I went down to Kingston, Jamaica in mid-June to record with Vybz Kartel and I’ve finally gotten this post together.
In June, Kartel was watching every single World Cup game, so he was waking up around 8am which left me a little concerned as to whether he would be up for some late night recording. I flew down on a Monday and our first scheduled session was for 3pm on Tuesday, but by 7pm there was no word from him and things weren’t looking too good. Still, I had heard stories that I would likely be waiting, so I was ready for it. By 9pm, I heard the arrangement was to meet him on the side of the road at a specific time—to be waiting in a car—and then follow him to a studio that he was not going to disclose in advance. That’s exactly what happened. When the time came, we linked on the side of a road and subsequently began a twisting and turning journey through the streets of Kingston following Kartel to the mysterious studio.
Walking into the building that housed the studio, there was a dark room with a few young women half asleep on two black leather couches. Past them was the doorway to the actual studio. Once inside, the door was locked and we got right to work. The first track I wanted Kartel to voice was the least dancehall track I had brought, a sort of 135 bpm, half time thing which you can hear a snippet of in the video below. Kartel liked it straight away and said he was good to voice it. His engineer Notnice was manning the computer and handling the recording duties. Kartel had him play the track repeatedly while he messed around with his Blackberry. After a few minutes he was ready to go. Notnice turned off the lights and Kartel sat in front of the mic with the music in his headphones and smoked as the beat played. After a minute or two, he began to make wordless, vocalizations over the track. Notnice was recording everything. I could barely discern any melody, but he was clearly searching it out. Occasionally he would ask Notnice to play back a section to listen to a part and think about it. Within ten minutes, he had started putting down full lines with words and melody. He wasn’t too particular about the lines or fragments of melody being in linear order. He might do the fourth bar in the chorus before going back and doing the first three. Things like that. The pace started to pick up and the song was taking shape very quickly. In addition to writing the words and melody, he was hearing the mix of the song in his head and instructing Notnice to take this word or that word and double it and pan each take. Within an hour or maybe an hour and a half, the first song was done.