This is Ruggedman, one of Nigeria’s most celebrated hip-hop artists. Born Michael Ugochukwu Stevens and being 4th in a line of five children was tough (talk about heights to attain to). In addition, moving to Lagos in his early years did come with its own challenges. But family has always been first for him. Starting at about 11, he got hooked on musical TV shows like SoulTrain and Top of The Pops. This was just the beginning of what was to become the journey of a lifetime.
“Then my uncle Jonathan Okeke would come from America with VHS tapes of Yo!, MTV Raps with Ed Lover & Dr Dre., Rap City with Fab Five Freddie. I would spend hours watching them at his house. Then borrow like 5, return 3. Borrow another 6 tapes and return 2…lol!”
From then, he was all about writing down rap lyrics and testing out his own skill at writing. Soon after, Ruggedman was crawling local studios and with the help of DJs, got to recording instrumental loops. And while he was influenced by some of the hip-hop greats, Ruggedman’s music remains original. It may have seemed a bit odd at the time, seeing as most other people showed up to make music of their own. For Ruggedman, not so much.
“My music is heavily influenced by some of the greatest hit-makers that ever lived. NWA (Dr Dre, Eazy E, Ice Cube, D.O.C, DjYella & Mc Ren), Public Enemy, 2pac, Jay Z, LL Cool, Mc Hammer, Chubb Rock, Wu Tang Clan, Queen Latifah, Snoop Dog, Nas, 50 Cent and Eminem top the list”
“I started trying to rap the lyrics I had written out to their beats. Then I started writing my own lyrics to the beats.”
Soon after, he was recording his own music, but not in a booth with pro equipment. Back then, a good old tape deck had to do. It may have been rudimentary, running a tape with a beat on one side and another with an empty tape, but did it work? Sure did. Back on a roll, Ruggedman hit the studios again, scoring his own lines on tapes, straight from a mic. And then the real work began. He made the list of artists alongside Abounce recording music for “Diamond Ring”, a Tade Ogidan Movie. Then he hit another roll on “A Campus Tale”, a Hilda Dokubo movie, with Freestyle and Swave. Ace producer Paul Play Dairo and the late studio engineer Tony Tonero, were instrumental to this spot.
“I would put my face between both tape recorders and start rapping…catching both the beat and my voice onto the empty tape.”
Eventually, Ruggedman went on to record his first ever track with Paul Play Dairo, “What If”, and a chance meeting with the late OJB Jezreel. With access to pro recordings studios, there was only so much standing in his way. And the rest…is history. If there was any doubt about his influence on Nigerian contemporary music, the numerous awards Ruggedman has received speak volumes. 20 years in the game and counting, Ruggedman is rolling strong.
Ruggedman is passionate about human rights and continues to lend his voice to projects and causes that uphold the same.