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Rude Boy Music In Comparison

With Gangster Rap


                                                                                    Kevin McElwee

                                                                                       Rhetoric to Reggae

                                                                                  Professor Snider

      April 25, 2002

            Reggae music is a very powerful way of communicating a message to its listener’s. Reggae has evolved over time from many different types of music and lots of different forms from ska to reggae. The history of reggae starts over 400 years ago in the days of slavery. Under the severe oppression of slavery the African people tried to hold on the pieces of their culture that they could. Music and dance were among the most important cultural traditions retained by the African people. These African rhythms gave way to mento, which gave rise to Rastafarian chants, which in turn gave way to ska and then rocksteady. (Potash, 29) When reggae music is thought of, Jamaica is instantly the word that comes to most peoples mind. Reggae music is also associated closely with the smoking of ganja. Generally people are uneducated about Rastafarianism, and don’t know that smoking marijuana is a sacrament of their religion. Just like Christians eat bread and drink wine at mass, for the Rastafarians ganja is a way to get closer to Jah or their God. The Rastafarian's God was proclaimed Haile Selassie the King of Ethiopia. The man who predicted this was Marcus Garvey a native Jamaican was an advocate of black unity and pride. Garvey was the one who told the African people that their savior would be the next king crowned in Africa. The Jamaican people revered Garvey and believed in what he preached, and when Haile Selassie was crowned the king of Ethiopia the Rastafarian people rejoiced with their new God, Haile Selassie. The Rastafarian’s loved Selassie, even though Selassie didn’t ask or want to be their God. Selassie made a visit to Jamaica in April of 1966, and when he first landed the thousands of Rasta’s there to greet him, they erupted in cheers. At first Selassie did not want to leave the plane. (Potash, 16)


“ If I dream, mon, every Rasta man’s dream, to fly home to Ethiopia and leave a-Babylon, where de politicians doan let I an’ I brethren be free and we own righteous way.” ­ Bob Marley (Bradley, 16)

This quote from Bob Marley shows the goal of most Rastafarian to fly back to Africa and live in Ethiopia. Rastafarians see Ethiopia as their homeland, and to fulfill a Rasta’s dream would to be leaving Babylon for Africa. Marcus Garvey tried to set up a company that would take the Afro-Caribbean’s back to their homeland of Africa. That project eventually went bankrupt, after Garvey got into trouble with mail fraud in the Untied States. (Potash, 17) Even the Ethiopian government set aside over 5000 acres of land for Jamaican people to immigrate back to Africa. Strangely enough very few Jamaicans ever made it to Ethiopia. (Potash, 17) This seems very strange to me, because through all the books and articles I’ve read I always read about how Jamaicans want to move back to Ethiopia.

 Reggae music has become one Jamaica’s leading exports. Reggae music deals with many issues that concern the Rastafarians such as black unity, freedom and rights for all people in the world, as well as the oppression of the world’s people. Rastafarians are located mostly in Jamaica but there are significant numbers in London and New York City. Rastafarians agree on two principles of faith only: (1) that Haile Selassie I the king of kings, the lord of lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah is the living God, and (2) that Africa is the home of all black man; his paradise. (Potash, 15) Generally reggae music has three basic components: ridim the polyridimic overlays in the percussive weave, melody and voice. (Potash 11)  People love reggae music for many reasons some


love it because it makes you feel happy and relaxed. There are people that like reggae for the political messages that are in some songs. Reggae is an extremely flexible music that can be fast or slow, intense, relaxing, or great party music. The particular sub section of reggae that grabbed my attention the most was Rude Boy music. This form of music developed in the mid sixties by ghetto youth with built up frustrations from the violent Kingston streets. Rude Boy music was interesting to me because I instantly saw the connection with rap in America and our ghetto youth. 

Violence in Jamaica has been a huge problem for the law enforcement agencies on the island. However, when the law enforcers create violence it becomes a totally different story. The charts below show the deaths to civilians from police fire: POLICE AND CIVILIAN DEADLY FORCE

Table 1: Civilians shot and killed by police 1983 - 2000 [8]







































Table 2: Police officers killed by civilians 1990 - 2000
























( Amnesty International, 2) These charts were put together by Amnesty International, and show the horrific death rate of civilians shot and killed by the Jamaican police force. The peak of deaths between these years were 354 deaths, which is an amazing statistic by itself. When Amnesty officials investigated some of these deaths the police responded that these were victim initiated “shoot-outs” but the pattern of killing, including attempted cover-ups, suggest that they were unlawful and deliberate killings. (Amnesty International, 4) Most in Jamaica has witnessed or been a part of police brutality in their lifetime. A fact that I found in this article to be quite interesting was that, in the three schools visited by Amnesty International they only found one child that said he would like to grow up to be a policeman. (Amnesty International, 4)  If you went to a school in the United States and asked the same question, there is no doubt in my mind that there would be handfuls of kids that want to be a police officer. This goes to show how little respect the police receive in Jamaica. With the police receiving almost no help, and no respect it is very difficult to stop the violence in the streets. In 1997 the murder rate per capita in Jamaica was the highest in the world. (Amnesty International, 4)

            During the first five years in 1960 the national unemployment rate went up 26 percent, and it was twice that in Kingston, young men under twenty were the worst hit. With little else in Jamaica giving young men a chance, Rastafarianism offered the best opportunity for self-respect and self-improvement. By Rastafari's backbone relying on the ideals of black pride and self-reliance were right in step with events in America. Such as Malcolm X, the Nation of Islam, and the Black Panthers ideals filtering slowly to Jamaica. (Bradley, 177) There was an explosion in Jamaica of new Rasta members in the early 1960’s. Also in the sixties there was a phenomenon in Jamaica known as the rude boys. These were young urban males that were usually unemployed and were generally not concerned about the state of Jamaica. There were large numbers of young men leaving the country for a chance at city life. A high percentage of these migrants from the rural areas found themselves without hope of employment in the overcrowded shantytowns, and unable to fulfill the dreams that prompted the move. (Barrow, 54) This proved to be a huge problem for Jamaica’s cities and overcrowding issues. The movie “ The Harder They Come” is a good example of what could happen to a rural migrants. The character Ivan in the movie moves to the city in hopes of making it big, and ends up fighting for his survival and becoming a criminal. These Jamaican ghetto youths are a perfect example of being a product of their environment. In the ghettos of Kingston you need to fight and scrap for your life and if it means breaking the laws then that’s what these ghetto youth are doing to make it out. Anti-establishment, anti-authoritarian, antisocial, hell, even anti-each other they had all manner of frustrations to vent. Without discipline that comes from the responsibilities of work, commerce or even schooling there was an audacious wildness about this youth that rewrote the rules of street violence. (Bradley, 178)  The rude boys flourished in the ghettos of the Jamaican cities trying to be the toughest and roughest rude boy. Rude boys were typically armed with a guns, machetes or a small knives. It is quite dangerous to carry a gun in Jamaica, because of the stiff penalty for possession of a gun. Normally if you are caught carrying a gun you are sent to gun court where a typical sentence if life in prison. Fuelled by the seemingly endless loop of cowboy and gangster shoot ‘em ups on offer at the downtown cinemas and, as they perceived it, empowering for the first time ever, these self-styled gunslingers assumed casual violence as their currency. (Bradley, 183) This influence of cowboy and gangster films can be seen through the evolution of reggae as some artists adopted names from films such as, Josey Wales, Dennis Alcapone, and Leroy Mafia just to name a few. Rude boy music was significantly influenced by events that were happening on the streets. Even James Bond movies added to the rude boy culture. Rude boy music made it acceptable to incorporate lyrics about rude boy wars into their songs. The singers of rude boy were the made up of the same types of people in the audience, ghetto youth. The crowds loved the music because the performers were singing about their lives in the streets.  Some of the more famous rude boy artists were: Desmond Dekker & the Aces, Clarendonians, Derrick Morgan, Melodians, and the Wailers.

              Rudie culture has so developed as to command adherents among the majority of lower class youth.” ­ Garth White, Caribbean Quarterly

            This quote from Garth White is sad but he speaks the truth. The culture of the rude boys was to carry weapons and fight for their life, the children growing up in the ghettos learn from it. These children are friends with rude boys, have brothers that are rude boys, and are exposed first hand to the violence and rude boy way of life. They learn and look up to the older class and they too will become rude boys because that is what they have learned.

            One of the more famous rude boy groups the Wailers was made up of the famous trio of Peter Tosh, Bob Marley, and Bunny Livingston. They started their careers as teen rude boys producing such hits as “Simmer Down,” “Rude Boy,” and “Jailhouse.” (Barrow, 54) While Bob Marley was in America making money in a factory, Peter and Bunny kept recording songs. Tosh’s famous “I’m the Toughest,” confirms Peter’s rude boy attitude that he will keep through out his career. Peter Tosh was a very intelligent and stubborn man, that knew his black history and incorporated his strong political views along with his strong black pride into his music. Tosh’s most well known song was done after he had left the Wailer’s to pursue a solo career. “Legalize It” is the tune that is associated with Peter, this song talks about the need to make ganja legal everywhere. Tosh was a huge advocate of legalizing ganja, and was arrested several times for possession. One such arrest he was almost beaten to death for having one splif. Tosh continued his rude boy image throughout his career; he even would carry and swing a large sword on stage at concerts. Peter had a strong dislike for the Pope and at one concert he and Bob sang a song together, and later Peter found out the Pope had died, and he attributed that to the intensity that they had sung that night. On September 11, 1987, armed men entered his house in St. Andrew. (Barrow, 134) These men shot and killed several people that were in the house including Peter Tosh, Jeff “Free I” Dixon, and Wilton Brown were three that died that day. This was a sad day not only for the country of Jamaica but also for the entire Reggae community. Perhaps it was Peter’s aggressive political view, a government plot, or a robbery gone bad that ended his life so violently. Either way Peter Tosh was a brilliant performer and a great mind that was lost to senseless violence.

One of the more famous rude boy performers was Derrick Morgan, and his music glorified rude boys and violence in Jamaica. The lyrics within the songs of the rude boys are what really made their music stand out from the other variations of reggae. The Wailers went through their rude boy stage and produced a handful of hits during the time. One of their greatest rude boy hits was “Simmer Down”:

“Chicken merry

Hawk deh near

And when ‘im deh near                                                

You must beware, so

Simmer down

Ooh, control your temper

Simmer down

Cause the battle will be hotter

Simmer down

And you know you’re bound to suffer.” ­ Marley (Barrow, 54)

            When you break down the lyrics of the Wailers you can see how they can be categorized as rude boys. These lyrics from “Simmer Down” say, that when these rude boys are near you must mind them, because they demand respect. Marley then continues to send the message that they are tough and shouldn’t be messed with or there will be a battle. Also you could see Marley as singing about the violence in Kingston is only going to get more intense.

            A famous rude boy of the era was Desmond Dekker who glorified the rude boy movement with the track that he made. Dekker made one of the most influential rude boy records with his “007 (Shanty Town)” that went international toping charts in the UK, and more surprisingly in the USA. Dekker’s song went like this:

            “Oh oh seven

            Oh oh seven

            At ocean eleven

            An’ now rudeboys ‘ave a wail

            ‘cause them out of jail

            rudeboys cannot fail

            ‘cause them must get bail


            dem a loot, dem a shoot, dem a wail

            dem a loot, dem a shoot, dem a wail

            an’ rudeboys out on probation

            an’ rudeboy bomb up de town


            dem a loot, dem a shoot, dem a wail

            dem a loot, dem a shoot, dem a wail

            an’ rudeboys out on probation

            an’ rudeboy bomb up de town

            de policeman get taller

            de soldier get longer

            de rudeboys a weep an’ a wail” ­ Dekker

This was probably Dekker’s greatest rude boy hit, but the audience that was reached for the most part had no idea what this song was really about. Most of the world didn’t care about the violence in Jamaica. They heard a great reggae beat and bought the album, not even knowing what Desmond Dekker was even talking about. Dekker uses some pop culture that Jamaica loved in this song by using James Bond and Ocean’s Eleven lyrics. This song is about the rude boys getting out of jail after the police had arrested them. Dekker continues to show how tough the rude boy are that while their out on bail they’re going to raise hell in the streets. Desmond ends the song with statement that the police may be coming at them hard but the rude boys will always keep their way of life to the end. 


Honeyboy Martin’s “Dreader than Dead” was a pro-rude boy album that was a rebuttal to an album that Prince Buster put out in 1967 called “Judge Dread.” (Barrow, 56) Prince Buster was an anti-rude boy that wrote songs to tell these juvenile punks to clean up their act and grow up. In this album of Prince Busters there is a story of four rude boys facing a judge for various crimes such as robbing school children, robbing people, and burning homes. (Barrow, 56) Prince Buster and rude boy advocates such as Martin and Lee Perry had many back and fourths in their songs that they wrote. This is a great example of some of Martin’s lyrics that responded to “Judge Dread” with lyrics defending rude boys :

            “But as you can see, they’re from a poor generation

            Having no education, no qualification

            So they’ve driven to desperation

            Can’t get no job so they’ve forced to rob

            I’m not saying they should, but as you know

            A hungry man is an angry man

            So think it over before you bind them over

            Please give them a break to mend their mistakes

            As you already know, robbery was from creation

            For robbery befell the black nation

            Our ancestors once ruled the world and all it’s gold

            But now we’re poor.” ­ Martin (Barrow, 56)

Honeyboy Martin is trying to get his view of why these young men in the ghetto are carrying guns and being criminals. He is saying that these youth are coming from already poor families unable to provide education for them. With nowhere else to turn the Jamaican ghetto kids have to steal and break laws to live from day to day. These kids cannot get job because of where their from, no one wants to hire a trench town youth. Martin continues to explain that robbery was always prevalent in history. As the black people at one time possessed all the wealth and gold in Africa, and then it was robbed


from them by the white men. From being enslaved for hundreds and hundreds of years it has taken the black people and brought them from living a carefree, luxurious life to desperate and poor.

            Prince Buster was quick to follow up the message sent back by Honeyboy Martin with a track in 1967 called “Shanty Town.” This song was about the squatter camp known as Back-A-Wall it had been recently razed to the ground, which was a well known hang out of many rude boys. (Barrow, 56)

            “Too late, shanty town get scanty

            Too late, shanty town get scanty

            Too late, there is no more place to capture

            Too late, the people can’t do no better

            Too late, the rude boys gon’ to jail

            Too late, dem can’t get no bail

            Too late, seven years in dem tail

            Too late, the minister put on the pressure


            A woman with a baby cryin’

            The same time all dem big bulldozer come in

            The cops was standin’ by

            Dem baton sticks was long

            An’ all the people could do

            Is tan up an’ watch dem mash dem belongs ­ Prince Buster

   I think that this Prince Buster song is more of a pled to the rude boys to change their ways more than trash talking. The way that Buster’s lyrics are worded it seems that he spent time and thought about what he wanted to get across to the rude boys. When he says there is no more place to capture, he is talking about how Back-A-Wall was razed to the ground. Buster continues to talk about how the people in the ghettos have nowhere else to go but another ghetto. Later in the song Buster tries to explain to the rude boys that they’re going to jail, have no money to get out, and are going to spend time in jail.


The second stanza of the song describes the helplessness of the people as they watch police guarded bulldozers destroy their homes. This song by Prince Buster has a feeling like his heart is going out to these people that lost their neighborhood. Prince Buster was a pretty important player in the era of the rude boys. His songs during this time were directed at the rude boys and were kind of telling them to think about what they’re doing with their lives. Even though it didn’t stop any rude boys from living their life they way they wanted to, it may have made them think a little. The majority of the rude boys of era grew out of that stage and went on to develop into great reggae artists, like the Wailers produced of course Bob Marley, Bunny Livingston, and Peter Tosh. Other Rude Boys that moved on were: Ethiopians, Maytals, Derrick Morgan, and Desmond Dekker. I think that Prince Buster had an impact on the maturing process of some of the rude boys to grow through the rude boy phase.

            When I first started researching rude boy music and performers, I quickly noticed the parallel between rude boy music and gangster rap. I saw the similarities in the type of violent and vulgar language used in the songs. The way that both of these types of music were used as a tool to glorify the life of a rude boy or a gang member was very clear to me. I am very intrigued to see how both of these two different types of music are so very similar. Here are some lyrics from Snoop Dogg a well-known gangster rapper:

            “Since I was young I grew up in the streetlife

            Times get hard for a gangstar in the streetlife

            Ain’t no telling what my life might be like growin up in the streetlife


            You can’t tell me shit about these streets homie

            I done lived it and done it runnin from the police

            Out for money, homies maintain there composure

            Now that we olders we sellin ki’s, bye the douzia

            Now I’m a soulia muthafucka for the chips wanna dip to trip

            Headed straight for dc, down for dp.

            Rest in peace to deseiced homeboyz who aint alive

            Streetlife took him over now he forced to die…” ­ Snoop Dogg

In these lyrics Snoop paints a picture of streetlife in the United States as a rough and tough life to try and survive in. Snoop grew up in the streets selling drugs and fighting to live, the only way that he knew how. In this song he talks about how he grew up in the streets and is proud that he made it out. At the end of these lyrics Snoop pays tribute to the friends that he has lost to the streets. Similar to the rude boy style Snoop talks about violence and street life, and the audience that he is rapping to are the gang members and others that grew up in familiar circumstances. From growing up through the era of gangster rap I had a chance to see first hand how these rappers grew out of this stage in their careers. Some of the most famous gangster rappers Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre were singing about gangster life and guns and violence in the early 1990’s. Now both of these performers are still rapping but they have displaced themselves out of that lifestyle of

guns and fighting. Perhaps it is because they have made their money so that they can move out the violence in the streets, or it may be that many of their friends and rappers have died from the violence that they used to sing about. Another gangster rapper that sung about the rough street life in Los Angeles was Tupac Shakur. Tupac’s music tented to be more vulgar and violent than most gangster rappers, here is his “16 on Death Row”:

            The trick is to never lose hope

            I found my buddy hangin dead from a rope, 16 on Death Row


            Bye bye, I was never meant to live

            Can’t be positive, when the ghetto’s where you live

            Bye bye, I was never meant to be

            Livin like a thief, runnin through the streets

            Bye bye, and I got no place to go…

            Where you find me? 16 on Death Row

            Dear mama, they sentenced me to death

            Today’s my final day, I’m countin every breath

            I’m bitter cause I’m dyin, so much I haven’t seen

            I know you never dreamed, your baby would be dead at 16

            I got beef with a sick society that doesn’t give a shit

            And they too quick to say goodbye to me

            They tell me the preacher’s there for me

            He’s a crook with a book, that motherfucker never cared for me

            He’s only here to be sure

            I don’t drop a dime to God bout the crimes he’s commitin

            And how can these people judge me?” ­ Shakur

Tupac’s song about death row provides the listener with some frightening imagery about consequences from living a violent ghetto life. The song starts positive with the thought to never lose hope and keep fighting, but follows with a disturbing image of finding a friend dead from suicide. Tupac continues to say that living in a ghetto and having a positive attitude is hard to do. He explains how a ghetto life brings you down to breaking laws and living like a criminal, and invariably end up in jail, similar to thoughts and feelings of the rude boys in Jamaica. Tupac then tells his feelings on the society that is watching the violence in the ghettos, who don’t care what happens to these people that

are fighting and scraping for their lives everyday. Lastly Tupac questions the morality of the church, and why should he be judged by someone that doesn’t care about him, but is just as crooked as Tupac is. Tupac Shakur very dear friend of both Snoop and Dr. Dre, was shot and killed by a drive by shooting.

            Rude boy music and gangster rap have their similarities and the differences. Both of these music forms talk about the life growing up in the ghettos. The rude boy performers as well as the gangster rappers write their songs about the word on the street and some personal experiences. Music is a great outlet for their anger and frustrations for both of these ghetto youths that grow up in such dangerous surrounding. Even though


these two generations of youth are separated by over 30 years, their themes in their songs are quite similar. However, the language that the gangster rappers use today is much more vulgar and offense. In defense of the rude boys, for their time the lyrics that they used in their songs were radical for the time, and most likely offensive to people in Jamaica. The fighting and violence in both the U.S. and Jamaican ghettos was and is very real that these performers witnessed. For me I feel that by listening to rude boy music and then listening to gangster rap I get two very different feelings from the music. After listening to rude boy music, even though the message may involve shooting or robbing something, the reggae beat still makes me feel good and gets me relaxed. After listening to gangster rap, I get a very different feeling, the music is much more heavy and in your face making me feel more tense. The only gangster rap that makes me get a similar feeling as the rude boy music, is Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre who produce music with a long, relaxing, laid-back beat.

            Rude boy music was a short-lived era in the evolution of reggae music’s history. There were many performers that were rude boys that grew through this phase of glorifying violence to become some of Jamaica’s most famous reggae artists. This was an important phase for these ghetto youth to look back on and see how violence will get you nowhere but into a jail cell. Nevertheless, rude boy music was an expression of the troubled ghetto youth in the mid 1960’s. Rude boy music was unique in that unlike the later rocksteady and other reggae, rude boy focused mainly on the lyrics of the performers. The lyrics in rude boy music were what made it different than any other reggae, because the artists were talking about their lifestyle in the ghettos. This music


was considered “rude” because lyrics of robbery and violence were never used before. Their attitude and lifestyle was a product of their environment. They were raised in absolute poverty and were forced to do anything to survive from day to day. This was their motivation for their “rude boy” stage that had such a significant influence on the development of reggae music as we know it.




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Bradley, Lloyd. This Is Reggae Music. New York: Grove Press, 2000.

Chang, Kevin, and Wayne Chen. Reggae Routes. Philadelphia: Temple                                                                                      University Press, 1998.

Davis, Stephen, and Peter Simon. Reggae Bloodlines. New York: Da Capo Press, 1977.

             Dekker, Desmond. “ 007 (Shanty Town).” http://hjem.get2net.dk/sbn/reggae.htm.  


 Dogg, Snoop. “Street life.”  <www.lyricsfind.com/view.php?id=7770>.

Foster, Chuck. Roots Rock Reggae. New York: Billboard Books, 1999.

Potash, Chris. Reggae, Rasta, Revolution. London: Schirmer Books, 1997.

              Shakur, Tupac. “16 on Death Row.”   <www.lyricsfind.com/view.php?id=7770>.

“Violence in Jamaica: When will it stop?” Amnesty International.  <http://www.amnesty-caribbean.org/Jamaica/AMR3800101/bericht.htm>.

               White, Garth. “Caribbean Quarterly.” www.thegleaner.com.