Rise of the Rudies...

Hmm... So what's a Rude Boy...? In the early 1960's the ghettos and slums of Jamaica were filling up with unemployed youth looking for work that did not exist. They felt forgotten and did not share in the optimism that had first brought about the creation of ska. They found group identity and belonging as 'Rude Boys' which was itself a term that had originated two decades earlier. The Rude Boy style was a grasp at identity and self-worth when society, unemployment, and poverty took such things away. The Rude Boy style, dressed in natty threads, was entirely its own.

Ska music soon began to change, reflecting the rude style. Whereas bassnotes had once been played with a very free style, they now became transformed by the aggressive nature of the rudeboy style, and held a new level of tension.

Rude Boys danced the ska their own way as well. It was a slow movement and menacing in posture. The lifestyle was one closely connected with the underworld and with people who operated outside of the law. This was directly reflected in the lyrics of the new music.

The fact that the Rude Boy lifestyle was one associated closely with the underworld way of life could be seen in that many of the hopefuls who were drawn to Kingston with dreams of gaining fame in the music industry were soon forced to support themselves by other means when money ran out. The most prominent of these was their involvement with the marijuana trade. Many others turned to lives of violence and crime. Academic Caribbean historian Horace Campbell writes that, "Between 1964 and 1967 a subculture of angry youths developed in the [Jamaican] society. Answering to the psuedonym "Rude Bwoy" [sic] and searching for avenues of self-expression and recognition, these unemployed youths were quickly integrated into the [ganga] export trade, many of them as enforcers. ...these young people created terror among working people, such that they were feared by both citizens and police."

The exploits of the Rude Boys became legendary in the lyrics of ska music. From the middle of 1966 until the early months of '67, a whole series of records describing Rude Boy infamy were released in Jamaica. Practically every major artist in Jamaica produced a recording featuring lyrics that either condemned or defended the actions of these young men who caused trouble all across the island. Sometimes they were described as nothing but glorified hooligans who caused trouble simply for the sake of causing trouble. Others depicted them as heroes of the streets. To the majority, though, they were simply victims of the deprived social conditions in which they lived.

Them a loot / Them a shoot
Then a wail / At Shanty Town
When rude boy deh 'pon probation
Then rude boy a bomb up the town.

~ Desmond Dekker (007 Shanty Town)