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Jailbird records: Artistes continue to churn out music behind bars

Tommy Lee Sparta. [Courtesy]

When you hear your favourite musician has been arrested, you automatically think that you might not hear from them anytime soon. This is particularly misguided as some artistes have actually done immeasurable tunes while behind bars.

In Kenya, for example, that has never been heard of. Musicians serve their time quietly and later come back to music if time allows.

“I spent three years behind bars and despite taking a break from music I actually lost personal friends,” admits Triple S who was arrested and locked up for photocopying money.

“As a struggling artist, I was neither aware of the consequences nor the government protocols to follow for that matter. The script needed at least Sh200,000 so I went ahead and photocopied a lump sum of money,” he says. Police got wind of the illegal activity and swooped in arresting him. This saw him take a three-year musical break and was later released in 2018.

The scenario is different world over. From Hip-hop to Reggae, some major projects have been cooked in jail. Tupac’s third album ‘Me Against the World’ famously debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 while he was behind bars.

X-Raided, who was termed as one of the busiest felon in hip-hop recorded over 20 albums and compilations while serving 26 years for a gang-related homicide. He actually recorded his album, Xorcist, over the phone and this remains one of his most celebrated to date.

In general, prisons do not allow inmates to record audio or video within the facility. However, some prisons have a music room or recording studio where incarcerated musicians can record music during recreational hours.

One genre that has been notorious for this craft is actually Reggae and Dancehall. Most Jamaican artistes go away to serve long jail terms but while at it, some get the privilege of churning music like they never left.

Vybz Kartel

The ‘World Boss’ as he is known is currently serving life imprisonment for a murder charge. He has been in prison since 2011 but has since been running the dancehall sphere by releasing prolific music all through.

Vybz Kartel is serving life imprisonment for a murder charge. [Courtesy]

How he has managed to record such chart-topping singles while behind bars remains a mystery as most fans presume he uses an impersonator to voice his songs. In 2016, Kartel denied that he was recording from jail and claimed that all the new releases were fruits of a massive deposit of unreleased vocal material left before his arrest.

In 2016, he released his most internationally successful album, King of the Dancehall, which peaked at number 2 on the US Billboard Reggae Charts. He also dropped his 10-track album, "To Tanesha" and his fifteenth studio album ‘Of Dons & Divas’ among many other projects from prison

Jah Cure

The king of lover’s rock, Siccature Alcock is not new to controversies and serving jail terms. Early this week he was charged with attempted manslaughter, aggravated assault or attempted aggravated assault in relation to an alleged stabbing incident last year. This is after he stabbed a Dutch promoter.

The singer who has been in jail since October last year will know his fate later this month. But as the prosecution put it, they are recommending for an eight-year sentence, with credit for time served.

This is not the first time he is facing the law as in 1999 he was sentenced to 15 years but was later released after serving eight years. While in prison, he was transferred to a correction center which had a digital recording studio. He released three albums and a number of singles. His first album ‘Free Jah's Cure The Album the Truth’ was released in 2000, it was followed by ‘Ghetto Life’ in 2003 and ‘Freedom Blues’ in 2005. His fourth album ‘True Reflections...A New Beginning’ was released barely four days after leaving the prison.

Shawn Storm

Shawn Storm recently dropped his EP, Freedom Street. [Courtesy]

This is Vybz Kartel’s protégé and just like him, he is also serving life imprisonment over the same murder facing Vybz. Introduced in the industry in 2008, his short stint saw the deejay becoming a household name until 2011. Although his absence physically in the industry doesn’t translate to absence musically. He recently dropped his EP, Freedom Street.

Tommy Lee Sparta

Early this week,  Incarcerated dancehall artiste Tommy Lee Sparta was moved to another prison after suffering injuries after a bust-up with warders.  The celebrated artist is serving three years for illegal possession of firearms. Last year he made news after collaborating with Vybz Kartel while both were in prison. The song dubbed ‘Dark Ages,' features five full verses, was released as a surprise collabo on YouTube and has gained over 2.9 million views.