An examination of the penal system in Jamaica would show that a number of local artistes among those present.
With the recent incarceration of dancehall artiste Tommy Lee Sparta, it seems that there is a growing trend of Jamaican dancehall artistes facing prison time for various offences.
While the number of young men being arrested for various offences in Jamaica is not unusually high at this time, the high profile-nature of arrests and convictions when popular artistes are involved puts them, and the entire industry, under the microscope.
This is especially notable in recent times, against the background of the ongoing debate on whether there is a correlation between violent crimes and the violence-laced lyrics that some artistes are known for.
Tommy Lee Sparta is now serving a three year sentence for illegal gun and ammunition possession, and he follows on the heels of fellow dancehall act Laden, who was sentenced to four years in prison last year on a similar charge.
Tommy Lee, a Flanker, Montego Bay native, has had various run ins with the law, and was detained extensively under a State of Emergency provision recently. He had indicated his intent to sue for his detainment, but that matter is now up in the air following this recent conviction.
The entertainer’s legal troubles are far from over, as the police have recently indicated that based on ballistic reports, the illegal gun found in his possession is responsible for at least two murders.
While his lawyer denies his involvement in criminal activities and the investigations continue, the artiste has has joined former stablemates Vybz Kartel and Shawn Storm in lock-up, as they serve life sentences for murder. They were sentenced in 2014.
Also in lock-up are veteran deejay Ninja Man and his son Janiel, who were imprisoned in 2017 for murder and are currently serving life sentences. High ‘flossing’ Flippa Mafia is currently serving 25 years in a United States prison facility on a cocaine rap.
The Gargamel Buju Banton has also had his spell in prison – a 10 year sentence in the US on drug trafficking charges. Although he was given a hero’s welcome on his return to the island, Banton’s legacy has been permanently tainted by the conviction. Reggae singer Jah Cure has also spent time in prison, for rape.
Prior to these recent incarcerations, there are other entertainers who are still doing time such as Zebra, who has been in lock up since 2010, serving a 30-year sentence for rape and buggery.
Zebra had a previous rape conviction and was released in 2008.
Looking to join them soon is up-and-coming act Shokryme, a protege of Aidonia who plead guilty to gun possession in February, and is now awaiting sentencing.
Rising star Rykital is currently out on one million dollars bail after being charged with illegal possession of a firearm. He too will face the courts. Should he be incarcerated, he would join the growing group within the prison system.
Despite their incarcerations, however, a number of these artistes have managed to maintain their music careers from behind bars.
Vybz Kartel is still prominent, and has managed to be named artiste of the year on a number of occasions, despite being in lock-up for close to ten years.
The majority of these artistes, including Vybz Kartel, continue to profess their innocence, some of them having made appeals to have their sentences lightened.
Despite one’s position on the influence that dancehall music has on the constantly inflating levels of crime in Jamaica, the fact that some of our artistes continue to run afoul of the justice system is definitely not a good look for Jamaica’s number one export – music.