TROJAN RUDE BOY BOX SET (TJETD055) - Too often dismissed as mere hooliganism, the social ramifications, implications and the attendant repercussions of Jamaica's Rude Boy phenomenon reached far outside the confines of the ghettos of Western Kingston to echo throughout Jamaican society. The antihero Rude Boys were freedom fighters in that harshest of arenas - the ghettos of Western Kingston - but contemporary documentation of their exploits is virtually non existent and is almost entirely confined to records made during the era and photographs from a handful of contemporary LP record sleeves with the young stars parading and showing off their Rude Boy finery. It is almost as if a soundtrack exists without the film to accompany it and, as plentiful and as insightful as the music is, one can't help but feel that even at the height of Rude Boy behaviour no one, apart from the music fraternity, was willing to admit to their existence.
Almost every major (and many not so major) artists recorded Rude Boy songs. Many, such as Alton Ellis, whose stance was unwavering and unequivocal, sang in outright condemnation of the cult, whereas the Wailers were so outspoken in their glorification of the Rude Boys that their debut LP for Studio One also named them as The Wailing Rude Boys. Their first hit 'Simmer Down' was reworked over a decade after its initial release by Johnny Clarke and it is his updated version that you hear on this collection. However the majority of the records took a rather more ambivalent stance that usually somehow managed to both praise the 'Rudies' behaviour while simultaneously condemning their lawlessness and warning them all of the inevitable retribution to come.
The massive migration of young men from the countryside to the city in the early sixties proved to be a major factor in the rise of this tide of lawlessness. A large proportion of these rural hopefuls failed to find work and they soon realised that there was no hope of employment either in Kingston's overcrowded ghettos, and as Lee Perry stated in his 1964 courtroom opus, 'Set Them Free', 'A hungry man is an angry man'. Independence had seemed to throw of the yoke of Colonialism only to see it replaced with the shackles of a cultural imperialism based on consumerism and very little real change was felt in the deprived ghetto areas. At the start of the ska era music had been the dominant driving factor and although some of the early ska recordings occasionally alluded to the Rude Boys, the space that the slower and less frantic rocksteady gave to vocalists allowed them to voice the discontent that was simmering in the ghettos. Previously music itself had been sufficient to communicate solidarity and togetherness, but now language became a particularly effective means of defying the forces off oppression and of objectifying the seething discontent. The lyrics could now carry this message of disaffection fuelled by a smouldering resentment towards both the status quo and the ruling elite that could only be fully articulated through the medium of music. The Rudies were harbingers of a dramatic change in the social order and the fabric of Jamaican society and these Rude Boy records can be seen as a barometer of that social change.
Accused of causing trouble simply for the sake of it, to many the Rude Boys were heroes on a level with the mythical cowboy and gangster figures who blasted their way through the films that they loved and viewed in a near participatory manner. The glamour of an outlaw existence was glorified in films that became almost like rule books for Rude Boy behaviour and the 'spaghetti westerns' of Sergio Leone and lesser known Italian directors, with their recurrent themes of vengeful violence coupled with studied detachment, exercised so great an influence that many subsequently adopted the names of their favourite characters and actors from the silver screen. James Bond was seen as the ultimate archetypal Rude Boy and '007 (Shanty Town)', a litany of all things Rude from Desmond Dekker & The Aces, carried the cult to the rest of the world in a crossover smash hit in 1967 that is probably the most enduring record of the genre. But most of these real life legends of the Kingston ghettos are almost invariably real dead and have now assumed the mythical and legendary status of the celluloid heroes that they aspired to emulate. Their refusal to become victims of their deprived social status meant that instead they became victims of another kind.
The fact that there is such an incredible abundance of Rude Boy records serves to demonstrate the ubiquity of the cult and of just how much it touched upon all levels of Jamaican society and it is of paramount importance to never lose sight of the fact that there was always much, much more to the Rude Boys.
urgency, these gangs are gaining some sense of purpose other than
self-interest... as noted before, Rudie is aware of a wider role
[that] transcends gang and neighbourhood boundaries and arises
because Rudie is acutely aware of the suffering of people of his own
class and because he is convinced that this oppression stems from
the other 'have' society'.
And as time progressed and their situation signally failed to improve, so their disenchantments with the system began to change, from sporadic acts of personal vindictiveness towards a more meaningful type of aggression. They began to see that perhaps there could be a point to their disruptive behaviour and that there was a real possibility of working towards the eventual overthrow of a system that denied them all that they felt was rightfully theirs:
'...the point of
violence. The only restraining factor may be the lack of
comprehensive organisation... Rude Boy is that person, who is
totally disenchanted with the ruling system... and the hatred is
pointed... to all that class of persons who occupy the middle rung
How ironic that it would not be long before the plethora of Rude Boy records and the standing that they gave to the Rudies was initially envied and then emulated by the very class is despised.
'The number of Rudie
tunes on the airwaves reflects the increased status accorded Rudies
by this other Afro-Jamaican society. Here it must be admitted that
radio requests are often from middle class youths who have to some
extent acquired, or are acquiring the symbols of Rudie culture...
such as shoes, hats, music, stripped bycicles etc. It can lead to a
near total rejection of middle class standards and values'.
For once it was not the music business that had jumped on board the bandwagon for, as almost the sole chroniclers of the whole phenomenon, the musicians' role had been pivotal in popularising Rude Boy behaviour.
'Ska is one of the
means of expression of the 'lower class'. It is a propagandistic
music and with increasing force it has acquired the role of
commentator on the society. It now is reflecting the increased
militancy of the class it represents'.
The Rude Boys had pointed the way forward through their extremes of behaviour (remember that yesterday's terrorist rapidly becomes looked upon as today's freedom fighter) and their militancy was to form the core of Jamaican musical attitude from now on in. It was a rebel music that fought against oppression on all levels, physical and metaphorical, and this would become the defining characteristic of reggae music. Without the input, impetus and influence of the Rude Boys it could never have happened.
'Rougher than rough
'Tougher Than tough' - Derrick Morgan
Tougher Than Tough (Rudie In Court)
Time - 43:41
Time - 40:05
Time - 50:12
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