Ruger Is Afrobeats' New Swashbuckling Star
We talk to the Nigerian artist about his breakout year and "Bounce" reaching number one on Apple Music charts.
No breakout artist has been more assertive than Ruger in 2021. With his pink hair, left eye patch, alluring bravado, and lyrics such as "Ruger is the lockdown, Ruger is the pandemic", no other afrobeats artist has commanded attention and staked a claim to be heard like he has.
It's late in the afternoon when I meet Ruger at the Jonzing World headquarters, the Nigerian record label and talent management company. He steps into the room without any of the gusto he usually displays on TV. At this moment, he is Michael Adebayo Olayinka, a bright-eyed youngster who jokes about everything and watches an obscene amount of Instagram comedy. "I no sabi do anything o, just watch films and Instagram. Anyone that is funny and interesting", the Afro-dancehall artist says of his hobbies.
It was on Instagram that D'prince — the head honcho of Jonzing World — discovered Ruger. Two years before Ruger was unveiled, D'Prince had revealed Rema and has since turned him into the vanguard of new age afrobeats artists. With such precedence, Ruger's excitement undoubtedly shot through the roof the first time D'Prince messaged him. "I used to do freestyles on Instagram every Saturday. I was getting like 12 to 30 comments and I had four hundred followers — I was just enjoying it. It wasn't even up to a year before I'd started putting out freestyles when I saw a DM from D'Prince."
In February this year, Ruger released his self-titled debut single, which instantly thrust him into the throes of the spotlight. A month later, he shared his six-track debut Pandemic EP. Since then, his fame has stretched stealthily across Nigeria, with his innuendo-filled record "Bounce", creeping to the top of the biggest songs in Nigeria. At one point, the record peaked at number on Nigeria's most reliable charting metric Apple Music.
Despite his machismo-like swagger, at his core Ruger remains zesty and comical. He's quick to crack a joke about his journey so far, and eager to burst into a captivating rendition of Fuji legend Wasiu Ayinde Marshall's music when asked what tunes he grew up on.
Beneath all of Ruger's mystery is a boy who calms the air around him with jokes that easily roll off his lips, and a passionate artist determined to get his chance in the spotlight — no matter the cost.
How did you get the name Ruger?
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.
Ruger - Bounce (Official Video) youtu.be
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.
Why did you name the EP Pandemic?
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.
You must have seen the tweets, "Ruger is the lockdown, Ruger is the pandemic". What was the inspiration behind that line?
[Chuckles] 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. 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 was 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, 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 [chuckles]. The eye-patch 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.
There was a pirate flag in the "Ruger" video and a pirate emoji on your posts. What does that represent?
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.
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.