The 51-year-old artist, whose real name is Leonard Bartley, died on July 19 at a hotel named Harlem Resort on Walkers Avenue in St. Andrew, close to Lyndhurst Road in Kingston, Jamaica. Police have confirmed that there is no foul play in his death as reports surface that the artiste was found by his friends and family members who had gone to the hotel to see him after not hearing from him.
The artist was found on the bed in his room, fully dressed, but there is no indication of foul play, the Jamaica Constabulary Force said.
Merciless shot to fame in 1994 with his hit single, “Len Out Mi Mercy,” which was followed up with his Mr. Merciless album that later led to a blossoming career in dancehall around a time when the genre was just getting attention locally and abroad.
He is also well-known for his songs “Mama Cooking,” “Gala Gizada,” “Ole Gallis,” “God Alone,” and “Mavis,” which characterized his dancehall career as a hard-hitting clash lyricist, and he also worked with several artists like Lil Jon, C-Murder, Aaron Hall, Tall Pree, Rita Marley, and Yami Bolo.
Among the highlights of his career was his participation at Sting 2000, where he lyrically killed Ninjaman, Beenie Man, and Bounty Killer in a heated battle when dance did nice and gained the reputed title of being a “warhead”.
Local dancehall experts still view that moment as one of the greatest and most historical in dancehall clash history, particularly as those artists he sparred with have their own illustrious history and accomplishments that marked them as iconic or with mogul status in dancehall. Since then, clash culture has gone to wither away as the young talent choose various other elements of dancehall to pursue.
In a news interview, the late artist’s manager said that despite his heavy contributions to the genre, it appears that his career stagnating and going no further was the silent killer that waited for the artist.
“The industry never gave Leonard his glory, that’s what killed him,” his manager Harvel “Gadaffi” Hart, said in a Jamaica Observer interview as he recalled how the artist took on battle after battle and returned to music but couldn’t get the forward he needed to last in his career.
He added that the artist became depressed and turned to the bottle to soothe him.
“When you’re doing something, and you’re not getting the appreciation, it will affect you,” Hart said. “We anno carpenter boss, we are creating music, and so you get reluctant to do things, you don’t have no energy anymore and you turn to drinking, the only thing he was resigned to was drinking.”
Hart added that Merciless wasn’t in want of do-overs as he tried many times to re-start his life, especially after he received a “fight” within the entertainment community. One of those occasions saw the artist spending 14 months in jail in Florida in the 2000s, which led to him being deported.
“He ran away to America, he came back to Jamaica because he got a little deportation. But he left Jamaica because he was depressed. This is our culture, we work so hard for it and people don’t appreciate what we’re doing here, everything was a major fight; one time, even artistes didn’t want to voice any dubplates for Stone Love because dem say Stone Love play too much Merciless,” Hart said.
According to his biography, the artist became popular due to his alliance with various sound systems and spent a chunk of his career touring with them. Although he is said to be married to a woman named Keisha-Ann Bartley, it is unclear if he has children.
Despite his part rivalry with other artists, including Bounty Killer, which brought him the name “Warhead”, he and Bounty came together on the song “No One Cares,” released in 2000.
Bounty Killer shared a tribute for his former rival. “No One Cares Feat. @warhead_merciless 1998 Rest Well Bredda,” he wrote in a caption of a photo of him alongside Merciless.
“Killa you a real G nuh chattingz. You post this January mi remember this like yesterday. Dem never rate the Artiste. Rip. Dj me like when you seh think a chatting,” Bounty wrote in graphics on the photo of him and the artist.
Meanwhile, many mourned the death of the artist as they recalled enjoying his music.
“Bounty I am 55 and all I use to listen to was you and merciless, I live in New York and it was 2 weeks ago I put on both you and merciless music I use to be at all stone love and Gemini sessions I cried when I saw r.i.p mi g,” one fan wrote on Bounty’s post.
“Damn. What a great talent lost suddenly and unexpectedly. We were just building a juggling that we were planning to cut a few more tunes from him for and out of nowhere Jah Jah call the man home. Walk good Lenny,” another said.
At the time of his death, Merciless was preparing to drop a new album with 12 tracks, a dancehall mixtape, and a gospel music album. His album, ‘Warhead Is Back’ was announced for release last year but has not dropped as yet.