Popular music artist, record label owner and entrepreneur, Ruggedman is one person you’ll love to meet someday. At first, I was probably not too sure of interviewing him but I must tell you honestly, he’s such a good sport and very friendly to say but the least. It was a great conversation with him and here are the excerpts:
Hello Rugged, how are you today?
Hello Frank, I’m great.
So, what are your full names and when/where were you born?
My name is Michael Ugochukwu Eke Stephens and I was born in Ebem Ohafia, Abia State on 20th September.
How was growing up for little Michael? Did you have any challenges?
Growing up was tough. My parents separated when I was six and we came down to Lagos (mum and other siblings). We have mad love for each other and that kept us through a lot. We had to be split at some point in order to stay in one family members’ house or the other. My big sister, Doris (I call her superwoman) sacrificed a lot, including her education to put the rest of us through school. I am happy that today, the education she couldn’t get in Nigeria, she finally got in the UK where she and my other sisters are based. I swept molues in Lawanson, Surulere and helped my uncle Jonathan (who was a car dealer) drive cars from Tincan to his showroom for money.
Do you have any nicknames?
They call me “daddy” at home. They say I look a lot like my grandfather.
Where did you school?
All levels of schooling were done here in Lagos. It started with St Joseph’s Primary School and then Atunrase Boys High School, Surulere. In my days, it was an all boys’ school and it was painful to hear that it is a mixed school now (laughs). They just had to do that after we left. I finally studied Political Science at the Lagos State University, Ojo.
How did music start for you?
Music started when I was in secondary school and old enough to pay DJs to record songs on tapes for me. Then my uncle, Jonathan Okeke used to travel and bring home VHS tapes of MTV Raps and Rap City. Then, I fell in love with rap music and started putting down my lyrics down on paper. Next came the stage of going to DJs and instead of songs, I got them to record instrumentals of songs on tapes for me and I used them to practice. There’s this funny thing I used to do. I’d get two tape players; put an empty tape in one and the tape of the instrumentals in the other. I would place them facing each other, press record on the empty one and play on the instrumental and with my face in between the tape recorders, I would kick my lines and record straight (laughs) As time went by, I met a few people who made me realize I could make my own instrumentals and songs and that is how Ruggedman was born.
Do you remember your first performance? How was it?
Wow! You’re really making me go down memory lane, Frank. It was at Surulere Girls’ Secondary school. I think I was in SS 2. They called for a raping/miming competition. My friends urged me to go for it but I refused as usual because I had never heard good rappers at the ones we had been to in the past. This one turned out to be good because I heard two good rappers – Cool G and Mad Max. I hurriedly went backstage asking to get on and was told it was too late to join. My friends who had been begging me then threatened to bring the place down if I wasn’t given a chance and that was it. I was finally included and it became a rap battle between the three of us. We kept going and were stopped because the M.C. announced we would continue at the Anglican Girls’ Secondary School. I went home that day, wrote 15 diss pages (laughs). Sadly enough, we never got to battle again and I never saw any of the contenders. I still wonder who and where they are. Shout out to you guys!
What led to you opening September 20, the shoe line?
I grew up listening to rap and reading magazines like Right On and Black Beat. In them, I saw that some artistes were not doing music alone, but were branching into other businesses like fashion and movies and that stuck in my head. So when I became the brand “Ruggedman”, I decided to do same. I chose fashion, hence the shoes but it’s not shoes alone. I started with shirts, then wrist watches and shoes.
How’s the shoe line now?
It’s very hectic I must admit. I had to put it on hold because I’m doing it all by myself. I did a couple of fashion parties and shows to showcase and sell the apparels. I was even one of the designers who showcased at the Cross River’s state governor’s wife DCC fashion show for charity in Calabar. My apparels turned heads and ladies loved the shoes. My aim was to see if they would be accepted or not and they were. I have been and I am still researching on stuff. When the time is right, I will kick off in full force.
What are the major challenges you faced as an entrepreneur?
I think it has to do with where to make good quality products and then the right finances to facilitate mass production.
I do not have a best color. I like black, white and yellow.
Any successful individual.
What are the major challenges you face as a music artiste?
I think it had to do with how to make people hear me. The talent was there, but it was the angle to come in with that I didn’t know about until God put “Ehen Part 1” in my head and the rest as they say is history.
I have a lot but I’ll say the time I realized Ruggedman had made history as he changed the Nigerian music industry for the better and had become a household name.
I have three saddest moments and they are the passing away of three people – My cousin, George Esemena, 2Pac and Dagrin.
Akara or moi moi?
Chinese, jollof, white, fried or coconut rice?
Spaghetti, lasagna or ravioli?
What can we not run into Ruggedman wearing?
Do you think you’re a fashion conscious person?
I do, because I wear only what I look good in.
What’s your regular routine before a stage performance?
I just kick it because my dancers are always ready with their routine. Just before we climb the stage, we gather for a group prayer session and “it’s on”
Favorite TV Show?
I love cartoons and espionage series
I like Armani, JOOP, Ralph Lauren but I wear anything I like and what is free and looks good on me.
Most expensive possession?
Do you play any instruments?
I don’t play any major instrument. I messed with the guitar a while back but I am mean on the conga.
Eba, egusi and pure beef or fried croaker fish (yum yum!)
I cannot pick one as my best but Bongo Sikwe, Paul Play, OJB, 2face Idibia, 2Pac, Eminem and Jayz are top on my list.
I can’t pick one also but Paul Play, Dr Dre, OJB, ID Cabasa, Del B, D’Tunes, Popito and the guy who produces for Eminem, 50Cent and Lil Wayne.
Turn-on in a lady?
Good sense of humor, good head on her shoulders, respectful also.
Turn-off in a lady?
Opposite of my turn-ons (laugh)
Who are you dating?
I am dating someone I intend to keep away from the media until the time is right.
When are you getting married?
Once I am ready, I will inform you.
How many children do you want?
If it was left to me, I’ll say 3 – two boys and a girl in between them.
Are you working towards an album?
No. Though I will put out songs, I am not set on releasing any album at this time. We are concentrating on the Mbryo project but you can never tell. “The most constant thing in life is change”
Give us a breakdown into the normal life of Ruggedman.
Wake up, pray and then the normal morning stuff. Check up on my crew (via cell) to be sure all men are at their duty posts. Then meetings, studio, interviews, strategy sessions, TV and movies. Not necessarily in that order though (laughs)
What do you do when you’re not working on music?
I’m either reading, watching TV, playing game (Soccer) or at the movies.
If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing for a living?
Do you see yourself going into Nollywood?
I already went into Nollywood when I was much younger and before I went into music full time. That’s like 1999-2000. I did waka pass (extras) in two of late Francis Agu (God rest his soul) movies. Tony Umez and Jumai Joseph were with me at the auditions. This was before Genevieve, Halima Abubakar, Tonto, Ini Edo and Jim Iyke came out (laughs) You can say I am a veteran waka passer (laughs more). I actually intend to revisit Nollywood now as Ruggedman. Na lead role sure pass.
What do we expect next from Ruggedman?
Expect a lot really from Ruggedman and Rugged Records. I have always been an artist with good eyes and ears to spot talent and I signed a sensational singer called Mbryo to my record label. I am getting ready to unleash him to the world. We have dropped a few songs to test the waters as we prepare and the reception has been good. Mbryo is the next best thing to blow out of Nigeria. I know you’re probably thinking “We don’t expect you to say otherwise” but let me tell you why I say this. Apart from being a singer/songwriter who produces, he can play the guitar, drums and piano which is something 90% of the young artistes today cannot boast of. He is a naturally talented musician who has worked with producers like D’Tunes, Popito, Young D and Del B to name but a few. He has a yet to be released song featuring Olamide and will hit the studio soon to record with Sound Sultan and Ice Prince. I, on the other hand have new songs with 2face, Wande Coal, Vector and TM 9ja. I will soon commence the recording of my TV show too, so stay tuned.
Who would you want to work with locally and internationally?
I think I’ve already worked with the Nigerian artists I want to work with, but the international act I would love to work with is Rihanna or Lil Wayne.
What’s your favorite song by yourself?
It has to be Ehen Part 1 with Nomoreloss because that’s the song that changed the face of Nigerian music and shot me into the mainstream Nigerian music industry.
What club do you support?
Manchester United for life.
Do you see Rugged Records signing someone else soon?
Rugged Records will definitely sign another artist, but that is as soon as Mbryo is up on his own feet. Then he will become the platform from which the new act will be projected.
How does it feel working with Mbryo?
Working with Mbryo has been great. He is naturally talented and in the studio once a beat is playing, he keeps going and going. It’s even easier since he’s capable of switching from his soul/RnB to the Nigerian street music.
For someone who has been in the industry for quite a while, what’s your advice to upcoming artistes?
I do not call them upcoming artistes; I call them ‘awaiting superstars’. My advice to them is “Make sure you know exactly why you are going into music because that will determine your outcome.” What you get when you go into it for money is different from what you get when you go into it for love. But the most important thing is to make sure you have the talent and remember music is like every other business. You need capital to start up.
Thank you very much Ruggedman for your time.
You’re welcome Frank and thank you too!