George Graham

Jamaica’s Sinister Side

After Life Sentence, an Uncertain Fate for Vybz Kartel

I haven’t set eyes on my native Jamaica in more than 30 years, and my memories are mellowed by the rosy glow of nostalgia. But, obviously, life in the island can still be really nice. My brother Bill and his wife Faye holiday there every year and they have nothing but praise for the Jamaica they experience. And relatives who still live in Jamaica say they wouldn’t think of  leaving.

But that’s the good news.

The bad news is the island’s dependence on the international drug trade. Just a hop, skip and jump from America and the South American mainland, it’s a convenient stop on global drug routes, and the fertile mountainsides produce bountiful crops of marijuana, which we know as ganja.

Back in my boyhood, ganja was a semi-secret vice, prosecuted unenthusiastically by the authorities and indulged in mainly by the poorest Jamaicans. Now, from what I read and hear, ganja – and the harder drugs – are the island’s economic mainstay.

Drugs are also inextricably associated with the music that has put the island on the map.

And drugs lead to dark and sinister crimes, including gun running and murder.

Take the case of Vybz Kartel (above), one of Jamaica’s most famous rap stars. His songs and his life share a message of defiant degeneracy.

Kartel, whose original name is Adidjah Palmer, has been sentenced with two associates to life in prison for the murder of Clive “Lizard” Williams. The court found that Williams was beaten to death and then chopped into pieces because he was suspected of stealing a couple of guns.

It wasn’t the rapper’s first run-in with the law. He was arrested in 2011 on drug charges, for example. And it wasn’t the first time he was charged with murder. A previous murder charge against Kartel and two co-defendants was dismissed after prosecutors failed to show that they killed businessman Barrington “Bossy” Burton.

Kartel’s lawyer says he will appeal the murder conviction, so this may not be the end of the road for the Jamaican superstar.

And even if the conviction is upheld, Kartel’s recording career could continue. According to the Jamaica Observer, the island’s rehabilitation program includes access to a fully operational recording studio. Jamaican artist Jah Cure recorded three albums during his imprisonment for rape in the early 2000s, with proceeds going to the rehabilitation program.

To me, this shows a sad dependency on a sick culture.

With stars like Kartel as role models, Jamaica’s youths are being short-changed. It is sad that so much of the island’s economy depends on music that glamorizes the toxic messages of a violent drug culture.

Click for more on the Kartel case.

About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for