Tomorrow, May 2, 2009, would have been Carlton “Carlyle” Grant Jr.’s 18th Birthday. The firstborn son of the veteran dancehall star Spragga Benz, Carlyle was a talented youth with a world of possibilities before him. By the age of 11, he had already appeared in the opening scenes of Cess Silvera’s hit 2002 film Shottas, vividly portraying the childhood version of Wayne, the character played by his father in the rest of the film.But Carlyle’s exposure to show business did not distract him from his studies.

An outstanding student at Camperdown High, by the summer of 2008, he had just completed fifth form—the Jamaican equivalent of the last year of high school—and scored high marks on his CXC exams (Caribbean Examinations Council) qualifying him for advanced study in any number of different fields. “Carlyle had many doors open to him,” says his father. “He was talking with Cess about some movies and thing. But he knew that education is the key same way. Only Jah know what he really would have done.”

Carlyle with J.R. Silvera and Cess Silvera on the set of Shottas, circa 2002.

Just over eight months ago, on the evening of Saturday August 23th, Carlyle and a friend were riding their bicycles along Church Street in downtown Kingston when they were ordered to stop by police. According to eye-witness reports Carlyle and his friend stopped and raised their hands as instructed but nevertheless shots rang out and Carlyle suffered multiple gunshot wounds. The 17-year-old was taken to hospital and pronounced dead on arrival. Police alleged that one of the youths had fired a gun at them but after a thorough investigation, two policemen now face murder charges in Carlyle’s death.

This senseless tragedy generated widespread anger, grief, and outrage, but not disbelief. Trigger-happy cops are not unheard of on the streets of Kigston. The Jamaican Constabulary Force has one of the highest rates of extrajudicial killings of any polce department in the world, and Amnesty International has condemned their “lack of accountability.” The slaying of ghetto youths in particular has been documented in many reggae songs, as well as films like Shottas, but seldom has justice been served through the judicial system. Carlyle’s death inspired protests outside the police station and an outpouring of frustration. But through it all, his father has been a pillar of strength and a model of restraint, relying on his Rastafarian faith and the courage of convictions as he focused on healing his family rather than lashing out in anger.

“Mi have faith in di system still for all of wi sake, every Jamaican,” he told the local reporters just days after his son’s murder. “Because nuff people dis happen to but not everyone can really go through to find out wha’ really happen and target out to di law. ‘Cause a lot of tings get box up and painted and yuh neva find out di real reason. Now we wan’ see the transparency of di system towards di Jamaican people, towards yutes, ghetto people who probably don’t have a voice.”

Spragga’s remix of “Sleep With Angels” dropped shortly after Carlyle’s passing.

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Friends and family recall Carlyle joking around about his funeral, saying that he didn’t want people to wear black and be sad. In accordance with his wishes, when he was laid to rest last September the congregation wore full white. But the celebration of his life was only just beginning. If there is any good that can come from the senseless loss of such a young life, his family is determined to make it happen. Along with Carlyle’s mother Sharon Gapor and his aunt, Veleta Grant, Spragga has established the Carlyle Foundation, with the stated goal of “offering financial and other assistance to needy students who are potentially high achievers.” Beneficiaries, all of whom will be chosen by a special panel, will have to maintain a certain level of performance academically. “There will definitely be strings attached,” said Spragga in an official statement.

In order to raise funds for the foundation and to ensure that Carlyle’s memory lives on, Spragga and producer Salaam Remi of the independent Miami-based label Boom Tunes proposed a “Peace and Love Concert” called “Life Fest,” which will take place tomorrow, May 2, Carlyle’s birthday, at Backyard, Constant Spring Road, in Kingston. Life Fest was organized and sponsored by Sherman Escoffrey of D’Empire Management. The all-star lineup (see poster below) is made up of friends of Spragga who have pledged their full support to this worthy cause, summed up in the simple slogan: “Preserve the Youths… Preserve the Future.”

Earlier this afternoon I caught up with Spragga by telephone as he was making his final preparations for Life Fest. Although I’ve known the DJ since he first burst onto the scene in 1994, this was the first I’d spoken to him since his tragic loss. As a father myself, I simply couldn’t find the words to adequately express my feelings. I found him in great spirits and he was kind enough to share his thoughts with the boomshots family.

JAH KNOW SPRAGGA, I REALLY HAVE NO WORDS TO PROPERLY EXPRESS MY CONDOLENCES. HOW ARE YOU AND YOUR FAMILY DOING?

Me ah tell you really and truly we’ve been overwhelmed by the support we’ve been receiving. This is a time when I really see who is my true friends and who kinda ease back like them feel say we deh pon a downward spiral. This morning we deh pon La Benz corner with my original, original set of friends who me grow with from ever since, them man deh first recognize the talent. We get a whole heap ah support from them youth deh. And me speak with Buju awhile ago and thing. So everything just ah come together. D’Empire Management is doing a great job on the promotion down here. The stage is set up and them fine-tuning the sound. Right now we’re getting some showers of blessing but we know say the show ah go nice.

YOU’VE GOT A POWERFUL LINEUP ON LIFE FEST. HOW DID THAT COME TOGETHER?

The show is called Life Fest so we no want no music that celebrate death. You dun know music is music and everything have its time and place but tomorrow is a celebration of life so therefore we have artists like Damian Jr. Gong Marley and Stephen Marley, Sizzla Kalonji, Jah Cure, Wayne Wonder, Queen Ifrika, Tanya Stephens, Chino, I-Octane. Me no wan’ hear no violent songs tomorrow, no gal gal thing. If anything it must be a woman song, and show respect to the empress same way. Me nah preach to nobody but everything in its proper time and place.

TELL ME ABOUT THE WORK OF THE CARLYLE FOUNDATION.

Well you dun know say education ah the key. And there is no free education in Jamaica. Every student has to pay a school fee to attend school so you know say nuff ghetto youths no have the means to better them lives. They did away with the school fee for a while, but then they brought it back. You know how it go with the politician and them promises.

ARE THERE ANY SPECIAL SURPRISES PLANNED FOR TOMORROW?

Well I’m gonna do some of my conscious songs, and some new songs. Cess was down here shooting some videos for my new album Shotta Culture. He shot one for a song we did in Carlyle’s memory called “Livication.” That will be seen on the show tomorrow.

SO YOU’RE GONNA PUT SOMETHING NEW IN THE PEOPLE’S HEADS?

Have to.

YOU AND SALAAM HAVE BEEN WORKING ON THAT ALBUM FOR YEARS NOW.

Yeah, but we nah rush the ting. And it ah get wicked, trust me. Me and Salaam ah drive rIght now and it deh pon repeat. Even the last few months the album just getting better and better. Now we have Marcia Griffiths pon the track and it sound totally different than the music weh we did have one time. We ah get back to the real Jamaican music that some of them forget ’bout, with the fat, round basslines and some out-of-the-box thinking like how King Tubby woulda do it.

TELL ME ABOUT THAT TITLE, SHOTTA CULTURE.

You dun know say ah gangsta thing ah Jamaica. The whole world know that too. Ah so we born into it and ah just so we grow. So we haffi show the culture side of the ting same way.

YOU HAVE BEEN SO STRONG THROUGHOUT THIS ORDEAL, AND SETTING A GREAT EXAMPLE TO OTHER PEOPLE WHO ARE DEALING WITH A SIMILAR SORT OF PAIN.

We show them say vengeance nah go benefit nobody. Caw Jah say leave all judgment unto Him… and none shall escape the judgment. We don’t need no more violence bout yah. It’s an unfortunate situation that make it necessary, but ah Jah works we deh pon still.

HAS THE JUSTICE SYSTEM RENDERED ITS VERDICT YET?

Not yet. We just make the system take its course, but me tell you man to man me no too emphasize pon that. Caw all them ah do them can’t bring Carlyle back you know. But we just hope them get the message: Don’t judge the youths and brutalize them that way. You don’t know them and you don’t know who they could be.