Talkin’ Music: Incarcerated Jamaican Reggae Superstars

In college, I was once privy to a conversation that included the advice: “If you want to make some real money, you should pursue a career in Native American Casino Law.” For many years afterwards, whenever I was short on scratch, I would think: “Goddamnit! Why am I not rolling in the big bucks working for Big Chief Double-‘um-Down-on-‘um-Soft-7?”

But now I realize that there’s something even more lucrative than Native American Casino Law: Jamaican Reggae Superstar Law.

Two of reggae’s biggest hitmakers have been in the courtroom this summer. Last month, Vybz Kartel was acquitted in the first of his two pending homicide trials. But this busy legal schedule hasn’t stopped Vybz from releasing a new album, The Voice of the Jamaican Ghetto – Incarcerated by not Silenced. (I think the cover of this album is intended to be a photograph of Vybz looking like Malcolm X, but doesn’t it kinda look like what Malcolm X might’ve looked like with Down Syndrome?) In addition to ten songs, the album includes twelve spoken-word interludes, in which the “Worl’ Boss” pontificates over everything from political oppression to motherhood via a prison telephone. If you’re like me, any time a person offers to give me advice, the first question I ask is: “are you calling me on a prison telephone?” And the next question is: “how many face tattoos do you have?” (I can never get enough advice from people who think it’s a good idea to permanently mark up their face.)

The other Jamaican reggae superstar who was recently in the courtroom is Buju Banton. In 2009, Buju was sentenced to ten years for drug trafficking. [A word of advice for any up-and-coming reggae artists: if you’re looking for a way to increase your earning potential, try clothing design not cocaine trafficking. And yes: I’m calling you from a prison telephone…]

Two weeks ago, Buju won an appeal involving juror misconduct.  Even with this victory, it still looks like we’ll all have to wait until 2019 for that new Buju album, especially seeing how Buju’s plans for a retrial hit a snag when his lawyer Chokwe Lumumba was elected mayor of Jackson, Mississippi.

Wait, did I just type that correctly?

The mayor of Jackson, Mississippi is named Chokwe Lumumba? And his political resume includes being the guy that’s not getting Gargamel out of the joint?

Here’s my ‘Big Three’ of incarcerated Jamaican reggae superstar tracks:

Lebron: Summertime by Vybz Kartel. This is the quintessential Jamaican summer anthem. And if anyone has ever heard me use the phrase “treat me like a Jamaican flotation device,” this reference comes from the song’s video. In fact, why don’t I just post a YouTube clip of the video here…

On second thought, maybe that’s not a good idea. I don’t want to be held accountable for disseminating images of Vybz Kartel. Suffice it to say that he is surely one of the ugliest people on the planet. Imagine a less attractive Michael Jackson covered in Russian prison tattoos. [Yeah, it’s not pretty!]

DWade: Circumstances by Buju Banton. “Circumstances made me what I am/No, I’m not a violent man.” Good luck getting a jury to believe that one!

Otherguy: I Smoke Weed by Vybz Kartel. This has to be one of the most straightforward songs ever written. It’s so simple that it makes Pass the Dutchie appear to have been written by Pink Floyd.

Mike Miller: Bondage by Buju Banton. “Longing to go to that place where I’m from/But I am in bondage.” You can say that again, Gargamel!

Vybz

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