Jamaican Music

‘Rompin Shop’ Created and Manipulated Controversy

Did Vybz Kartel create a controversy to manipulate it, I wonder? 

The use Ne-Yo’s successful single ‘Miss Independence’ hit rhythm by Dance Hall  maestro Vybz Kartel on his ‘Rompin Shop’ track may have been a stroke master of genius from marketing perspective given the reported 250, 000 hits on youtube to date. Kartel primary concern here is popularity, fame and money. He knew using Ne-Yo’s rhythm was illegal, because he had not obtained legal clearance to use it, but he wanted to ride on the success of success of Ne-Yo’ track to boost his ‘Rompin Shop’ sales and popularity. EMI issued Kartel to cease and desist court order forcing him to change the riddim on his song. EMI have not asked YouTube to take down the video version of Rompin Shop, the more popular of the two videos, to date. Why? That’s another story

When The Jamaica Broadcasting Commission issued a ban on ‘Rompin Shop’ and Daggering songs, and the Jamaica Gleaner published Ardenne High School Principal, Ms Esther Tyson’s letter decrying the vulgar and sexually degrading lyrics Kartel saw another opportunity to exploit the controversy to his benefit. He jumped right into it with a letter to The Star, threats of a lawsuit against the Jamaica Broadcasting Commission and by playing the victim card in interviews.

In his letter while Kartel point about polite society’s hypocrisy and the double standard when it comes to other genre like Hip Hop and soca, with equally offensive music and public behavior being allowed go uncensored by Jamaica Broadcasting Commission. However, this may be case of the right sound coming from the wrong box. Still, despite his pleas, his inordinate lyrical focus on human base instinct-publicizing violent and vulgar sex, celebration of gratuitously violence against human life, and deliberate affronting civil society’s’ sense of decency in many of his songs, that hardly make them acceptable for public consumption, makes Kartel the least qualified candidate to argue what is fit for public morality.

Kartel’s right to record any type of music is a given, he does them everyday, but why does he think it’s his right to impose vulgarity on a public who find a lot of his music very offensive and that his work shouldn’t be challenged? Why is his right more important, or superior than his detractor’s right to not be forced to listen to his songs on the public air ways when they find them offensive? This isn’t a manufactured controversy.
Freedom of expression, as Kartel well knows is a two sided coin; the converse side is that society expects those granted that right to use it responsibly. He is an educated young man; He makes the decisions about the kinds of lyrics he chose to write. Arguably, as the best dj of his generation, Kartel’s brilliance as an artist isn’t in question, but his judgement and his ability to exercise self censorship are. All artist practice self censorship for one reason or another. Bob Marley made the tactical decision to change the title of his 1979 album from ‘Black Survival’ to simply ‘Survival.’ Jr Gong edit out lines and phrases out of his international hit “Welcome to Jamroc” which could have been perceived as offensive. Both strategic marketing decisions did not compromise the artist important message and refrained from being offensive.
He needs to explain to the larger segment of the public who find his work offensive, how responsible it is for him, within the context of Jamaica (as the gun murder capital of the world), to boast about blowing out the brains (morrow) of an innocent human being.

What makes his critics social hypocrites as he charges? No, they aren’t hypocrites or narrow–minded – they simply disagree with a lot of what he puts out. Why doesn’t Principal, Ms. Esther Tyson have the right to disagree with the lyrics of his songs? As an educator, she is qualified. She observes the children daily and provides an educational point of view on the question. As head mistress she argues that Kartel’ and the “daggering” songs have “Devastating impact on the psyche of Jamaican children.” Kartel argues that “daggering” songs have no negative impact on children. His rebuttal is self-serving. With what qualifications or evidence does he base his response? Where is his evidence that Ms. Tyson is wrong? What qualifications does Kartel bring to support his conclusion, or is it at best guess work?  Who does Kartel think Jamaican parents are more likely to believe have their children best interest at heart? Him a self-serving artist, whose primary concern is, by his own admission, is to make money and achieve fame or an educator who they entrust their children’s well being to daily?


One can make a reasonable argument that Kartel is a hypocrite too for hiding behind freedom of expression while eschewing the responsibility that is inherent in it. Isn’t it a reasonable assumption that he makes music to be popular and makes money because he has the talent? Is his primary concern with making good music? In his interviews and songs Kartel boast about how popular he is. As a recording and performing artist in the dancehall, he is well paid. Is he a hypocrite for caring more about fame and money than its negative impact on the social fabric of Jamaican society?

What I find disturbing about his attitude in all the controversy that his songs have created- is his blatantly irresponsible attitude refusing to accept that he bears some responsibility for the controversy his music creates, and his equally irresponsible attitude by defining his critics is hypocritical. Kartel’s response to Ms. Tyson by playing the victim card is cowardly – no one is asking him to cure any of the ills he succinctly points out is wrong with Jamaica. What is being asked is for him to be responsible with his lyrics and to show better judgement. Jamaica’s socio- economic problems are well documented. He is not being held responsible for them. 

He and a generation of DJ’s have succeeded in sanitizing this crude vulgarity by creating a symbiotic relationship with his audience. (One of his most memorable phrases is” go suck yu mumma”- telling Mavado to have oral sex with his mother.) Is this his idea of morally relative good music? Tell us how these public utterances show respect for mothers? If a child hears him spouting this form of depraved disrespect for mothers/women, should he/she think it is ok to talk that way about their friends or his/her own mother?

He attacks Ms Tyson’s motive by attacking her personally. That is the mark of person who doesn’t have a better argument to buttress a weak argument. Defame the messenger when you don’t like the message. He uses the Peter King thing, as sick as it is, to divert attention from the debate about his lyrics. How does he know Ms. Tyson is sexually frustrated? Why the smear? Why not present objective evidence of why vulgar songs do no harm children and Jamaican society? Why not engage his critics in a debate instead of cheap smears?

He complained that he received no accolades for making tunes “Money Fi Spen” and “Emergency.” (When Marley, et al. made far more significant positive songs, they didn’t either.) It is interesting that he is quick to use biblical reference. Does he see any of the depraved language he trades in so frequently in the Bible? The song is cute and ingenious creatively, but it is still vulgar and I don’t want my nieces in Jamaica to be exposed to it because they are not old and mature enough to know how to decipher and understand it. 

He can’t name one of his vulgar songs that have achieved international fame and recognition abroad. As slack as Shabba Ranks songs were, none of Shabba’s gold or platinum songs were chart toppers. Kartel is unable to name one internationally respected award or chart that his songs have topped. Look at Shabba, Shaggy, Sean Paul, Jr Gong, and Mavado – none of their songs that achieved international fame, recognition, and sold millions are like any of the vulgar songs Kartel does. It is interesting that Kartel associates “Rompin Shop” as easily accessible to the public as porn sites. Is porn what he wants to endorse in the public domain?

Kartel argues that “Rompin Shop” is big because everybody loves the song and it is good music. I would argue that “Rompin Shop” for its entire creativeness, may or may not be great music that is arguable. The song has become popular because Kartel appropriated the very popular rhythm from R&B singer Ne-Yo’s international hit “Miss Independence.” Adhering to the maxim any publicity is good publicity, and then he skillfully created controversy around “Rompin Shop” being banned. He manipulated the controversy with the threat of a lawsuit and strokes the controversy in several interviews.

Vybz asserts that most “decent well-thinking citizens of Jamaica,” like the song. What is his evidence? He shouldn’t presume to speak for most “Decent well-thinking citizens of Jamaica.” He didn’t ask them to find out how they feel. What makes Kartel think he is so special that his work should be above criticism?
The bigger tragedy is that given his enormous talent, he, possibly more than any other dancehall act, has what it takes to be as big as or even bigger that Shaggy or Sean Paul. But until he makes better choices about the type of music he makes and is more responsive to society, the success that Mavado and Serani are experiencing will elude him.

About the author

Winston Stan Evan Smith

Senior Editor and North East Media Coordinator for Jamaicans.com