Vybz Kartel And Personal Development: 4 Lessons

Categories Be Inspired, Caribbean, Practical Advice
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This Post Isn’t For Everyone. Learn To Deal. 

Yeah, I know. This is a personal development blog. You don’t expect me to be discussing Vybz Kartel and personal development.

Gotcha. 

For those who are horrified and offended by the very idea that Vybz Kartel, a convicted murderer serving time for the death of Clive “Lizard” Williams, could ever be used as an example of #PersonalDevelopmentGoals, please enjoy some of my other articles. 

There. We’re friends again!

For those still here who appreciate that you can do both horrific and good things as a human being because humans are complicated, read on. After all, I’m not excusing Vybz Kartel one bit. I’m just explaining that personal development motivation can be found anywhere.

Who is Vybz Kartel?

Yep, you read that correctly.

Is. Not are. 

Vybz Kartel (pronounced “Vibes Cartel”) is not a group of individuals as the name “cartel” suggests. He is instead one man with the government name of “Adijah Palmer”.  And Mr. Palmer has had massive cultural and social relevance in Jamaica and the Caribbean over the past 15 years that is well, frankly, inspirational. 

Vybz Kartel is a talented Jamaican dancehall superstar that sings about sex, violence, and social justice. He has had an immense impact, both for good and evil, on Jamaican culture. Some believe he merely reflects an increasingly violent culture while others accuse him of being the catalyst for the violence Jamaica is experiencing today. As always, the truth likely lies somewhere in the middle but he is a cultural force to be reckoned with.

Kartel has therefore gone even further than his personal brand as a musician and into the land of being a cultural icon.

Why Consider Vybz Kartel? Couldn’t you choose someone else?! 

I’m a baby human rights lawyer. I also practice in the 21st century and as such, it is important that my techniques reflect not only modern life but modern tactics to gain attention and get leverage.

Human rights are personal development on a grand scale and as such, I think it is important that I take tips and suggestions from thought leaders.

Like it or not, he’s a thought leader. And like it or not, he uses clearly effective modern tactics to gain attention and get leverage.

I believe that information and inspiration are everywhere. Every single person we meet has something they can teach us. This has been the reality of my life. I look for that in each person I meet.

I’m also a huge fan of Vybz Kartel. Huge. Ask my friends. I’m gonna encourage them to comment on this post so you can see that this article isn’t some purely intellectual debate, this is a position I have maintained for years. 

And yes, I recognize the tension between being a human rights defender and loving Kartel. But, as you’ll see below, I have to love that tension in order to be of any use to the space I serve. 

Vybz Kartel has lessons to teach us. And since I’m a personal development blogger, I’m going to try to make the lessons I have taken from his life relevant to all who read this.

The Importance of Reachable Heroes for Personal Development

A good chunk of being successful is finding proven and successful strategies and replicating them where you can. There is absolutely no point in reinventing the wheel. Someone whose path you can start executing tomorrow because they have a ton in common with you is a “reachable hero”.

It stops being depressing and starts being reasonable if the person I admire has things in common with me.

  • Are they female?
  • Do they have locs?
  • Are they sometimes loud?
  • Do they like reading?
  • When you find someone like that, someone who you have things in common with, their life path starts looking achievable.

Vybz Kartel is my reachable hero.

*shrugs*

I could choose someone like Steve Jobs I suppose. He has impacted my life since I’ve only used Mac computers. #AppleFanGirl

Apple Performa - 4 Ways Vybz Kartel Makes Me A Better Human Rights Lawyer + Bonuses - You Need Life Skills
This is an Apple Performa computer. I owned this in the days when the apple in the center was a rainbow of color and the OS was at 8.

I, however, don’t know enough about his life and where he is from for him to be an inspiration to me. He’s well…out there. A mystical creature who did really great things but was sometimes mean to people. I admire him but he doesn’t motivate me to learn and to do things. 

Using Reachable Heros As a Template: Rose Marie Antoine

I’ve had the benefit of being taught by and working alongside, one of the rock stars of modern Caribbean law, Professor Rose-Marie Belle Antoine

She is a Caribbean woman. She went to my law school. She taught at my law school. She got her LL.M. (Masters in Law) and her LL.D. (Doctorate in Law) from really fancy schools. She has written some of the most respected texts on Offshore International Law. And I had the chance to work with her when she was a Commissioner and the President of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. 

How do I know all about her?

Google. 

I did a Google search, found her CV online, and tried to figure out how she became well…her. It’s 10 million pages long and scary and impressive all at once BUT it gives a good template. 

So, I looked at that CV and tried to reverse engineer it. When you look at someone’s whole life, you appreciate that it didn’t take 10 seconds to become that great. Rather, it is a million little steps that add up to the person you see before you today. Sometimes it is difficult to figure out what to do next in life. I’ve taken the position that there is no need to be super creative, just find someone you admire and start there.

After all, if someone who looks like you and is where you are from has done it, you can do it too!

Vybz Kartel as a Reachable Hero 

No matter how you personally feel about Vybz Kartel and his music, he is a thought leader in a way that many politicians and business leaders have hoped to become.

I am also a fan of his music. There was a time in my life when I was sure that, since his studio was near my house, that only he and I knew some of the songs he put out. It is, therefore, as a result of being an early fan, that I have been able to watch the trajectory of his career and come to some conclusions on what I can learn from him.

Yes, I know this is the part where I’m supposed to say

“I’m no longer a Vybz Kartel fan. I am an educated woman and I am enlightened as a result of going to university.

Vybz Kartel is bad and education has taught me so!”

Nope! Not true at all. Still a huge Vybz Kartel fan!

How huge?!

Fever is the song I taught my classmates from Lativia, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Colombia, Ireland, Ethiopia, and Canada last year.

They know “XOXO” very well now.

*takes a bow*

Vybz Kartel is part of the cultural context of the Jamaica in which I was raised. This is even more true for persons, like me, who came from Portmore, and so felt a deep affinity with his lyrics and the culture he represented.

How is he like me?

  • Black
  • Jamaican
  • Portmore (Portmore City!!!!!)

As someone who has had a massive impact on culture, something I also hope to achieve, if he can do it, I can do it too!

After all, there is no benefit to me saying I want to serve Jamaica if I pretend I don’t understand Jamaican culture. The good, the bad, and everything in between. 

4 Lessons From Vybz Kartel That Make Me A Better Human Rights Lawyer

Vybz Kartel has had a lengthy career and, even today, his songs dominate the radio and parties. He, therefore, has many lessons to teach, if only we would pay attention. And they all contribute to personal development!

Lesson 1: Knowing And Speaking To The Culture Where You Operate Is Extremely Important

Vybz Kartel trades on culture. He is both aware of the prevailing culture and pulls from that to make popular music. One of his most popular songs, Clarks, was built on merely documenting a large part of Jamaican culture. So much so that there is a Clarks 2 and Clarks 3

Clarks were, and for some still are, the definitive male shoe brand. They are expensive and durable British shoes that are extremely popular in Jamaica. Kartel didn’t sing a song about Pumas or Sperry’s. He sang a song that reflected Jamaican life in a way that most Jamaicans took for granted.

Jamaicans loved their Clarks. So, Kartel paid homage to that.

I bet if he was out now he’d sing a song about Instagram…on Instagram. And become a regional Instagram celebrity. After all, cell phones have already featured in his songs

Current Events: ZOSO

There are current events that happen all the time in a country. His skill was to take those current events and make a song about them, the most effective hack of culture ever devised. Like him or not, there are several issues that he would likely speak about. And one of those is the Zone of Special Operations in St. James.

With songs like “Emergency”, he became popular, not because he created a song from thin air but rather that he put into words the concerns of ordinary people.

What I’ve Learned

As a human rights lawyer, I have to know the culture and time in which I operate. And that sounds really uncontroversial until you see campaigns that are directed to Jamaicans. Campaigns that show a clear lack of understanding of current Jamaican culture. And how much that culture can change.

And not the culture of 10 or 50 years ago when children were supposedly well-behaved, politicians were good, and nobody raped the children.

The culture of today day.

I can’t afford to be romantic about what supposedly was. To have any impact, I need to know what the culture actually is. And then do something about it.

The most powerful leverage that anyone can have is speaking their truths to their community using modern technology, Anything else is a recipe for failure.

Lesson 2: You Need To Put Out Content Extremely Frequently. You Never Know What Will Work Otherwise.

Kartel had an amazing work ethic. He would allegedly go to the studio every single day to voice songs.

Every. Single. Day.

And that meant he had material to put out every single week. And not just one song a week. He was good at releasing multiple songs a week.

While some dancehall artists would put out a song every 3-6 months, and some of those songs would become hits, Kartel put out so many songs that he didn’t need to wait for feedback as to whether the song connected with individuals or it didn’t. He knew immediately.

That means that when top 10 countdowns were being played, of the 20 songs he may have released that month, at least 5 would be on the countdown. That means he didn’t judge what people would like, spend forever perfecting it, then sending it out. He did the work, sent it, and then the marketplace gave him feedback.

What I’ve Learned

Similarly, the message of protecting our children from sexual predators, the importance of access to health care, the responsibility of parents to their children and children to their parents are all human rights issues that need to go before the public. But we cannot spend months crafting what we think is the perfect message behind closed doors.

We must instead put the message out in several different forms and in several different ways. We must wait for the people of our country to give us feedback on each of these campaigns and make adjustments along the way to have them create more impact. We will never know otherwise which wording and which viewpoint is most effective in order to do more like that.

We cannot have change without people first connecting with our content.

Lesson 3: Complex Phenomena Have Complex Solutions: The Case of Bleaching

Lightening the skin with the use of products or pills is referred to as “bleaching” in Jamaica. It is generally understood to be done by people in depressed urban communities or “ghettos”.

The general logic says that, as a result of being poor, some individuals seek to gain social status through other means. In Jamaica, where the color of your skin brings social benefits, those who consider themselves to be darker seek to make themselves lighter though the use of these products to gain the benefits. Those benefits could be anything from a higher income, be considered more beautiful, and even an education.

Often, however, while some individuals may receive those benefits within their communities, wider society often looks on them with disdain. They have become a “bleacher”. Someone who, many believe, hate themselves so much that they would want to change the color of their skin.

And that sounds great if you want to sweep the causes and effects of lighter skin on life prospects in Jamaica under the rug.

You hate yourself. Stay in your corner. Aspire to be “better” though “hard work” and “dedication”. If you make money, you already benefit from society so there is no need for you to bleach. Don’t associate lighter skin with a better life, even if that is all you see around you. And whatever you do, don’t bleach. Bleaching is wrong.

That thought process worked well until Vybz Kartel started bleaching.

Vybz Kartel came on the scene as a dark skin black man. His earlier songs like “Jersey” show that. Over the years, however, he gained wealth and prestige in Jamaica. He was making serious money and was very popular on the local and international scene.

At this point, Jamaicans would consider that he had achieved all the social signifiers of being rich and famous. He made it!

Then he started bleaching. And that raised a difficult question for Jamaicans.

“Why would a man who has achieved many of the high status signifiers in Jamaica STILL feel that bleaching or being lighter gave him more benefits and credibility? What about Jamaican culture and society would lead him to believe that his hard work wasn’t enough.”

Now, he has maintained that his decision to bleach was a way to allow his tattoos to be more visible. But he was the first popular figure I knew who pushed the conversations around bleaching because he defended his decision to do it in a space where the easy answer “bleaching is wrong”, wasn’t enough.

What I’ve Learned

There are no easy solutions to complex issues. If it looks easy, you are probably missing a part of the puzzle or don’t know enough about it. It makes no sense to allow people from Jamaica or elsewhere to feed us canned solutions to complex problems. 

And that is a trap too easy to fall into. 

Lesson 4: The Caribbean Is Much Smaller Than We Realise

Vybz Kartel is a Jamaican artist with a regional impact. And this has been a pleasure for the people who enjoy his music and a problem for regional leaders who consider him to be a reason the region has become more violent. 

Wealth inequality, diminished job prospects, slow economic growth, the importation of guns, and the like are much harder to blame than a skinny dancehall artiste. Meh. Such is life.

I know the impact Kartel has across the region because I have seen it. While the Gaza vs Gully war raged in Jamaica, I saw communities in Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados that had just as many people choose sides as within Jamaica. And as many walls bearing “Gaza” or “Gully”, a decision by those citizens to be part of the dispute.

Even better, Vybz Kartel allowed me to explain where I live!

Many outside Jamaica know the capital, Kingston, and tourist hotspots like Montego Bay and Negril. I consistently received questions as to where I lived in relation to those places.

Until Kartel.

Person in Trinidad: Where do you live?

Yoo Need More Jodi: About 30 minutes outside Kingston.

Person: Ooh, what’s the name of the place?

Yoo: Portmore.

*look of confusion*

Yoo: Gaza.

Person: Ooooh! Kartel!

You don’t understand how big a deal that day was for me. I live in a place people outside my country can recognize.

Score!

What I learned

Across the Caribbean, ideas spread. And some ideas spread rapidly. Though we are all different, modern technology, smart marketing, and an engaged thought leader can spread ideas across islands in a way that an island specific campaign may never achieve. My job is to find the idea that spread to forward human rights goals.

Vybz Kartel has also created a tribe. Maybe it’s because I’m in the middle of Seth Godin’s Tribes [Affilliate Link] but he has done an amazing job of not only connecting people to be part of his cause. A clearly problematic cause at times, but still a tribe of Kartel fans.

Bonus Lessons:

Lesson 5:

Suppressing freedom of expression lead to my mother asking to hear “Romping Shop” for the first time. Therefore, the best way for the government to spread a Kartel and Spice song, or any idea, is to tell people not to share it.

Lesson 6:

Accountability is important. I love Kartel but his conviction made it clear that the system of justice applied to all. His trial was the Jamaican O.J. Simpson case. I even went to court to see! The aim is to start applying that same principle to everyone in the country. After all, we can’t convict Kartel but not prosecute anyone for the massacre in Tivoli.

I wrote a whole LL.M. thesis about accountability in Jamaica after the 2010 Tivoli Massacre. These things bother me.

Lesson 7:

Jamaican Creole is the language of connection. English is the language of prestige. Kartel sings in Jamaican Creole. Well, except in “British Love” and “Proper English” because sometimes you need to change things up.

Lesson 8:

People continue to search for an authentic voice to listen to. Even behind bars, there has been perhaps only 1 artiste that has come close to making an impact. His absence hasn’t pushed other voices to come forward so “Infrared” with Masicka is one of the hottest songs.

Lesson 9:

He doesn’t speak down to the public. So many of my colleagues do however with the basic idea that Jamaicans are backward and stupid for not agreeing with their position. Always a losing method.

So, who are you using as your #PersonalDevelopmentGoals? The options are endless. You can learn from anyone, anywhere.

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12 thoughts on “Vybz Kartel And Personal Development: 4 Lessons

  1. Finally carved out some time to read this post, I was engaged and intrigued. And as an avid kartel fan myself, I related on many levels. Great one Yoo.

    -hold it! – …

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