It was only a few months ago that Vybz Kartel, quite possibly dancehall’s greatest lyricist ever, was the talk of the town. Even from behind bars, Kartel was putting out more hit songs than any other entertainer out of Jamaica.
Fast forward in time and Buju Banton’s release from prison is only days away; all of a sudden he is all the reggae and dancehall community is thinking and talking about.
In June of this year, the biggest topic in dancehall reggae was how Vybz Kartel would become a free man after his appeal on the life sentence he is serving for murder. Today all fans care about is where Buju Banton’s first concert will be after his release.
It has been ten years since Buju was arrested at his home in Florida and eventually convicted on drug-related charges. Since that time his music has remained a staple within reggae and dancehall circles, but Buju’s fans haven’t had much in the way of new music. Vybz Kartel on the other hand was releasing new music almost every week, not only new music but hit songs.
Banton’s last studio album, the 10-track project Before the Dawn, was released in September 2010; one day after his first court case ended in mistrial and won a Grammy Award for best reggae album. A mere handful of tracks have dropped since then, most notably “Jah Army,” collaboration with Stephen “Ragga” Marley and Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley. Other releases, including the solo cut “Set up the Mic” and “Those Dayz,” collaboration with Agent Sasco, were culled from older recording sessions.
Demand for Buju Banton’s music remains high despite his prolonged absence from the recording studio. A$AP Rocky recently named him “one of my favorite reggae rappers,” while DJ Khaled stated: “I love Buju so much. His music is like praying.”
With Banton scheduled for release from McRae Correctional Facility in Georgia in weeks, anticipation is building for new recordings by the artist. “There is a big void without Buju Banton in the music,” says veteran reggae singer Cocoa Tea. “We would like to see Buju free because Buju is one of I and I soldier. People make mistakes along the way and no man is perfect, but I and I love Buju Banton like how Jesus love little children… So we would love to see Buju Banton on the street.”
“He was always touring, always working. He started that work as a teenager, and he worked until he was decades into his career,” says Pat McKay, director of programming for reggae at Sirius XM. “In that time he built a world community fan base.
They still miss him and they still want to hear from him. His work still has value, it’s still quotable and the aspirations of that work will always ring true. He was consistent about what his interests were; about feeling as if he represented the voiceless. He was very, very concerned with those he felt that he spoke for.”
As for Kartel, fans are still hoping for his release this year but that is on their back burner, for now all they want is Buju Banton;s freedom and when they can see him perform after his release.