No Nigerian breakout artiste has been more assertive than fast-rising rapper and songwriter, Michael Adebayo Olayinka, professionally known as Ruger. He had his breakout this year with ‘Bounce’, which made it to the number one spot on Apple Music charts, though he had made many songs as a record producer. YUSUFF ADEBAYO spoke to him in this interview about his breakout year and the creative process that fuels his claim to superstardom. Excerpts…
How’s stardom treating you, Ruger?
Well, very intriguing, I must say. I mean it was on Instagram that D’Prince discovered me.
Meanwhile, two years before I was unveiled, D’Prince had unveilled Rema and he has sort of turned him into the vanguard of new age Afrobeats artistes, you get. So, with that, my excitement undoubtedly shot through the roof the first time D’Prince messaged me. Look, I used to do freestyles on Instagram every Saturday.
I was getting like 12 to 30 comments and I had 400 followers – I was just enjoying it. It wasn’t even up to a year before I’d started putting out freestyles when I saw the DM from D’Prince.
From there, it has just been amazing. In February this year, I released my debut single, ‘Ruger’ which instantly thrust me into spotlight. A month later, I rolled out my debut Pandemic EP.
Since then, it’s been from grace to grace. I mean ‘Bounce’, crept to the top of the biggest songs in Nigeria. At one point, the record peaked at number one on Nigeria’s most reliable charting metric, Apple Music. So, I’m quite grateful.
How did you get the name Ruger, by the way?
D’Prince gave me the name.
Did he name you the first time you met?
It took time. We were working, and one day, he just started calling me Ruger. I had to go search for the meaning of the name and found out it was a gun.
Were you comfortable with that?
Well, I didn’t object because it sort of sounds chill, so I hopped on it.
How did you start making music?
Music for me started fully when I was in secondary school. This one time, I composed a particular song that became popular among my classmates and it, even, spread to other classes. And from there, I started producing music and in my leisure, I freestyle too. Got found by D’Prince, started recording, dropped the debut single and then the EP afterwards. Music has just been part of me. I love it. In fact, I breathe it.
Why did you name the EP Pandemic?
That’s because I made those vibes during the pandemic. I’ll always say this, ‘You can’t control the situation you find yourself in but you can control your reaction toward that situation.’ I just used that energy when making music. “Mona Lisa” and “Yekpa” were made in 2019, but the rest of the songs on that EP were made during the pandemic.
Many people have come to have this image of you as that braggadocio young guy who wants to aggressively sell himself to the industry. And you can’t blame then, for the most part, that seems to be the narrative you’re pushing. You must have seen the tweets, “Ruger is the lockdown, Ruger is the pandemic”. What was the inspiration behind that line?
I brought the pandemic back, you dey on lockdown as you dey so, I brought it back. I feel like it’s been a while since someone came out with a confrontational line like that one. Call it, upselling myself, I don’t mind. The braggadocio could be true but I don’t think I’m doing it for the clout. There’s substance. Trust me, there is. When I released “Ruger”, I feel like people were a bit confused but when the full project dropped, it dawned on them for real that Ruger is here to stay.
What’s your favourite song on your tape?
“Bow” is definitely my favourite song because it’s very personal. I made that song without a beat. It just came to me. My producer Kukbeats heard it and immediately said, ‘Let’s make this happen!’ He made a beat on the spot – it was mad!
I have to ask and I’m sure this is something a lot of people would have been wondering about as well; why the eye-patch and the pink hair?
The eye-patch is really hard, so I felt let’s give them a sweet vibe. Pink is sweet. The idea was to create a contrast between this sweet and hard guy. You get some things like sugarcane that are both sweet and hard. The eyepatch is in honour of someone I’m not ready to talk about. The first time I saw the eye patch, it reminded me of veteran Nigerian musician Baba Fryo. Baba Fryo wears his on the right eye. The person I drew my inspiration from wears it on the left. So, let’s talk symbolism now, Ruger. There was a pirate flag in the “Ruger” video and there’s always a pirate emoji on your posts. This has got many people wondering. Should people see this as just an attempt at symbolic repre-sentation or there’s more to it?
If you go to a pirate ship they’re always unified, like a team that you can’t break down. I’m preaching the unity that they enjoy. Nothing extra, really.
Okay. We’ll take your word for it then?
Surely, you can.
So, what next after the EP?
More music! Firstly, you’ll get to see more of Ruger. I’m an advocate of good music. I don’t do music just for the sake of doing it. I once tweeted that good music eventually wins. Some songs start popping immediately and make you want to boogie. But some songs first have to marinate before making their impact – and that’s what matters. I want people to see me as someone who always puts real music out.
What does greatness mean to you?
Greatness is being able to remain humble while impacting people’s lives positively, even while you are winning. I feel like when most people start winning, they shut out a lot of people and voices. True greatness comes when you are humble enough to still thank, embrace and hear others out.
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