By Molly Adams
Illustration Designed by Laurenellen McCann
On August 6, 1962, the Island of Jamaica gained their independence from Great Britain. Although this should have been a time of celebration and Island-wide growth, the autonomy caused more harm than good. At the time, the nation was in great debt and the large cities on the Island were crime ridden. Jamaica started to become extremely overpopulated and Islanders had trouble finding food, shelter, and most importantly, employment. During this time of political unrest, the most devastated demographic were young men under the age of twenty. These young men created one of the first subcultures of Jamaica and emerged as a unified group of “Rude Boys.” These young men did whatever it took to get by on the streets. Individual gangs of “Rude Boys” were established and the city of Kingston was full of transgression and destitution. The establishment of the “Rude Boy” culture in Jamaica can be seen as a tragic matter of circumstance. These men could not find jobs and had no sense of agency. They were forced to create their own economy and did so by pimping, stealing, and begging.
Like most cultures the “Rude Boys” had their own manner of dress and style of clothing. The boys dressed in suits and ties in an attempt to come across as members of the upper class. Also, a distinct style of reggae emerged as a way for the “Rude Boys” to voice frustration and contempt for all authority.
Meanwhile in Compton, California, another episode of political unrest was taking place. In August of 1965 an act of police brutality precipitated the Watts Riots. During a routine traffic stop three people were arrested and a three-day riot broke out. More than 30 people were killed and over 1,000 were injured. Also, there was an estimated thirty-six million dollars of damage done in the city. After the uproar, people who were economically capable left the city of Compton. As a result, taxes were raised and those who had stayed through the uproar, those of higher income, left because of increased tax burden. Therefore, the majority of the people that remained in the city were poor and in need of public assistance, which forced the city into even more debt. The introduction of crack cocaine made the problem even worse and crime and gang violence began to overtake the city. Again, young men on the streets of Compton, like the Jamaican “Rude Boys,” were products of unfortunate circumstances. However, instead of “Rude Boys,” these young men were called “Gangsta Rappers.” These rappers spoke of the injustice of the system and the corruption of the police force. The group N.W.A was the leading force in the creation of the Gangsta rap genre. The song that made them famous was entitled, “F*** the Police.” It was groundbreaking in the sense that it crossed boundaries that had never been touched upon by the music industry.
By juxtaposing two songs from each respective genre, the most salient example of the crossover between the two cultures can be seen. Although the songs seem very different stylistically, the subject matter is strikingly familiar. In Derrick Morgan’s reggae hit “Tougher than Tough,” the song opens up with a skit of a trial of local “Rude Boys” that had been caught “gunshooting.” In response to the judge’s question of what they had to say about themselves pertaining to the crime, the boys simply respond “Rudies don’t fear.” Obviously this anti-authority attitude can also be seen in “F*** The Police” by N.W.A. The title says it all. Although both songs and cultures came out of a situation of oppression and violence, the music of each of the artists helped to lay the foundation for the music of today. Both the “Rude Boys” of Jamaica and the “Gangsta Rappers” of Compton helped to shed light on some of the wrong doings of our society. Although the United States and Jamaica both have a long way to go in terms of social equality, this influential music certainly gained a lot of attention and shaped the work of many other artists.