Jamaican Rude Boys [Subcultures/Music]

Rude boyrudeboyrudierudi, and rudy are slang terms that originated in 1960s Jamaican street culture, and that are still used today. In the late 1970s, there was a revival in England of the terms rude boy and rude girl, among other variations, being used to describe fans of two-tone ska. The use of these terms moved into the more contemporary ska punk movement as well. In the UK, the terms rude boy and rude girl are used in a way similar to gangsta, yardie or badman.

Often times we ignore the influence of external constraints or stimuli on the formation and development of the creative and dynamic ethos of Jamaican cultural art forms. Those persons however, who in instances do so allocate an inequitable degree of attention to it. What we often times do is to render excessive levels of merits or demerits upon those individuals or collectives whom we believe in our opinion are soley or collectively responsible for the creation or refurbishing of those ethological phenomena in question. Therefore, I will direct my focus on two such ethological phenomena in the Jamaican musical art construct; these are the concept of “Rudie” or “Rude boy” and the anti-system reverberations towards freedom, within the context of political, social and economic external constraints or stimuli.  More formally, what this essay aims to do is to explore the socio, political basis for the rude boy theme in Jamaican popular music and to critically discuss anti system sentiments and notions of freedom in Jamaican popular music.

          To truely explore these notions we must first establish a skeletal framework of arguments and definitions, which will become the basis of our discussion. When we speak of anti-system we refer to those expressions verbal or otherwise that opposes selected manifestations of the state.  First and foremost we must asses thoroughly the economic climate which existed during the emergence and entrenchement of these ethological paradigms. Secondly I will seek to disect the then prevaling social and political dictates of this period. Thirdly we must then assess how those existing socio-political conditions provided the impetus necessary for the development of rude boy and anti-system sentiments in the Jamaican musical art expressions. Finally I will endevour on a quest to examine how the emergence of these anti-system reverberations found expression through Jamaican popular music.

In contextualizing the economic circumstances that influence the rude boy theme in the 1960’s, we ought to initiate our quest at the point where Jamaicans were first granted the right to vote. This standpoint is based on my notion that though mass inequality and poverty did exist before; the majority of Jamaicans then had an excluded role in determining those persons who formulated the policies that governed them and the economic context in which they exist. In addition it was at this point that the modern politico-economic ontology of Jamaica began to take shape; denoting it as an important era in the economic developement of the island. Now 1944 saw the first election held with universal adult suffrage and was won by the JLP, which adopted an increasingly capitalist philosophy. During this time prosperity was seen on the island with greater diversity than ever before.” With developing industries and increased exports, the port cities became bustling centers of commerce and rural dwellers flocked into the cities in pursuit of ‘the good life.’ Into the 1960s, tourism continued to take an increasingly significant role in the economy, and both bauxite and agricultural exports grew” (jamaica-guide.info).

In 1962, Jamaica became an independent nation and, led by the JLP, continued to prosper and develop. By the early 1970s, Jamaica was the world’s leader in bauxite, exporting to Canada, the United States, Norway and the USSR.

In 1972, however, power changed hands. The PNP, led by Norman Manley’s son, Michael, won the election, and Michael Manley led the nation toward democratic socialism. The industrialization of Jamaica halted in mid-stride, and while the nation was on the fence, trying to decide whether to industrialize or return to its agricultural roots, the economy faltered.” The cities didn’t have the housing or jobs to support the massive influx from the countryside. Inflation soared more than 50 percent, unemployment skyrocketed, the older neighborhoods that these people settled in became today’s inner city slums, and society became increasingly polarized.”(Jamaica-guide.info)

Acccording to Jamaica guide.info full-fledged war broke out leading up to the election of 1976. Gangs terrorized towns to show their support for the JLP or the PNP, pressuring innocents to sway their votes and breaking into gunfights in the streets. In the end, Manley and the PNP won the election, and continued the progress of developing ties with Cuba, a move that elicited ire from the United States. America sanctioned Jamaica and prepared to topple the government due to its apparent communist economic direction. The sanctions imposed led to Businesses pulling out of the Jamaican economy, tourism dropped, and the economy plummeted. This led to even further accelerations in poverty and reduced standards of living especially within the inner city slums and neighborhoods and it is within this economic context that concept of the rude boy emerged.

We now turn our attention to the socio-political context that contributed to the developement of the rude boy expressions and the transition of these expressions into Jamaican popular music. As a result of the pressing economic conditions outlined earlier, those persons who were particularly more vulnerable to these circumstances namely those black, unemployed, uneducated and alienated persons of the inner urban dwellings lived in some of the most diplorable of social conditions. Dr. Hutton a noted scholor on Jamaican musical art forms; in his article made made reference to an 1892 gleaner publication; which described a section of Kingston known as Smith’s village, which later would become a component of the wester Kingston constituency. The publication described the area as “disgraceful and filthy and principally inhabited by labourers and those of our population who lived from hand to mouth” Caribbean quarterly, vol. 56. No 4)  .   The publication also made note of the substandard dwellings conditions and the proneness of these areas to deseases due to the improper sanitative conditions that existed. In addition the publication postulated a very important point; it asserts that in “Smith Village everything was favourable for those who have any inclination to break the laws as persons have so become accustom to acts of violence and deviancy” (Caribbean quarterly, vol. 56. No 4).

These circumstances therefore led to the formation of gangs within these areas as a tool for economic sustanance and a medium to respect.   According to Dr. Clinton Hutton, ‘Urban gangs such as the Mau Mau, formed in 1948/49 and the phantomn formed in 1959/60, existed in Jamaica’s capital, Kingston prior to Jamaica becoming an independent nation state in 1962 (Caribbean quarterly vol 56. No 4). However, he noted that the incetive to join these gangs was not to wreak havok or political, initially but as a means of securing refuge from the oppression of the state security apparatuses, namely the police and the depressing nature of their lot. Dr Hutton noted that the badman character portrayed by members of these gangs soon became a coveted status. It drew its appeal primarily from its similarity from those characters of American “western aand gangster movies”. Therefore one can then understand the role American cinematic arts played in furnishing the the physical and perceptive image of the rude boy character in Jamaica during this era. Dr Hutton asserts in addition that “it was this ethos of badness that a section of the post-Colonial elite would develope into a murderous tribal political theater…”(Caribbean quarterly, vol. 56. No 4).  What Dr. Hutton is postullatiing here, is the embracement by the political élite, of these deviant expressions of badness as a tool for securing their own political fortunes. This utilization of criminality for political gains led to the developement of political tribalism and gang warefare.  In addition it was this embracement that allowed for the entrenchment of the bad boy persona and its total disregard for authority of any kind. It was on this basis that this paradigmatical phenominon earned its appeal to the poor and disadvantaged Jamaicans and soon those who made the transition into the developing music industry, were therefore inclined due to their experiences, to make some references about the “rude boy”. Some of the earliest rude boy songs included  ‘ Rude boy train’ done by Desmond Dekker and the Aces and “tougher than tough” by Derrick Morgan

In both songs some level of glorificatiion is given to the rude boy. In rude “boy train”, the rude boy is released from circuit charge but soon after, he returns to his deviancies of looting and shooting. The Announcement of his release is highlighted so as to idicate to those who would have wish for him to be put away, that they have failed. Songs like Prince Busters “Ghost” gave admirationn and respect to the Rude boys; “imprinting onn the imagination and psyche of Jamaicans,… an era of violence that would shape the ontologcal terrain of  the country.” (Clinton Hutton)  There were other rude boy songs however that were’nt at all a glorification of the rude boy sentiment. Songs such as “Dance Crasher” by Alton Ellis, “Simmer Down” by the Wailers. Prince Buster’s “Judge Dread”, which in essence was a response to Derrick Morgan’s “Thougher than though”. In Judge Dread,  Prince Buster articulates a court setting where rude boys are brought before judge hundred years for their crimes, and unlike Derrick Morgan’s “tougher than tough”, the rude boy is not lucky enough to escape the long arm of the law.   All these songs were songs against the actions of rude boys.    These pro-rude boy sentiments where reflective or can be said to be as a result of the socio-economic context that existed during this period. It was this context that provided the impetus or basis necessary to facilitate the construction of a nuevo paradigmatical sub culture that shaped the context within which the Jamaican musical expresssions drew its sustainance. Therefore these rude boy songs were an imitation of the reality that existed; and as such reflect the artist personal support or rejection of the rude boy persona.

The rude boy theme however, was not the only emerging neo-sentiment in Jamaican popular music during this era, as a result of the Socio-political and economic realities. The social and political order of the time; facilitated the oppression of and the development of feelings neglect and uselessness by the lower classes. This feeling of oppression was problably more impactful on the Rastafarian communites in Jamaica and generally the poor and disenfranchised. The destruction of the Back-o-wall community in western Kingston, led to the displacement of a large number rastafarians who according to Dr. Clinton Hutton, “were already refugees from pinnacle”, a rastafari community destroyed by the police. These Rastas were probably the most unfree and most abused by the system. In addition the bulldozing of shanty town in West Kingston, led to the destruction of over “1500 shacks”(Caribbean quarterly, vol. 56. No 4)   leaving over “100 children homeless” (Caribbean quarterly, vol. 56. No 4) across western Kingston. Dr Hutton asserts that over 2000 poor Jamaicans lost their residents from the destruction of back-o-wall to that of Shanty town. This Dr. Hutton noted as a “clear symbol of postcolonial injustice and misuse of power, the muse of hurt, bitterness annd resentment, segregation and instability.” These incidents of continued misuse of power to displace and disrupt the lively hood of many poor inner city Jamaicans; led to direct active and passive protest against the system of goverment and its aparatuses. Again, songs emerged relecting these circumstances. Among these were Desmond Dekker and the Aces “007(Shanty town)”, and Prince Buster’s “Shanty Town”. In “shanty town” Prince Buster illustrates the heartlessness of the police and those persons who bulldoze the homes of these persons in Shanty town; even as people stand powerlessly as there homes are being destroyed.

However the perspective of glorifying and/or condemning the rude boy began to transform, heading into the 1970’s as it “lost its currency”(Caribbean quarterly, vol. 56. No 4) . What emerged was a more humanistic approach towards how the rude boy persona came into existence. Therefore what this meant, was that rational explanations condemning the system and the historical experiences in facilitating the creation of the rude boy persona. Songs such as “set them free” by Lee Perry and the sensations, “Let Him Go” by the Wailers, are vaild examples of the developement of concious anti-system expressions during this period. In “set them free” a man is about to be sentenced, however his lawyer “lord defend” argues that he cannot be sentenced as his action are but a consequence of his deprivations and should be given a chance. As the rude boy theme began to lose its widespread appeal in Jamaica’s urban musical expressions; more and more songs began to emerge along the lines of freedom and anti-system reverberations. These songs not only condemn the rude boy actions and deeds, but also the system that contribute to the division and manipulation of the poor. Songs such as “Ballistiic Affair” by Leroy Smart, ” Ambush in the night” and “Rat Race” by Bob Marley and the Wailers, among many others. In “Balistic affair” Leroy Smart speaks to the division of a naton due political tribalism.  He makes references to instances of past where he and others “used to cook ital stew togather… [and] play football as one brother, but through you rest a jungle and you black a rema; you fight ‘gainst you brother”. According to Clinton Hutton, “these anti-tribalist narratives are eloquent expressions of opposition to political process antithetical to sanctity of life, peace, community and development.” (Caribbean quarterly, vol. 56. No 4).

One of the best albums ever to from the merge of the Skinhead and Rude boy culture in England.

In concluding, it must be understood that the Socio-political environment of the 1960’s played a pivotal role in the development of criminality and it’s of springs that created the catalyst necessary for its expression through Jamaican musical art forms at the time. The acceptance by the political elites of the bold unlawfulness of criminal agents led to the direct disregard for authority and what it represents. In addition, if we consider the then situation of those alienated and most disadvantaged, we realize that they will be in accordance to most things that will guarantee them the respect and status most of their compatriots lack and as such they fall prey to the tentacles of those politicians who for their own political stunts who seek to secure their political future at the expense of the most vulnerable. Those who fell easy prey began to command power they never thought possible and as such conduct a life of fame, power and glamour; a life most coveted. It was this appeal of the rude boy character that gave credit to those songs in support of the rude boys. However we must not make the mistake of generalizing, as of the songs about rude boys condemn the persona, due to his careless, heartless and criminal actions. As the rude boy theme began to lose its appeal going into the 1970’s persons began to express more humanistic and rational narrations of the rude boy character. This approach was on the basis that the rude boys actions are not necessarily is fault entirely but are as a result of the soci-political and economic context in which he exist. Many of these songs at this point started to express disgruntlement with the current system and its oppression of the poor as well as political violence and tribalism. These notions of freedom and anti-system reverberations began to outdo the rude-ism of the time and emphasized a more conscious and peaceful approach to life.

This post is a combination of wikipedia
and a Davor Bailey blogpost.