Michael Ugochukwueke Stevens, known as Ruggedman, studied Political Science at the Lagos State University (LASU), Ojo, and has been a thrilling feature on the Nigerian musical scene. In this interview with Yejide Gbenga-Ogundare and Bunmi Obarotimi, he speaks on his clothing line, career, fights with other musicians and sundry issues. Excerpts:
What informed your interest in music?
I developed interest in rap in 1989 when I started watching UMTV rap and Rap city. My uncle brought some video tapes from the US and I used to borrow them from him. That was when I got attracted to their word play; saying one sentence that has two meanings and that was how I started developing myself. Initially, I was re-doing people’s song but gradually, I started writing my own songs and later I started going to the studio to do my own instrumentals.
You have a unique way with rap, how long did it take to evolve your style?
I rap the way I talk and I’m the only person that talk like me. I want to be a Nigerian rapper, that why I’m using pidgin, the most common language in Nigeria It is not because Nigerians can’t speak good English, but I want something every Nigerian will understand.
Who is your mentor?
Every successful artiste. At the moment, I love 50 Cent, he is an Igbo man in America. Forget all the other stuff; he is a business man to the core. I like Jay Z, Nas, these guys are making it generally in the entertainment industry. These are the people that I look up to. I don’t have to wait for shows to come before I make money, which is what led me to 20th September.
Your first single, ‘Ehn hen’ was controversial, how many friends or foes did you acquire through the song?
A lot of both. One thing that I got more with that song is respect; it earned me a lot of respect. Some people that really wanted to sting others use the song because they know the song inflicts pain. I recollect a radio presenter who after she had announced the artiste of a particular song that she was about to play said, “I wonder what Ruggedman will say about this song.” There was a similar incident when some artistes were in the studio and one of them asked them to sample a song and they replied him “make Ruggedman take us sing abi.” I am happy that it helped in sanitizing the industry. This makes me proud.
There seems to be visible steps towards making peace with those affected in ‘Ehn hen’. Recently, you collaborated with Eedris Abdukareem where you said, this is for peace to move on even if you are not equals, don’t you think this is another way to start a fresh round of criticism?
That song is not to belittle Eedris or anybody, why is it that it is only that word people are interested in? Why not the one that said we are doing this for peace to reign. The fact is that we are not equal, we differ in the way we do things.
You said 50 Cent is a good business man, is this why you also moved into fashion?
It has been happening for long. Before now, artistes had their own merchandise. I used to read magazines like Vibes, Right-on and the rest, they created space where they place merchandise of artistes and where to get them. It depends on what they like. Some do jewelleries, some shoes. 50 Cent had an energy drink called Formula 50 which he did for $200,000 and when Coca Cola bought the brand, they bought it for $40 million, that is business. Tomorrow, Ruggedman will stop singing but people won’t stop wearing clothes, so you have to diversify . Though I have a record label, diversification brought about 20th September Clothes. I’m just trying to secure my future.
20th September, what is the significance of this date? Do you know it is the late Abacha’s birthday?
It is my birthday. I heard it is also the late Abacha’s birthday, but I’m Michael and he is Abacha, we have nothing in common. I thought it will be nice if I immortalize my birth date as well as my name.
How old are you?
I don’t want to disclose that, though many people know it. It’s not good to let people know everything about you. That will be demystifying yourself. I’m old enough.
Are you married, searching or about to be married?
I’m not married, not searching and I’m not about to be married for now. I promise you that everybody will get to know when it is time.
How rich are you?
I’m rich enough. I’m not counting physical cash, I’m rich in health and in acceptance by my numerous fans. Although I have some awards at home, but that is not what I feel when those who know me call me in the street, I usually feel so blessed and rich,.
How are you coping with female fans?
I thank God for the wisdom he has given me to manage things. I’ve had no scandal.
What about Bisi Ibidapo Obe?
There is nothing between us. We met on two occasions at the premises of LTV 8, Ikeja. I had just watched Olabisi Omo Logbalogba two weeks before then. I called her by the name she answered in the film and she answered. After I parked my car, I went back to greet all of them that were there; Fathia and two other ladies were there and we exchanged numbers.
Another day, I went to the same venue. I didn’t know what the press were doing inside Feminar then but she was also around. I was with Mr. Kool and we agreed to find something to eat. She offered to join us and we decided to go out in my car. I don’t know why they didn’t link her with Mr. Kool but anyway, we are friends.
What are your other areas of interest apart from fashion?
My record label. I have set it aside a bit to push Ruggedman all this while and I think it would only be proper to push my label. Let me tell you this off the book and on the book; my latest effort which should be ready by December or January will be my last album although I will still be performing on stage as even the latest effort will need to be pushed with shows.
What is the toughest challenge you have ever faced?
I think it is thinking about which song to release. I ensure that I never go below the standard I set with my first effort. Since 2003, there is no year that I did not win an award. Take 9ice for example, he won his first award ever for his role in the collaboration we did in Ruggedy Baba and to maintain the standard is what makes my songs my toughest challenge so far.
What do you have for your fans?
I will officially unveil my fans club, which will give my fans the advantage of listening to or buying my latest songs first; buy my clothes at reduced prices, give them access to me and bring me closer to them. We both will stand to gain a lot from ourselves; they should be expecting these from me soon.