Sporting an iconic eye patch like he’s Afrobeats’ answer to Marvel’s Nick Fury, Ruger lights up with excitement as he discusses everything from Premiere League fixtures to Snapchat and the Netflix cartoon Disenchantment. Ruger has joined NME on a Zoom call to unpack the wide-ranging inspirations behind his recently-released debut album ‘RU The World’, and his quest to push Afrobeats towards a bold new frontier.
Ruger (born Michael Adebayo) and his ascent to stardom began with ‘Bounce’. Released in March 2021, the sultry number put Ruger’s playful sound on the map. Sitting at over 25 million streams on Spotify, ‘Bounce’ helped lay the foundation for his ‘Pandemic’ EP, which led him to sharing the stage with Burna Boy for his 2021 ‘Welcome Back Show’ at the O2 Arena in London.
Ruger was born in Lagos just before the turn of the millennium. As one of Nigeria’s most populated areas, it has a thriving art and culture scene that has become synonymous with innovation in recent years. With contemporary superstars like Fireboy DML, Rema, Ayra Starr and Oxlade beside him, Ruger is emerging as a leader of a new generation of convention-defying musicians helping to put the country on the global map.
“Afro-dancehall songs have the most beautiful progressions and melodies,” says Ruger, describing his unique sound. “They combine soft progressions with intense beats.” Since moving into the mainstream with the aforementioned ‘Pandemic’ EP, Ruger has won the Best Newcomer award at All Africa Music Awards in 2021, and the Soundcity MVP Award for Best New Artist – all before he even began work on ‘RU The World’.
On his debut, Ruger explores trap-tinged stylings on opener ‘Tour’, dancehall throwbacks on ‘BoyToy’, and even tried his hand at UK Afroswing on the Stefflon Don-assisted ‘Addiction’. Discussing his career thus far, the Jonzing World record label dynasty and his music’s lasting impact, Ruger explains how he wants to “make a mark on the world and leaving a lasting impact.”
Talk to us about the ‘Ruger’ persona you’ve crafted with the eye patch and colourful hair. Is that you – or is that your alter ego?
“The persona named ‘Ruger’ and myself, Michael, are the same. It’s a blend of everything that makes me who I am. How I communicate online is the same as how I communicate in person, and my behaviour online is consistent with my behaviour in real life. There’s no deception, do you understand? It’s all genuine.”
What’s the link between the ‘RU The World’ album title and your signature eyepatch?
“The album title is self-explanatory. It’s a message for life, but it’s also a play on my name, and it mirrors what I’m trying to do – rule the world, you understand? The world wears an eyepatch on the cover art, symbolising my influence on its people and how far my music and image have spread globally. Ultimately, it’s about making a mark on the world and leaving a lasting impact. That’s how the title, the eyepatch and the album name are all in sync.”
What was the recording process like for this album?
“The creation of my album started in 2020 before I began putting my ‘Pandemic’ EP together. There are a couple of joints I laid down back in 2020 – but I wasn’t ready to release them. Those songs needed more time to develop. I made a large bulk of the album last year when I started to move around and tour. I saw more of the world, and the pieces for ‘RU The World’ started to form. I made ‘Tour’, ‘Asiwaju’ and ‘Red Flags’ in London doing shows.
“Every artist should understand that you can’t just go into the studio and say you want to create a banger. You have to fuse your experiences with the lyrics and the song overall. By doing that, your music can connect with way more people.”
You’ve described your sound as “Afro-dancehall”. What makes this genre unique?
“The genre of Afro-dancehall is a combination of Afrobeat lingo and song structure coupled with dancehall instrumentals. When recording, I select the craziest dancehall instrumentals and incorporate my patois while still keeping the track feeling like its own thing. By striking a balance between the two sounds, I can create a unique and balanced sound that blends both genres seamlessly.
“Afro-dancehall songs always have the sweetest progressions, even on the most chaotic beats. My song ‘Asiwaju’ was probably the most difficult to find a melody for. It took a long time to perfect that melody. ‘All My Days’ with BenjiFlow on the beat and the Afropop band Sauti Sol featuring was probably the easiest to find that Afro-dancehall groove, though.”
Sonically, what separates ‘RU The World’ from your previous work’?
“I believe this album is raw and honest – more than my previous work. I’m exploring new things and being more experimental. I think my rawness will help me sustain longevity in the industry. People perceive me as someone who speaks their mind without hesitation. That’s the kind of legacy I want to continue developing. I didn’t hold anything back or filter my thoughts on’ RU The World’. I spoke my truth, and I stand behind it. That’s what makes this album unique.”
“Africa is proving to the world that we’re exceptional at our craft”
A lot of UK talent appears on the album. What drew you to these artists?
“UK artists and producers know exactly what they want – when you’re in the studio, they take the time to understand your artistry. I think that’s what drew me to them. BenjiFlow did the beat for ‘All My Days’. Cadenza and I worked on ‘I Want Peace’ – that song is crazy, and of course, Stefflon Don did her thing on ‘Addiction’. She recorded her part in about a week. She sent it to me quickly; it was a straightforward process.
“I’m thrilled to work with more people in London. There’s definitely more coming soon. I also have to shout out TSB as well. He’s a real London boy [laughs] – ‘Red Flags’ and ‘Island Girl’ with Projexx are crazy, man.”
How do you see your album’s legacy playing out in the wider African music diaspora?
“I feel for Nigeria – for Afrobeat – it’s our time. Burna Boy and Wizkid are making waves globally. Rema won the first-ever Afrobeat VMA [Award], and we’re raising the bar for music. Africa is proving to the world that we’re exceptional at our craft. Africans are thriving in various fields, including sports and fashion. We’re at the forefront. I’m proud to be a part of this generation that’s making this a reality.”
Was partnering with D’Prince and Jonzing World always the plan?
“Not exactly, but I’m blessed things worked out the way they did. My bond with D’Prince and Jonzing World isn’t business – it’s a family thing. It all started when I was discovered on Instagram, where I used to post my freestyle videos. D’Prince was impressed with my music and showed keen interest in my potential in 2021. He reached out to me and invited me to the studio. The rest was history.
What’s life like as a Jonzing World artist?
“It’s great. Ever since I became a part of Jonzing World, everything has gotten so much better. We’re a small team – myself, Rema and D’Prince – but our impact is undeniable. D’Prince has given me the freedom to express my creativity with minimal restrictions, which has been crazy. He taught me a lot, too. I’m happy to get to this point in my career, you know? It’s a blessing. My relationship with Jonzing [World] inspired the ‘Jonzing Boy’ song.”
What have you learned since signing to the label?
“The biggest lesson I’ve learned is probably perseverance and patience. Your success is bound to come. Believe in yourself and a higher power, and commit to your craft. Do not rush anything. Your time will come. Those lessons have been so important for my development.”
Ruger’s ‘RU The World’ album is out now via Jonzing World