Convicted: The ‘Exceptional’ Werl Boss and the Dilemma of Social Responsibility

Self-styled the ‘Werl Boss’, Vybz Kartel aka Adidja Palmer, got himself in what my father (a former police officer) would call a ‘shit pot  load of trouble’. But, how does one choose to imbibe and then get a gastronomic forward offa di vomit they flush? This question has taunted me for days. As I was asked to write about the verdict, asked where are my comments on the Kartel matter, I could only think of this question. So here we go.

GuiltyFirst of all, I do not have a practice of spending my energy on anything that my spirit rejects. This explains why I did not publish the paper I wrote years ago entitled ‘Gully vs Gaza: Theorizing Violence, Factions and Fandom in Jamaican Dancehall Performance‘, the refusal to associate with the now infamous UWI lecture (I was not in attendance and chose not to offer my book Dancehall: From Slave Ship to Ghetto), and I hesitated to comment in any medium whatsoever on anything related to Vybz Kartel. Some appearances over the years for commentary on the Gully / Gaza feud, or other aspects of dancehall that relate to social responsibility can be found, but in the main, I have completely stayed clear of the Werl Boss and his musical empire.

Confession is always good for the soul

I am the first to admit one thing. The return of the word ’empire’ to common usage in Jamaica because of Kartel’s reference to the Gaza Empire was immediately welcomed. It is very true that many of us have forgotten how to build empires, and this is a travesty when postcolonial societies such as Jamaica are badly, and indeed, sadly in need of the commitment, hard work, spirit and leadership required to build empires.

VyBZ KaRTEL (Emergency)

Let me add, that ‘Emergency’ on the Siren Riddim, and ‘Turn and Wine’ on the very infectious DNA Riddim are two of my favourite Kartel tunes.

Vybz Kartel – Turn N Wine

‘Rampin Shop’, ‘Clarks’, ‘Dollar Sign’ (Money Pon Mi Mind), ‘Beyonce Wine’, and ‘Weed Smokers’ will always get me dancing.

Vybz Kartel – Weed Smokers

Vybz Kartel – Dollar Sign

They absolutely rock!! So yes, I have been listening. I pay attention to what rocks my spirit and not what’s rocking others. For one who has dabbled in phenomenology, existentialism and the value of the human experience as a metaphysical phenomenon, and knowing well that the act of confession for the purpose of ultimate empowerment, integrity and personal / collective growth is crucial, beginning this post at the personal level is extremely significant. Writing for writing sake is meaningless. If I can’t speak my truth as I write, whether for academic or personal purposes, I am not moved to write. Consequently, this post which I have chosen to write had to begin with the personal, the confession and yes, it must highlight what I see as hypocrisy at the heart of many of the commentaries about the Werl Boss and his conviction.

My account here is not intended as a remembrance or chronological accounting of Kartel’s musical sojourn. I am much more interested in contributing to a rarer fare, an enterprise that is less attractive, requiring integrity and akin to the Peckian ‘road less travelled.’ All the same, a nuh every ting good fi eat good fi talk’ so I am very aware that the cause of reliving the concluded trial is not productive and neither is pronouncing on the numerous statements about the Werl Boss’ character and alleged notoriety. Those are for the court. Official or unofficial. Heavenly or earthly. What I will say is that Jamaicans have always said, ‘if it nuh guh so, it guh near suh’, which might explain why he was judged first in the ‘court of public opinion’ that had been receiving accounts of killings, feuds, controversies, beatings, threats, fear, deep deep fear, and traumatic encounters because of the Werl Boss. Those things did not find their way into the justice system but the recent charges certainly brought a lot of ire, praise, appeal, and formidable fanaticism on the part of Jamaicans and ‘dancehallites’ at home and abroad in particular.

Looking back to the early days, when I think about it, there couldn’t have been any accident in the choice of his first stage name in the moniker Addi Banton. As he mirrored the great Bantons of dancehall such as Buju Banton, a certain destiny seemed to have been written because Kartel’s productivity at number one hits and significance to the dancehall genre rivalled Buju Banton’s record. It also seemed to rival Buju’s reputation of being the bad man, the gun toter, drug dealer, wife beater, and bigot who has now been convicted on drug charges in the USA.

Buju Banton aka Mark Myrie

Buju Banton aka Mark Myrie

Buju has been sentenced to ten years in prison and frankly I am consistently touting the well used slogan – ‘Free Gargamel’. Afterall, when I became clear that dancehall music was my music of choice on hearing the likes of Shabba Ranks and the mighty Buju, there was hardly any turning back from the melodious drum bass tones with which they communicated in a sort of verbal divinity. I am waiting patiently for Buju’s next concert. Mi a guh deh deh pon mi ears, just like I was present for Busy Signal’s return to the stage at Sting 2012 after a brief incarceration in the USA. Yes many of our musical stars have fallen afoul of the law in various jurisdictions. And, various of our stars have enjoyed increased popularity with incarceration. Jah Cure is a classic example. image

Now, my Buju aside, gun and drug charges are quite different from murder charges. Afterall, the Werl Boss was dealing with another kind of ‘devil’; there are certainly no reports of him cavorting with any ‘white devil’. Additionally in a weird way they both have been charged with serious crimes and are facing several years behind bars. As a mega-fan of Banton (I write about my experience of Buju in Dancehall), I totally understand how Gaza and more particularly, Kartel fans must feel. Afterall, a load of trouble has befallen their ‘idol’ and as Dutty Berry has quipped ‘who a guh tell [di girls] how [dem] body good from mawnin’? (Via @duttyberryshow

Well beyond the enterprise of fandom, academics such as myself have the burden of asking relevant questions, and it seems to me that to ask whether the court and the general public were able to decipher the Werl Boss’ mask / entertainer persona from that of Adidja Palmer’s is about the biggest load of bovine excrement I have heard in a while. Please excuse this another reference to excrement, but we really must examine these matters carefully. According to Cooper in her commentary of March 16:

“..we…refuse to concede the possibility that, ‘Vybz Kartel’ is a persona, a mask worn by an actor to project a fabricated character. As a consequence, it is not Adidja Palmer who has been on trial for murder. It is Vybz Kartel. I wonder if the media’s insistence on calling Adidja Palmer by his stage name may not have been prejudicial. Has Adidja Palmer’s right to be presumed innocent perhaps been violated by the constant assertion that his ‘real’ identity is actually Vybz Kartel? Has Adidja Palmer been proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt? Or is it the cardboard cutout, Vybz Kartel?” (Cooper)

Who is this “we” who “refuse to concede the possibility that, ‘Vybz Kartel’ is a persona…?”  As if the question about whether Adidja Palmer’s presumed innocence was compromised by Vybz Kartel the mask isn’t bad enough, here’s the statement that leaves me befuddled:

“But, in all seriousness, I keep asking myself if Adidja Palmer has been convicted beyond reasonable doubt – in the modern sense of the legal term. I also wonder if he’s really innocent.” (Cooper)

Such questions are reasonable considering the history of failures of justice in Jamaica and our seeming lack of commitment to reforming a system that consistently targets the marginalised and, in particular, disenfranchised among us. Yes, the rich buy their way out of imprisonment by affording good lawyers and rarely are corrupt politicians brought to justice. So our people have no trust in the justice system, and neither do they have any trust in the people placed to maintain law and order. On the matter of the Werl Boss’ innocence however, a court of justice has now ruled with the help of a jury that saw evidence to which the public was not privy. It has been said that evidence presented was overwhelming in its proof of guilt. The fact is throughout the trial the public did not hear of the evidence because it was not viewed by those who could give us coverage via written or multi-media news reports. So without seeing the evidence in the court room presided over by Judge Lennox Campbell, innocence was thrown out the door in the court of  ‘John Public’ and also in Campbell’s court.

Not only did conflict follow the Werl Boss but so did controversy. That is always a sign of personal trouble. The psychologists with tell you that the inability to foster, maintain, and nurture meaningful relationships reveals that something is outside the norm. For me the break from the Alliance fraternity was a first sign of this which continued with other music personalities including producers, investors, managers, colleagues, Gaza hopefuls and even friends. Also, it seemed after a while that ‘Vybz Cartoon’ became completely animated by people who allowed him to levitate on the hot balloons of sunshine they blew religiously up his proverbial derrière.

You see, the opportunity to write articles on justice for Adidja Palmer might be used to take account of prevailing conditions and circumstances. Such an opportunity might be used to take an honest account of how little we know of Adidja Palmer, Vybz Kartel, Werl Boss or Vybz Cartoon for that matter.

Perhaps Ninja Man said it best. It is definitely time for  some among us to ‘stop watching gangster show and start watching Law and Order’, but right or wrong, Kartel has become the example the Jamaican police have been trying to find in order to convince notorious law breakers that they are serious about ridding Jamaica of crime and violence. Whether you believe this or not or, believe this can be achieved in the ways being currently pursued such as the recently launched ‘Unite for Change‘ campaign or zero tolerance being applied for various misdemeanours, is another matter entirely.

NINJA MAN INTERVIEW part 1 – Onstage March 15

Intelligence questioned

If anything, I question the intelligence that was poured into the barrage of solid lyrical incisions Kartel made in the dancehall music universe to the neglect of personal wellbeing. Afterall, witty wares peddled after being recorded on cutting edge equipment does not intelligence make. Equating coherent, cogent speech with intelligence in the overall unfolding of one’s daily life is simply not intelligent. When one provides the evidence for their own demise, blow by blow, digit by digit, then one has missed something important about the idea of the tipping point.

The tipping point is crucial. We can’t just be firing in this turbine called Jamaica, living unstoppable, invincible ‘tallawahcity’ in what has become a crime-ridden, scarred, yet paradisiacal place. Education is challenged, industry is challenged and leadership is challenged. Culture, particularly music, is one of our saving graces, yet some are content to ignore the evils that befall it. I am not and have never said dancehall is to be blamed. I am not and would never say dancehall is dying. Instead, I say we are at a moment of transition. We are either going to take the opportunity now, or continue to self destruct in the powerful turbine of ‘tallawahcity called Jamaica.

So many have said it in so many ways, but the profound irony is that I choose to close with Buju Banton and Ninja Man, two dancehall artistes who are themselves convicted / charged with various crimes. Their profound invocations speak for themselves:

“…music is a spiritual ting, and when yaah do music, there’s a demonic force weh surround music enuh, weh fighting the spirit of the almighty enuh, because music is love and music is God enuh, music mek people unite enuh and music mek people be together, music mek people learn fi communicate..suh is a ting weh keep a godliness and a togetherness within people which di devil nuh like that, suh…the devil tek set pon di most powerful people,  him choose fi draw you out inna every way him can.” (Ninja Man, OnStage interview, aired March 15 on CVM Television)

“…bible? we never even into that, we go a road go play music and no know seh spiritual wickedness out there a wait pon we…” (Buju Banton on the occasion of the Rasta Got Soul album launch, April 22, 2009, UWI.)

I beg the singers, players of instruments and fellow Jamaicans too – take heed. Social responsibility is collective responsibility. We must rebuild the proverbial village, become our sisters’ and brothers’ keepers, and ‘unite for change.’ A suh di ting set an’ wi affi tun up di love to fight against spiritual wickedness in high and low places.

I leave you with an account dubbed The Kartel ‘Kronicles‘ compiled by Richard Johnson, published on Friday, March 14, 2014 in the Jamaica Observer; and a blog post from @anniepaul which contains very telling tweets of the pre-/ post-verdict atmosphere.

Vybz Kartel found guilty of murder

The Kartel ‘Kronicles’


VYBZ Kartel, who, along with three of his associates, was found guilty of Clive ‘Lizard’ Williams’s death, is no stranger to controversy. From his early days as a member of Bounty Killer’s Alliance, the artiste (born Adidja Palmer) has been under public scrutiny for his songs, tatooes and bleached skin. Splash tracks some of those controversial moments.

Sting 2003

The annual Boxing Day show is an arena for lyrical clashes between deejays. 2003 saw veteran Ninjaman squaring off with the up-and-coming Kartel at Jamworld Entertainment Centre in Portmore, St Catherine. Days later, both acts appeared at a press conference to denounce their actions.

Gully vs Gaza

By 2006, the feud between Kartel and rival deejay Mavado was at its peak. Their fans aligned themselves to Gully (representing Mavado’s Cassava Piece community) or Gaza (name given to Kartel’s Portmore community). This feud resulted in gangs and school groups which also declared loyalty to the feuding artistes.

In December 2009, both deejays were ushered into a meeting with ministers of government to resolve the tense situation. They agreed to a five-point plan in which the artistes would participate in a peace treaty and concert; a ‘paint-out’ day to remove Gaza/Gully graffiti from walls in communities and schools across the island; the creation of T-shirts bearing the images of both artistes, and record a song together.

Defecting from Gaza

Cracks began to appear in the Gaza Empire in late 2009 with the departure of female deejay Lisa Hype from the camp. This followed the release of explicit photos of her on the Internet. Fellow Empire members Gaza Kim and Blak Ryno also left.

Sting 2008

Six years after Kartel was involved in a fracas with Ninjaman, he was back on the Sting stage. This time as a bonafide headliner and clashing with his nemesis Mavado.

Despite a truce, elements of the feud lingered. The jury is still out as to who won this clash, but promoters certainly benefited from heightened patronage.

Ramping Shop

Thanks to a rhythm sampled from Miss Independent by American R&B singer Ne-Yo, Kartel, along with female deejay Spice, captured the airwaves with Ramping Shop in 2009. A clever marketing ploy got the buzz going. Photos of a shirtless Kartel and a scantily-clad Spice were ‘leaked’ on the Internet. A sanitised version of the song was released and momentum reached fever-pitch.

The single entered the Billboard Top 100 Singles chart.


Wallabee, Desert Fox or Bank Robber. Leather or suede. Original or imitation, Jamaicans have always had a love affair with the British shoe company Clarks.

Kartel was able to tap into that bond with the 2010 release of the catchy Clarks. The track also introduced his protégé, Popcaan.

Clarks was popular in the United Kingdom and North America.


It became clear that Kartel was bleaching his skin by 2010. He would pass it off in his hit track Cake Soap, in which he attributes his lighter skin to washing his face with the laundry detergent bar. This ignited a firestorm of comments.

Sumfest 2010

The promoters of Reggae Sumfest had anxious moments in July 2010. It was uncertain if Kartel, their headline act for Dancehall Night, would make the show.

Kartel and five other men were named as persons of interest in relation to criminal gangs operating out of Portmore, St Catherine. The deejay was released just in time for Sumfest and appeared on stage, handcuffed and wearing a orange jumpsuit.

UWI Lecture

On March 10 2011, there was pandemonium at the University of the West Indies Mona campus. At the centre of the frenzy was Vybz Kartel who had been invited to speak on the topic: Pretty as a Colouring Book: My Life and My Art.

His presence at the high seat of learning raised eyebrows. Many felt the university lowered its standards by inviting the deejay to speak to students as part of a reggae poetry class by professor Carolyn Cooper.

Teacha’s Pet

Local TV station CVM made a bold move along with telecommunications company LIME and backed Kartel’s very own reality show, Teacha’s Pet. It saw 20 women vying for the artiste’s affection. The show came to a halt in September 2011 with his arrest on murder charges.

Kartel Book

In July 2012, while incarcerated, Kartel released his book, The Voice of the Jamaican Ghetto. Written with the assistance of Michael Dawson, the image on its cover bore a stiking resemblance to an iconic photo of Nation of Islam leader, Malcolm X.



26 thoughts on “Convicted: The ‘Exceptional’ Werl Boss and the Dilemma of Social Responsibility

  1. Brilliant. Sonjah di love and di ratings weh mi have fi yu a race each other. An di two a dem tie fi first!

  2. Well said! I have echoed many of these points in private conversations. I will go a step further and say for years i have felt that Kartel is a little ‘off’. He needs professional help, hopefully he will get that help in prison.

  3. I read what you said Dr. and it appears as if you are doing what Cooper accuses people of, which is confusing the public persona with the person. You said: ‘Not only did conflict follow the Werl Boss but so did controversy. That is always a sign of personal trouble. The psychologists with tell you that the inability to foster, maintain, and nurture meaningful relationships reveals that something is outside the norm. For me the break from the Alliance fraternity was a first sign of this which continued with other music personalities including producers, investors, managers, colleagues, Gaza hopefuls and even friends. Also, it seemed after a while that ‘Vybz Cartoon’ became completely animated by people who allowed him to levitate on the hot balloons of sunshine they blew religiously up his proverbial derrière.’

    It appears here, as if you are judging him based on what you have read or seen in the media, which normally was about the persona Vybz Kartel. Even I judge Vybz Kartel based on Vybz Kartel and not Adidja Palmer, because I do not know Adidja Palmer. I think that’s the issue Cooper and others have.

    Also you seem to question the justice system, but give credence to the verdict, but some people have issues with what we were told by the media of what transpired in court and the actual treatment of the evidence:

    I commend you for admitting somewhat your biases on the deejays you give a pass too who have also ran afoul of the law, but I find it disturbing that you appear to give them a pass, because it wasn’t ‘murder’.

    Vybz Kartel the persona is free to deejay and sing what he wants whether we agree with him or not. Our constitution guarantees free speech and as an artiste he has/had that artistic license. He was influential, but his influence does not operate in a vacuum. His power, as we have seen, did not extend to more than a few square miles in Portmore. How we react to him as a nation is the real issue here, and based on responses to the trial it has been very telling.

    In Jamaica it appears that Kartel has become a proxy for several ills, which I find worrying, but I assure you that ‘Portmore will still have the askella’ tomorrow and ‘girls will still be setting good like the ice inna freezer; later.

    • Thanks for your comment. I have to take responsibility for you missing my point. Maybe others have too. I am completely clear about the psychological implications of the persona/person dichotomy which is outside the realm of pop culture – the domain of scholars like myself and Cooper. I am also clear about the magnitude of the evidence in this case stacked against Palmer and not Kartel. However, many feel it is pertinent to sidetrack the conversation in areas they are hardly equipped to take on.

      • For the record, the primary “domain” in which I work is not “pop culture”. My discipline is literary studies. The “persona/person dichotomy” is certainly NOT “outside the realm” of literature. It is a fundamental concept. ‘Persona’, the Latin noun for both ‘mask’ and ‘character’, probably comes from the verb ‘personare’, meaning ‘to sound through’. This resonant literary device signifies the complex strategies used by both author and fictional character to conceal (and reveal) the ‘person’. The mask perfectly fits my reading of the character Vybz Kartel.

  4. I know nothing whatsoever about dancehall, frankly, and I got a bit lost at times in your discussion. But I SO agree with the sentiments in your final paragraph. Well said!

  5. Thanks Petchary! I wrote it as a sort of inside/outsider, so some bits would be unclear to those who are not as keen on the performance space of the dancehall as I am. I hope your being ‘lost’ in parts wasn’t due to the overall writing. Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Petchary flagged your post and it is a great read, which I’ll have to do again to fully understand. I wrote yesterday,, and may write again or not. I’m not really inclined to, if only because I am not convinced that VK/AP is more significant than any person who rises to stand in a spotlight, but to whom people want to attach more than they actually see or hear. I don’t want to say “Messaih”, but people keep gravitating or oscillating towards and around possible candidates.

  7. Sonjah, when I asked you to give a copy of your book to Adidah Palmer on the occasion of Vybz Kartel’s lecture at UWI, you said you could not afford to give it away because it’s too expensive! Now, you say it was a “refusal to associate with the now infamous lecture”. I don’t know what to believe. But I don’t suppose it matters much. ‘Truth’ is always relative!

    • Carolyn, I knew the email correspondence at the time would have come in handy so I saved it. See below what we communicated (in ascending order of course). I was clear that I could not ‘afford to do it’. ‘Afford to do it’ had nothing to do with financially affording it. It was much more. I have only now decided to publicly say it. Having left off the inverted comma in our email was to reduce the emphasis on what was a personal matter in a context of nostalgia around the lecture.
      I certainly understand.

      On Mon, Mar 7, 2011 at 6:38 AM, Sonjah Stanley Niaah wrote:
      Hi Carolyn,
      Thanks for the offer / suggestion. The truth is I can’t afford to do it. I will send a book to him when it becomes feasible.

  8. There would have been no misunderstanding had you been straightforward. The meaning of ‘afford’ was quite transparent to me in the original context. It simply meant you couldn’t cover the cost of the book. I now see that your intended meaning was rather dense.

    But it seems to me that you are asking missing punctuation marks to bear far too much weight. It just can’t fly. It would be helpful if you could explain again, in a less convoluted way, the reason for deliberately leaving off the punctuation marks. I don’t get the reference to ‘nostalgia’. And I can’t afford to misunderstand your meaning yet again.

    Then, you certainly seemed to anticipate that it might be ‘feasible’ to give Adidja/Kartel a copy of your unaffordable book at a later date. That’s an apparently undeniable ‘truth’ in your response to my request, as you, yourself, wrote. Or were punctuation marks also deliberately omitted around ‘feasible’? And are there even more hidden meanings in that cryptic email which the naked eye just can’t see?

  9. Thank you Doc. for siding with decency. This country and this generation need this. The right messages must be sent and the onus is on our generation to do so. .Continue to lead by example.

  10. It always good to read an opinion from an intellectual prospective outside of the media. Keep making your contribution….I think if our successful established artist treat the music more like an art and literature….then future for music will be bright. In other words, Artist should write books about their musical journey highlighting their personal experiences both good and bad….this will allows other to learn from their mistakes rather than having to repeat the same errors that other artist ha experience years ago…Marcus Garvey said life is too short for us to learn from our own mistakes. Sometimes it best to learn from the mistake of others…

  11. my understand on your article is that you stating that there can be positive role model in the music industry which can promote leadership amongst youth but role models such as entertainers should use their influence on positive mentoring rather than negative. Please highlight me if I miss-understand you

  12. bwoy kartel start well,but as frisco kid said,them cant handle success,the yute get the chance to be a star and end up wasting his artiste,stupid criminal,

  13. I think that we as Jamaicans has ventured away from our morals. The talent of Kartel was well wasted. Just like our national heroes he had a grip on must of poor people and he squandered it. He had chance to chance a society that is oppressed by upper class of people. However this can change dancehall for the better, not holding my breath.

  14. Good Mawnin Teacha, a suh lang mi tek fi reech yah. Laugh. All laughter aside. I just now wached your interview on Onstage via Youtube. I must say I’m truly impressed with every thing you had to say. I left a comment there and I will replicate it here. ” My Lady Sonjah, you are absolutely spot on in all your arguments, I hope the government people are listening, I hope the church people them are listening, I hope also the youths them along with the stake holders in every segment of our country, and those of us who are living away from Jamaica, take heed to what you have brought forware, and will recognize what you will bring in the future. My dear you are a BREATH OF FRESH AIR. Thank you, thank you, thank you”. Keep up the good work I will refer this blog to all my friends. May the Love and Spirit of our Ancestors and the Being of God guide you in all your movements. Blessed Love Empress.

    • Thanks very much for sharing your thoughts. The more we share and allow ourselves to be guided the more in tune we will be with the youth in particular as they try to shape the future. Bless you.

  15. So who was on trial Kartrel or Palmer? also who the hell killed “Lizard” Palmer or Adijah …oops! sorry I mean Palmer or Kartel?
    I have even heard some people say they could have convicted Kartel and freed Palmer…(dah!)
    Bottom line in the eyes of a poor illiterate fool like me, what does person versus persona have to do with it? If the grown natural born son of a woman Adijah Palmer, creates and cannot control his alter ego Vybz Kartel, and allows his creation to lead him into a “shit pot load of trouble” namely a conviction for murder and a sentence of decades in prison, then the question must be asked how could anyone but an ignoramus grant, authorize empower and license a creature of his imagination to place him squarely in the arms of the law, one step removed from death row?

    To be honest half of what you have written has gone way over my head, and thus I cannot honestly address all the issues you have raised, but I just cannot accept that someone of any intellect could create a “wanna be” like Mr Palmer/Kartel or Mr Kartel/Palmer and allow his own creation to fashion his destruction…

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