When the history of post-millennial dancehall is combed over and codified, September 27, 2011 may very well end up being one of the defining days of the era. The arrest of Vybz Kartel on that day was a major blow to fans of dancehall, and for anyone who doubted it, the subsequent months without Kartel’s steady torrent of new material have reinforced just how vital a force he was. While he has released a few songs since his incarceration, his absence from the scene is deeply felt. As Vybz’s protégé Popcaan put it in a recent interview, “with no World Boss around [dancehall has] a different flavor.” Kartel commanded such attention as an artist and mass-media personality that he managed to link his success to the health and well-being of dancehall at large – he was the “dancehall hero,” after all. More than simply depriving fans of great music, September 27th may have marked the end of the Vybz Kartel era.
Epochs in dancehall history have been delineated by looking at the dominant stars of a particular time period. While any given era boasts a host of immensely talented deejays, there are always one or two that come to be the international faces of a bustling, localized scene. Shabba Ranks was undoubtedly that face in the early 90s. He was in large part responsible for the subsequent dancehall boom of the 90s, paving the way for everyone from contemporaries like Supercat, to crossover stars like Shaggy. Post Shabba; Beenie Man, Bounty Killer and Buju Banton took precedence in the mid and late 90s, with Sean Paul emerging as the international voice of dancehall from the early to mid-00s.