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?
- Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Up 2 Di Time
- Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers
- 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?
- 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