Vybz Kartel is never out of the news and never far from controversy – but if you ignore the media circus that surrounds him (it is true that Kartel is often the Ringmaster of this chaos), then there is no doubting the ultra-sharp artist and songwriter who has rapidly cultivated a strong pop-sensibility in his songwriting in recent years.
Vybz Kartel is pretty much the embodiment of diversity in the Dancehall at the moment, and has the ability to turn his attention to hardcore Dancehall tunes, whilst equally being able to turn out heavy pop-tinged commercial tracks (e.g. Summertime) seemingly at will.
Kartel now comfortably bridges the gap between pure Dancehall and urban-pop, and his recent announcements stating that he will stop writing ‘gun tunes’ shows that he is consciously starting to position himself as a global artist (visa issues aside of course) more than ever before.
He doesn’t do it alone though.
Kartel has worked with a vast number of producers over the years, but in 2009 Vybz Kartel teamed up with producer Dre Skull, from the Brooklyn based Mixpak records, and together they released the monster Vybz Kartel hit ‘Yuh Love‘. This track had a sound that transcended pure Dancehall, without losing any of the genre’s heartbeat and edge, and went on to be a commercial and critical success.
Fast forward to 2011, and Dre Skull and Vybz Kartel have teamed up together again for his forthcoming album “Kingston Story”, and Dancehall fans can expect something more than the usual collection of recent singles and the odd filler track that can often blight many dancehall albums.
Vybz Kartel announced the album on YouTube earlier this year:
Interview with Dre Skull
We caught up with Dre Skull for some quick-fire questions on the forthcoming Vybz Kartel album, found out more about his involvement in it, and dug up a bit more on what fans can expect from it.
1) What is your involvement with the forthcoming Vybz Kartel album ‘Kingston Story’ – are you producing the whole thing, or just a select few tracks from it?
I’ve been very involved. I’ve produced all the tracks on the album and it’s also signed to my label Mixpak Records.
2) Dancehall albums can often suffer from a lack of production focus, and sometimes can be an after-thought (i.e. a hastily aggregated collection of recent singles mixed in with the odd new track) and often don’t do the more talented artists justice. What can we expect from the new Kartel album?
I think this album shows Kartel’s versatility and proves once again that he is a world class songwriter. Overall, the album is something Kartel and I thought through together and I think he delivers a compelling full length that’s going to remind dancehall fans, artists and labels how powerful a properly conceived album can be.
3) “Go Go Wine” is a great track, and certainly has a commercial or ‘radio-friendly’ feel (without losing the dancehall edge to it). Is this something that is a goal for the new Kartel album? Could we see Kartel cross-over to more commercial urban radio stations?
The goal on my end was to produce riddims that would push Kartel as an artist on the one hand and that complimented his strengths as a songwriter on the other. Musically, I do think there are number of tracks that have strong cross-over potential, so time will tell what kind of mark they make. According to the last report we got, “Go Go Wine” is getting spins on US radio in eighteen cities, so we’re feeling really good about how things are developing.
Listen to ‘Go Go Wine’ by Vybz Kartel:
4) Historically, Dancehall has a habit of being its own worst enemy – its influence on modern music is unquestioned, but just when it seems about to get the wider recognition and rewards it deserves, something happens to drag it back down. In your experience, do you feel that the modern wave of dancehall artists are more ‘smart’ about handling their approach to the global market?
I don’t know if I’m the most qualified to answer that question, but I don’t think anyone should count out dancehall on the global market. It’s such a versatile genre and it’s always pushing musical boundaries and that gives me faith that dancehall artists will continue to connect with the global market.
5) What was your first exposure to dancehall and did you become an instant convert to the genre?
Before I was really listening to dancehall per se, my introduction to Jamaican music was through the music of Lee Perry. When I first heard dancehall is was Super Cat , Shabba Ranks and a few others, and I was instantly drawn to it.
6) Which current dancehall producers do you admire at present?
Ward 21, Di Genius, Notnice.
7) What have been your personal standout dancehall riddims over the last year or so, ones that have made you sit-up and take notice?
Cosa Nostra Riddim, White Label Riddim, Peppa Riddim (check them out below…)
Cosa Nostra Riddim:
White Label Riddim:
8 ) What equipment do you create/produce your riddims with?
Mainly, I’m working in Logic Pro 9. Most of my production is in the box which is cool cause I can write tracks wherever I am. I have a Juno 106 and some other analog gear, but I don’t reach for it nearly enough anymore.
9) What else is coming from Mixpak in the future? Any more dancehall projects in the pipeline?
I have a cool uptempo single recorded with Natalie Storm and another cool single with Tifa. Hopefully both of those will be out later this year on Mixpak. I expect to keep working with Jamaican artists, so stay tuned on that but I also plan to work with some more US-based rappers
Vybz Kartel on Hype TV discussing his album and talking in depth about working with Dre Skull: