What do you call a Nigerian rapper who was independent throughout his career, reveled in controversy, spun out some classic hits and then built a brand around activism? Ruggedman, that’s what. After he came onto the scene with his controversial hit single ehen, Ruggedman went on to build a legendary rap career. Since early 2019, there’s been a lot of chatter around hip-hop and its commercial future in Nigeria. Ruggedman already gave the blueprint eight years ago in 2007 but where is he today?
Born Michael Ugochukwu Stephens on March 30, 1976, Ruggedman hails from Ohafia, Abia State. He has a degree in political science from the Lagos State University (LASU). His journey started in 1999 when he started to dabble in production. He produced two songs for himself and put them out. Those songs reportedly made it to radio at the time (remember, there was no Internet).
For a short period of time, he was signed to Muri Ejalonibu’s Little Fish Records before leaving to set up his own record label, Rugged Records. Next followed his debut album, Thy Album Come in 2005 to critical acclaim, sonic and stylistic evolution and multilingual deliveries – in Yoruba, pidgin and English. The album had the controversial ehen – which took shots at Maintain, Rasqie and the mighty Eedris Abdulkareem, and club banger Baraje (What U Got).
Two years later, he followed with what is arguably his best project yet – Ruggedy Baba. The title track featuring 9ice was a smash hit. As he did on his first album, Ruggedman fused the atypical hip-hop sound with an authentic Nigerian essence and substance. Entertainment journalists often say this is Ruggedman’s most brilliant work and it was easy to see why. Tracks like Rock Da Spot’ featuring Lord of Ajasa, ‘Waka’ and ‘Watch Me’ took off on the streets and on radio. In 2009, while he was at the height of his career, Ruggedman also hosted the Nigerian Breweries-sponsored Star Quest Reality TV Talent Show in 2009, 2010, and 2011.
Three years later in 2010, he released his third studio album to less than stellar applause from his audience who had been fully introduced to the controversial ruggedman by this point. Despite production from the likes of P Square, Puffy Tee, K Solo, Kash 11, Samklef, SARZ and Sossick, the album failed to garner the critical acclaim and fan love that the first two projects had. There was just too much controversy going on around Ruggedman (and on this album) for features like 2baba, his protege Chinaydu, Dagrin, Flavour, Ice Prince, Mallam Spicey, M.I., P Square and Samklef to make a difference.
Ruggedman’s final album came in 2012, a collaboration project with his then new signee Mbryo. Titled Money making Music, the project didn’t make any headlines and would be Ruggedman’s final body of work. He last released new music in 2019, a track called Eruku.
He has since launched a clothing line, Twentieth September Wears (TSW) which still runs today and has also become an activist against police brutality. “It was just a dream back then. So when Ruggedman finally became a household name in the Nigerian music industry, I kicked off my clothing dream.Even though in almost all my videos back then I had customized t-shirts I used,” he told Ono Bello in 2016.
Ruggedy Baba, as he is also known, convened The Foundation Concert in September 2019 and will be speaking at this year’s Social Media Week. He also holds the annual Rugged Premier League, a gaming competition for youths. Obviously, the legend still has decent clout on these music industry streets even if he is no longer a full-time artist. We stan a legend that can stay relevant for over two decades in one of the harshest music markets in the world.
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