Death can be a great career move for popular music performers who have established a significant body of work, with the inevitable spike in visibility and sales. For example, the Business Insider reported on April 26 last year that 239,000 Prince albums were sold the day he died, and 399,000 more that weekend. The previous weekend, the purple one sold 2,500 albums.
Prince was 57 when he died. Bob Marley died at 36 years old, and the iTunes top 100 reggae albums listing is packed with his albums, Legend (Remastered) and Legend (Deluxe Edition) perennial top five occupants, as The Gleaner, relates each Saturday.
Then there is Vybz Kartel, who is literally living the ‘forever young’ experience. I had a good laugh when he grabbed five wins at the 2017 Youth View Awards (YVA), held on Saturday at the National Indoor Sports Centre. I was not chuckling because despite being in custody since 2010 and now serving a life sentence, Kartel has sufficient new material to win at as current an event as the YVA.
It is because Kartel is not a youth and has not been for a long, long time. Despite his huge appeal with the youngsters, Kartel is 41 years old – not ancient, but not a spring chicken.
Born on January 7, 1976, he ‘buss’ late for a deejay and was about 28 years old when New Millennium, the first song that made me sit up and say “blow wow, da bredda ya lyrics haaard!” came out on the album Up 2 Di Time in 2003 (the single was released earlier). Who can forget the lines “inna mi Karl Kani/wid a bokkle a tall Canei/tuff a life?/spliff a light spliff so till me high/cork a fly”. Then we counted off the months when he said “inna July de pressure pon de p….y mi apply/an’ inna April baby a cry”.
Kartel has been behind bars for almost as long as he was popular as a free man.
When Up 2 Di Time was released, he was four years older than Alkaline is now. So although there have been at least two Alka-Vybz events in Kingston where their recordings are played exclusively, they are 18 years apart.
Yup, Kartel could be Alkaline’s daddy inna real life.
Still, by virtue of being imprisoned, Vybz Kartel will continue to appeal to a youth market because his age is static. We do not see him gradually getting older or stay youthful looking and then dramatically age one day. Which is not to say that Mr Palmer would have already faded if he was on the streets, but with a fixed image of him, ‘black Kartel’ or ‘white Kartel’, he will stay forever young. As long as the music keeps coming (the debate about him continuing to record continues), he is someone the youth will award continuous forwards at sessions like Strictly Addi and titles at events when they can.
It is a curious position, forever young and alive to experience it. Just another stage – maybe the longest one – in the contrary career of Vybz Kartel.