“Rightful Ruler” by U-Roy and Peter Tosh

In 1969, Lee Perry produced one of the first ever deejay records, “Rightful Ruler” by U-Roy and Peter Tosh. And as I wrote in my list of recommended U-Roy records, it is a remarkable record.

First, recording a deejay artist on a reused rhythm track was a novel idea at the time. Second, the rhythm track, originally used for a song called “Selassie,” was substantially changed for U-Roy's cut. Most early deejay records use an instrumental mix of a record as the backing track, replacing vocals with deejay rhymes. For “Rightful Ruler,” Perry did much more: he took out piano and lead guitar, added burro drumming, and spliced a guitar and percussion excerpt onto the beginning.

The vocals are a collaboration between deejay artist U-Roy and singer Peter Tosh. Tosh begins the record with a prayer recited in Amharic and English. Then U-Roy performs a reading of Psalm 1, adapting the text to reflect Rastafarian. themes.

That marks another way the record stands out. U-Roy's early records were largely dancehall inspired boasts, like these lines from “Wear You To the Ball”:

Rub it baby, I said scrub it, yeah! 'Cause I'm tougher than tough And that ain't no bluff Mabye it's because I've got the musical stuff ... Dig me soul brother and dig me soul sister!

Contrast that with U-Roy's reading of Psalm 1:

Blessed be the man who walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor seateth in the seat of the scornful. For I delight in the law of the Lord God, Selassie I....

I locks also shall not whither. And whatsoever I doeth shall prosper. The weakheart are not so, oh no. They are like the chaff that the wind driveth away....

“Rightful Ruler” (extract)

On the second half of the recording, Tosh returns to shout Jah! Rastafari! several times while U-Roy continues his performance. “Rightful Ruler” is thus a cultural statement on Rastafarianism and unlike other deejay records of its time. In fact, both “Rightful Ruler” and the vocal cut it's based on, “Selassie,” were outliers in this regard. Extolling Haile Selassie I may have been de rigueur in the mid-1970s, but it was rather controversial in 1969.

Release Details

The label on the original Upset release contains a misspelling (“Rightfull” instead of “Rightful”) and credits only U-Roy as the artist. A subsequent issue on Keith's Records credits Hugh Roy and Peter Touch and changes the title to “Righteous Ruler.” On the Upsetters album Clint Eastwood, the title reverts to “Rightful Ruler” (with the spelling corrected). That is the title on several more recent compilations, including these: