Earlier this week Tads Records released a triple album entitled Kartel Forever: The Trilogy. The album includes 60 tracks, ranging from some of Kartel’s most popular hits—such as “Cake Soap,” “Ramping Shop” ft. Spice, and “Straight Jeans and Fitted”—to unreleased songs such as “School,” on which Kartel advises youths “don’t bleach your face,” and “Business,” which has been mashing up dances across Jamaica—and also stirring up controversy about whether the artist has been recording music from his jail cell. (Kartel has been incarcerated for nearly two years, charged with two murders. Interview After The Jump…
Today was your release day for “Kartel Forever.”
Yes man. Definitely. It’s going good. Going better than planned.
With the artist behind bars, what are you doing to promote the album on release day?
All the internet advertising, everything down here in Jamaica has it on banners, also print and radio stations. Basically all bases are covered in that sense. We’re just missing his presence. What surprised me is it’s No. 5 of the iTunes chart the first day. We’re gonna do well.
I understand that he got some pressure from police over the weekend. Has that been a problem for you?
They made a raid on his cell and took his device, his phones, his stuff that he use to communicate—his iPod and all of that. They took all of that stating that they were gonna take it as evidence for some murder that happened in Kingston [laughs]. So they’re checking it out. So he has no communication. And in the same breath, they said all the stuff that he had was illegal contraband in his cell. Which he gave the them a permit showing them—from the correction, the jail people—permitting him to have these stuff. So that was just like a big joke and inconvenience for us and him really.
So is he allowed to have a phone in jail?
Well you have to get permission to have a phone and like a television or any devices that you have in your cell, you have to get permission. He has written permission, a permit from the big bosses. So when they said they found this in his cell, to make it look like he had illegal stuff in there, he said, “Yes I had them, and here is my permit.” He had a phone, his DVD, he had a couple of thumb drives and stuff like that. But he had permission for all of them. Because he’s writing books, you know, he’s storing stuff on there and all of that. So he showed the permits to them. And his lawyers, what they did, they copied the permits and put them in the daily newspaper here so it’s no surprise.
As far as the album itself, there are some new songs on there. There has been a lot of discussion about when and how the new songs were recorded. Can you comment on that at all?
No. Look, 99.9% of the songs that I get is from the producers. So the most I can say is that I think about a quarter of the album is brand brand brand new stuff. Maybe another half is like collection of stuff from his last album. Stuff that people want to hear but a lot of people never got em. The new things that he’s doing, they might sound new. It’s just that you never heard them before. You know? I don’t think they are stuff that he’s recording in the cell.
They are not things he recorded in the cell?
No. These are stuff that he recorded before he was locked away, and they was never released. So what the producers did, they just put new instruments, give it a fresh thing and just give it a new mix, like the new kind of stuff that’s going on now, and make it good.
How do explain Kartel’s long-lasting appeal? He’s been out of the public eye for two years now and he’s still so popular. Why do you think he is such a compelling figure?
Well, two things. First, nobody stepped up to the plate. [Laughs.] You know wha t I mean? Nobody stepped up to the plate. And he has a fan base worldwide that just loves him. He’s still relevant. This song he did titled “School” was done a year ago. Well, not a year ago. But they did the whole thing a while ago and they didn’t release it. And it was just released now in September and it’s still relevant. It’s telling the kids not to bleach and pull their pants up—something positive.
And also, they just love him. They just love Vybz Kartel. And you notice most of his songs is about women. You know, the girls love that. And he also thrives from controversy. He will take something and turn it around and twist it so he will look good. He loves that. He loves controversy. There’s nothing—like what’s happening now with the police, what they did and raided his cell? he’s getting so much press out of it you’d never believe it. He’s on every news. [Laughs.]
Why do you think it’s taken so long for his case to come to trial?
They don’t want him to come out. He’s a very influential person among the youth. The authorities know that and they figure if he comes out he will either give them a positive press or a negative press. They’re not sure. And the justice system in Jamaica, we’re in the colonial thing, and they have the right to put off his case for years and not give him bail. In America that could never happen. But it’s the justice system. They can work that system to keep you in jail. I read in the paper that there are people in the same lockup with him who are in jail for seven years for the same kind of thing. And they don’t have a name like a Vybz Kartel. So they just use the system to keep them there. But him personally—too much influence I think. That is what they’re thinking. That’s the constant in all of this.
How long have you had your label going now?
Oh my label has been around from the ’70s. We’ve been around from about 1975. I used to have a record shop in the Bronx. I don’t know if you remember Tad’s Records from them times. You probably weren’t born yet. So that’s the same Tad’s Records from the Bronx. You remember Brad’s Records? Yes man. Well we were on White Plains Road two blocks away. Yeah man. That’s Tads Records.
From that time until this, which other artists have had as much popularity and influence as Vybz Kartel?
He’s unique. Other artists have that trait, but he’s unique. Have I seen anyone like him? No. Not in the same vein. Bob had his influence. He is powerful. He is strong. Peter was the same thing. Peter Tosh. Jacob Miller, remember before he died he was powerful. I’m trying to think who else really had a hold on the people. And there was no one in that vein.