning with Di Teacha," was just the beginning. Boomshots founder Rob Kenner published a profile of Kartel in The New York Times in 2011. From time to time we would link up with the Worlboss and various representatives of the Portmore Empire—search BoomshotsTV for a refresher if you're playing catch-up. Back in 2013, we held a reasoning via email due to circumstances beyond our control, which would be Kartel's first interview behind bars. He has come a long way since then. Check the stats: Over half a billion streams, 100+ #1 songs in Jamaica, not to mention all the dancehall stars he brought to the world's attention, from Popcaan to Tommy Lee to Gaza Slim—and the list goes on straight up to Sikka Rhymes and UTG. And don't forget the international collabs with the likes of Rihanna, Missy, Beyonce, Nicki Minaj, Major Lazer, Akon, and Eminem. And just the other day Kartel received his first solo plaque from the Recording Industry Association of America for the certified gold single "Fever" off his album King of the Dancehall. In honor of this accomplishment, not to mention the release of his latest magnum opus, Of Dons & Divas, the time seemed right to catch up and hold a reasoning with Adi.


Congratulations on “Fever” being certified gold. Is that the first solo gold record in your catalog? Where is the plaque hanging right now?

Nuff Respec' Rob. Yes, it’s my first solo gold record which is long overdue you know. It’s hanging in my cell right beside the spot for my new Grammy award.

What does it take to stay at the top in dancehall?

I dunno where I heard it or who said it, think it was Einstein. Someone asked him, “What’s the secret to success?” And he said Hard Work. The person replied laughingly “No seriously, 'What is the secret to success?'"

What sort of precautions are being taken for incarcerated persons during the Corona Virus pandemic? Do you believe it might be a “plandemic”? We’ve heard different reports over time, how is your health?

I think it’s a plandemic, but you know BigBoss.Gov, always throwing us off the trail and any hint of query leads to "Oh, he a conspiracy theorist" and I’ll leave it at that. Did you know China makes the most face masks worldwide? Yeah, I'm good. Ain't no corona in prison on J Wray and Nephew.

Your legal team put a lot of work into the recent appeal. Were you surprised at the verdict?

They could’ve done waaay better. Bert Samuels came out gunning but this is Jamaica. Slave colony at its best so no, I wasn’t surprised.

We vividly remember our conversation after Sumfest 2011 when you introduced us to the members of the Portmore Empire. It’s hard to believe it’s been 9 years since then. How have you managed to stay mentally focused and maintain your strength all this time?

I always tell people I think it’s the way I’m built. I'm a stubborn person so I use that as my strength i guess... that and some good weed. I love to read so most of the time I’m in a book or my book, writing. Time is relative still... so it's whatever.

What are the best three books you've read lately?

  1. Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Up 2 Di Time
  2. Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers
  3. Voice of the Jamaican Ghetto

What are your thoughts on the Black Lives Matter protests over killings by police in Minneapolis, Louisville, and Atlanta? As the author of ‘Voice of the Jamaican Ghetto, do you think Black people’s struggle is different in America and the rest of the world?

Every Black person's struggle is the same no matter where you are. Some issues might take precedence over others but it’s the same top 4 or 5 issues. High unemployment, high single-parent families, high crime rate, high people(drugs), and some bullshit religion that’s not ours. About the George Floyd incident... What’s new about it? Not a damm thing.

The last time we were in touch you mentioned that some of the artists who first "buss" through the Portmore Empire had betrayed you, specifically Popcaan and Tommy Lee. Have you forgiven them since then? Tommy Lee is featured on your new album, Of Dons & Divas. Did you consider featuring Popcaan? Are you proud of all the things your proteges have accomplished?

I mean, I'm a forgiving person so I have forgiven as I have been forgiven because at the end of the day no one’s perfect, and sometimes when you address stuff while you’re angry you usually say some hurtful stuff. It is what it is though, and I’m proud to see their victories... It all started from Bounty Killa, this "buss artiste as an artiste" thing (as far as I’m concerned), so I just pay forward and that’s the result. Time is the healer still.

Over the past two decades, you have consistently innovated creatively. You introduced a fresh new sound to dancehall on your recent album To Tanesha. We also heard some of that sound on UTG’s Skinny Jeans album and on brand new cuts like “Bad Gyal” and “Say a Prayer" from Of Dons & Divas . Is there a particular producer you worked with to get that sound?

I’ve always change my style so it’s about Kartel, not a particular producer. My inspiration comes from many things at once for example To Tanesha was inspired by Tanesha, but the overall sound I just created to set the tone for the album. Now as it relates to the riddims, I’ve been working with Jay Crazie heavily on my last few projects. He’s super talented and we click like presidential. Also Melio Sounds (on To Tanesha) and this Yankee youth called Guala Beats on both albums. He made the "Bad Gyal" track as well as "Neva Was Da One" on To Tanesha. Ricardo Redboom Reid is my sound engineer and mixer.

What are your thoughts on the Verzuz battle between Bounty and Beenie? How strong is dancehall as a culture and business at this very moment?

I loved the clash. Those are two legendary iconic artistes bar none. Dancehall has always been big business even without the buying power of the other genres, namely hip hop and reggaeton...which Jamaicans invented.

On the song "Uptop Gaza" you said, "Killa ah me daddy—still show allegiance to Alliance." What do you appreciate most about Bounty Killer? Do you regret falling out with him in the past?

I appreciate most that he helped me realize my potential without prejudice. I didn’t grow up with him, we weren’t school mates. So I love and honor this man to the fullest. Falling out with the big boss was necessary still... that’s how America was built.

When you first started your career you went by the name Adi Banton. As a fan of dancehall and an aspiring artist, what did Buju mean to you at that time?

When I heard Buju Banton I was captured instantly. I remember I left school and went straight to Chancery Lane and bought "Stamina Daddy." I even tried to call the 9277039 # even though he SPECIFICALLY said "girls here is my line..." Ninja Man and Buju are my two main influences in music. BTW i gave out a number of my own in "Kartel Completely" ft Gaza Indu.

In a recent interview, Buju stated “Kartel still run the place.” How do you think you and Buju relate to Jamaican youth today? Who would you say are your respective audiences in 2020?

My core fanbase is still young adults even though I’ve been around long enough to have fans who have grandkids... I don’t know Buju’s core except that i am one.

Have you heard any of Buju’s new music? Of Dons & Divas had the same release date as his new album Upside Down. Was this planned or a coincidence?

It's coincidence but isn't it maad? And good for the music too because I think it’ll bring a buzz to the whole Grammy-mania in Jamaica. Like I said he’s my deejay so for me it’s great. I want him to sell 10 mil on the first day. Me? 10.1 mil—LOL.


Who is the girl we hear on that amazing “Nice Things” intro?

That’s Missy the dancer from New York via Waterhouse Jamaica. Famous dancehall dancer, she does a lot of Kartel videos on IG so i reached out.

What qualities does it take to be a Gaza girl?

  1. Love Kartel and B. Love Dancehall

You have collaborated with some of the leading female artists in the game today from Rihanna and Nicki Minaj to Spice and Shenseea. How did you choose which divas would appear on Of Dons & Divas?

First, lemme say Big up Spice. I was put on to Jucee Froot's IG by my son's mother Sophia. She a Yankee... from New York so she (obviously) loves hip hop. So I reached out to Jucee as well because I liked what i saw. She was a young rapper but she had star appeal up the wazzoo! So that's how we collabed on "Bad Gyal." Daniboo is a straight Gaza girl and a very very famous dancer. So when she decided to do music I immediately reached out to her and as you can see, she has the title track. Lisa Hyper is original Gaza Capital (Block 5 Waterford) citizen and Lisa Mercedez I met through a brother of mine called Black Azan from May Pen. She bad AF too! Sounds like Patra but with her own grit.

“No Prison” is a powerful song driven by a powerful idea. Can you talk about the inspiration for that one? Tupac spoke about the power of love versus the power of fear. Which one do you think is stronger?

I just took my pen up and wrote what came to my mind. It’s a song for my muse or rather from my muse who gave me the inspiration to put pen to paper. In relation to (B), I think fear is stronger. Love brings entitlement, which more readily breeds betrayal than fear.

“Pretty Butterfly” is definitely a standout on the whole album. Who produced that one? When did Lisa Hyper first get down with the Empire and what is special about your creative chemistry with her?

I produced all the tracks from scratch working tirelessly with the engineer to fine-tune songs to my liking. Lisa as I said earlier is day one. Even from before I became a star I knew her. I grew her, so the chemistry is so natural.


“Presidential” is one of the baddest tunes on the album. How does it feel to know your music connects with people from Germany to Canarsie?

Thanks, it’s one of my favs. Daddy 1 and Sikka Rhymes do more than justice to the song. New school warriors at work with the veteran. It’s an accomplished feeling to know my work is loved globally because I work hard for my fame. Natural talent yes, but also the hard work.

You’ve got two features from the 6ix on this album—Daddy 1 and Squash. What do you rate about the 6iix? Does their movement remind you of Gaza?

The 6iix is real! And yes Squash reminds me so much of myself in that he came out and immediately created his team and pushed them to the heights without prejudice. That’s what I respect about Squash as a human being. Real kind-hearted person. Daddy1 is for the schoolaz...They love him, especially the girls. So yeah, 6iix is Gaza-affiliated and vice versa.

Sikka Rhymes has overcome a lot, surviving diabetes and an attempt to take his life. He’s also given us some great music like the track “Superman” as well as “Depend on You.” What was the most important factor for you to decide that he was ready to become the official Gaza VP?

Sikka is real strong. Plus he has a good heart, always helping people, always looking out for others... hence GAZA VP. Plus he's a really talented hard-working person as well... He records himself in his house, writes his own songs, etc... He too reminds me of me in so many ways. I like Sikka and I know he will go far once he doesn’t change the formula.

On “Depend on You” you mention that you feel “government do it for spite.” How do you find the strength to keep going against all odds when such ideas enter your mind?

I am Stubborn. I’ve always known I was gonna be a great man and in Jamaica that comes with a big fight from the system if they can’t say "THAT'S MY BOY." I'm nobody’s boy—not even my dad's.

The new UTG album Skinny Jeans is a major step forward for Likkle Vybz and Likkle Addi since the days of PG13. That evolution continues with new songs like “Militant Coup.” What sort of advice have you shared with your sons about surviving the game?

I see them sometimes and we talk... In a few years when they take over, you’ll see what we spoke about. Slimatic is also on "Militant Coup"... She’s my cousin.

On the track “Worldboss” there’s a recording where someone is talking about “we nah stop block the roads.” What was the bad treatment they were protesting?

Yes, it was some incident about police brutality. A staple on the nightly news.

Do you believe people are going to be brainwashed forever or is there hope for an awakening?

Brainwashed forever. That’s what Gov does. Create as many sheep as possible. So the only awakening is the movie.

Over the last ten years or so we’ve seen a new movement with roots artists such as Chronixx, Kabaka, Protoje, and Koffee. What do you think of this new movement?

I was born mid-70s grew up in the 80s, so I grew up on that stuff. I love reggae (dubstep my fav) so the new movement is just the continuation of the original.

The song “Big Bizniz” talks about your name living on. What do you think is your greatest legacy so far?

I can’t be stopped again. My legacy in Dancehall is one of the most powerful. In the top 5. I brought new ideas and concepts to Dancehall musically and as a businessman. I altered/changed the culture to suit me... Clarks, tattoos, rosary, and big bizniz. I am the most influential Caribbean artiste in 20 years. Tell 'em put that in your pipe and smoke it.

The flow on “Jump on the Beat” is crazy. Nobody in any genre raps like that. What would it mean to you to receive a Grammy for your work?

It means a lot to win the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album. I mean, aren't accolades a part of greatness?

Give thanks Adi... Until next time—stay up.

Stream Vybz Kartel's Of Dons & Divas

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'The Last Train To Paris' Turns 10: Revisit Diddy's Aug./Sept. 2010 VIBE Cover Story

YOU EVER WATCH a control freak mellow out? It’s fascinating. When said micromanager is Sean “Puffy” Combs, it’s an enlightening ordeal altogether. Sitting at trendy Asian eatery Philippe Chow in New York City, two days before LeBron James announces that he’s taking his show to South Beach, Combs has talking points: impact and legacy. “This ain’t a regular run,” says Combs of his two-decade laundry list of accomplishments. “I’m saying that in the most humble way possible. I’m me and I’m seeing it. Most times the impact of what you do you don’t even live to see it.”

He’s the only patron seated for the evening, lounging at a table that comfortably seats eight. This is clearly a Sean John zone. His voice remains even, but the arrogance skyrockets. “It trickles over into sports. It goes into the way the free agent negotiations are going. [Athletes] have that belief. But that level of confidence as Black businessmen wasn’t really there. Unforgivable swagger. That shit wasn’t there.”

Translation: Sean believes that his ambition has been infectious. In his “humble” opinion, his drive has taught the have-nots that not only can they have, but they can be gluttonous and acquire wealth rather than riches. Will it ruin his day if people don’t agree? Not really. But he’d still like the legacy to be accurately documented. His reactionary reflexes have given way to him thinking long term, which could be why he’s unfazed by trivial shots like 50 Cent’s claims of having nude pictures of his artist Cassie. He’s more interested in guiding careers—Rick Ross, Red Cafe and Dirty Money, among them. And really, he’d like to do square biz and have your kids’ kids respect him like his contemporaries admire Warren Buffet. That would truly be money in the bank. In the meantime, he wants to mellow with a plate of chicken satay and talk Diddy legacy.

VIBE: You have said that rap’s heavyweight class consisted of Jay-Z, Kanye West, Lil Wayne and Drake. Do you still believe that?

Diddy: Definitely. I feel like Drake is somebody that entered professionally in the heavyweight division. He didn’t come in as a middleweight, he didn’t come in as a light heavyweight, he came in as a heavyweight. He’s gonna be a force to be reckoned with for a while. He is the definition of a new age musical rapper . . . going forward a lot of rap artists are going to have [singing and rapping] in their repertoire.

What’s the ranking in that heavyweight division?

Jay, Kanye, Wayne, and Drake.

Jay still No. 1?

Hands down as far as worldwide impact and due to this last album [The Blueprint 3]. He’s moved up in the rankings.

People don’t realize that you two are friends and not just industry acquaintances.

Over the years as we’ve grown, Jay and I have needed each other. We’ve needed to be able to pick up the phone and call somebody that can understand what each other was going through. We needed each other to motivate each other; we needed each other to push each other. We needed each other to support each other and also to challenge each other. He’s definitely been a great friend to me. There’s never been anything that I’ve asked him to do or he’s asked me to do that we really haven’t done for each other.

Give an example of when you had to pick up the phone and call Jay for assistance.

I wanted to do something game-changing with Sean John. And I just picked his brain. I did [a fashion line] before him but I think that business-wise he did a lot of things better than me. He picked the right time to get out and get his check, to sell his company. We sat on the phone and talked about itŃput our egos in our pockets. I didn’t see Sean John versus Roc-A-Wear. I just saw that my man over here is doing it [and I had] a couple of offers for Sean John. It was a beautiful conversation, ‘cause we’re sitting down at this restaurant and we’re talking about apparel. We’re not talking about music. It was a beautiful moment. Two quarter-of-a-billion dollar companies—just getting advice from your competitor. It was something that you heard rich White boys do.

Dr. Dre said that the last beat that floored him was “All About the Benjamins.” How does that make you feel?

It’s humbling. I was in the studio with Dre the other day. He started working on a record for me. Watching him as a producer is watching greatness. We had a lot of similar traits. It was like looking in the mirror. He would ask questions like, “How you feel about this?” People don’t really understand true producers want to know how you feel about things. We are some of the most observant people on the planet.

You’re a lot more into the music now than the last time we spoke.

I was waiting to get a lot of inspiration from the outside and it just wasn’t coming. And I’m not knocking anyone’s hustle that’s out there. I just come from musical history that musically people gave more of themselves . . . I was able to go back and listen to all the great records that I made. I ain’t do it on purpose. Like sometimes I’d be in a club and the DJ was just throwing tributes and would go deep in the crates. I would be like, “Damn, I forgot that I made that one.” It just gave me a deep connection and another level of confidence for me to do me.

Are you feeling more comfortable writing on your own?

Yeah. I learned a lot more. I feel a lot more confident and free. On this album, I wrote like maybe two or three records by myself. But I still like writing with somebody. It helps me. Not using it as a crutch, but I get better results from co-writing; having my own feelings and thoughts, and, you know, getting some help with it. I love the feeling of collaboration, community in the studio. I don’t like being the mad scientist and being in the room by myself.

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Desus & Mero Bless A Bronx Bodega With A Year's Worth of Rent

You know them as the hosts of the hit Showtime series Desus & Mero, aka "the greatest show in late-night history, featuring only illustrious guests." These days you might catch them chatting with President Obama, but  Bronx natives Desus Nice and The Kid Mero have never lost touch with their roots as the Bodega Boys.

"On our first podcast me and Mero used to have to ride the train back afterward," recalls Desus. "And basically our conversation on the train sounded exactly like the podcast. And somebody was like, 'Yo, they sound like two guys you hear in the bodega.' Which was true, because when you hear guys in the bodega, they talk very passionately about things. They may not have all the facts, but they're talking with their hearts."

"Their confidence is strong!" adds Mero with a laugh.

"That's just us," says Desus. "We're raised in bodegas. Probably 90 percent of the food we grew up eating was either our mother's cooking or chopped cheese sandwiches."

"Facts," Mero confirms.

Ever since the pandemic hit, New York City's community bodegas have served as a lifeline by providing New Yorkers with daily necessities, especially in neighborhoods where door-to-door gourmet food delivery is not an option. But staying open hasn't been easy—the daily risks of doing business under threat from a deadly virus—not to mention a spike in robberies and violence—has made running a bodega very challenging, to say the least. But day in day out, in good times and bad, they find a way to keep their doors open.

"If your block is the solar system, the bodega is the sun," says Mero. "The hood orbits the bodega."

So when the makers of Pepsi cola decided to give back on the bodega owners who provide life-giving sustenance and ice-cold soda to NYC's five boroughs, they reached out to the Bodega Boys as their official goodwill ambassadors. Today Desus & Mero appear in a short film called The Bodega Giveback, which highlights the way one Bronx bodega overcame extreme hardship—and the way Pepsi is helping them keep going after 2020 comes to an end.

For Juan Valerio and his son Jefferson, the proprietors of JJN Corp Deli & Grocery in the Bronx, 2020 has been a horrible year. Juan still remembers when he came to America with his father in 1990. "To buy a bodega at that time was well over $100,000," Juan recalls in the short film, which you can watch above. "It was a dream that seemed unreachable. I never thought I would achieve it. And now this is what I do. My whole life is here."

Then in April 2020, tragedy struck when Juan's father lost his life to COVID 19. For the first time in three decades, the bodega had to close its doors down briefly. "It’s something very powerful to lose what you love the most in a split second," Juan recalls with emotion as his son comforts him with a hug. "Life goes on. And I decided to come back because he always taught me to work. To stay closed was disrespectful to him."

"He had to shut down for a little bit," says Desus. "But then he reopened cause the community needed him. Cause the lockdown a lot of stores closed down. And in the Bronx, you can't really get stuff delivered. And he's the hub. We heard stories of what he did, so we were like, how can we give back to him? Shout out to Pepsi with the Bodega Giveback. And just giving him a year's rent—that's the most amazing thing you can give a bodega owner. Shout out to Juan and his son. The look on their face when they really get it—you see the appreciation."

"It really hit home," said Mero. "Cause it's like, we're children of immigrants. So that could have been us—if we didn't get seen by the right people and put in the right positions, we coulda been workin' alongside our dad at a bodega. And then watchin' your grandfather pass away and then comin' back because you know how important you are to the community. Like, that's really selfless. It's just a dope story. And those stories occur all over the place, it's just people don't see them. Cause they don't get exposed on a national level. But a brand like Pepsi can put that on a national stage and be like,  "Yo, look—this is a mom and pop establishment for real. And these are the small businesses that you supposed to be supporting."

The release of The Bodega Giveback kicks off a larger holiday giveback from Pepsi this season that includes cash gifts to bodega owners and consumers across NYC's five boroughs.  “Pepsi has so many longstanding bodega partners in New York City,” said Umi Patel, CMO of North Division, PepsiCo Beverages North America. “They are not only pillars of the community, but they have gone above and beyond to take care of their loyal customers during the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic. They have worked around the clock to stay open, filling shelves to ensure their customers, friends, and family have the essentials they need to stay home and stay safe. They have even shifted their businesses to meet the needs of the community, offering new delivery options, adding crucial items like masks and gloves, and more, all while dealing with their own personal challenges of the pandemic. We are proud to do our part in giving back to these unsung heroes.”

From now until December 20, Pepsi will also be surprising customers at local bodegas across the five boroughs by gifting pre-paid credit cards of up to $100.00 per customer.

As Juan says in the film, "one hand washes the other, and with both, we wash our face."

Check out our full convo with Desus & Mero above and the short film, The Bodega Giveback.

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Courtesy of Level.com

Level Announces Their 'Best Man 2020 Awards' Featuring Entertainment Elite to Everyday Kings

It is a hard feat for media brands to survive the content landscape these days. To pull off the incredible undertaking of informing an audience as a new publication in the digital space is damn near impossible, yet the team at Medium's Level has done just that. To celebrate making their mark as a one-stop information shop for black men with their one-year anniversary this week, the team of bright and witty editors has launched their first annual Best Man Awards 2020.

The plan to honor the brand that started in December of 2019, focused on the interests of African-American males, has expanded into encompassing the efforts of a few good men during this mess of a year that is 2020. In doing so, those that broke through barriers of personal pain, new business frontiers, and support of others are highlighted and given the rightful pedestals to gain well-deserved props.

Of the 12 awards, esteemed gents like Swizz Beatz, Timbaland, and D-Nice are saluted as Quarantine Kings for their Verzuz and Club Quarantine (respectively) social media music creations that entertained the masses during the dogged days of our universal shut-down. There is also a heroic soul of a man who protected a black woman and her family from the surrounding presence of racist neighbors on his own time and dime. They have an award for Father of the Year, where former NBA all-star and champion, Dwyane Wade shines as a glowing example of understanding and ushering in new ways of parenting in today's society.

With the awards being a noble move towards giving Black men some much-needed praise in 2020, Level made sure to round up the last 365 days with themes on "The State of Black and Brown Men" as well. Essays that cover the realms of political ideology, coping with covid among Blacks health care workers,  how Black men fell short of protecting Black women, and exploring what Black men see when they look in the mirror (a piece that is a user-generated content driver/audience-led convo). All hard topics that need to be detailed, yet are rarely in a space for deep-dive convo.

Helmed by former VIBE editor-in-chief, Jermaine Hall, Level's editors explain their thoughts on the special coverage and celebration of their one year old brand:

“With the Best Man Awards, we wanted to lean into people who are doing incredible things to support society and publicly thank them. Anthony Herron, Jr is a hero. He stepped up to protect someone he didn’t know because, as he saw it, harassment is unacceptable. LEVEL wanted to make sure he received a nod for his heroics. But there are also several celebrities who are doing things outside of their jobs. D-Nice, Swizz, and Timbaland helped us cope through music. And it wasn’t a paid gig for any of them. They responded because people needed help healing so they provided care. That’s a strong attribute of the LEVEL man. It’s certainly is the definition of men being their best selves."

Click here to read about these individuals and learn more about the Best Man Awards 2020. Excelsior to Level.


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