It is at least criminal not to include Ruggedman’s Ruggedy Baba in one of the greatest hip-hop Nigerian albums ever. Say what you want about prowess, punchlines, and hip-hop culture, Michael Ugochukwu Stephens, aka Ruggedman, was the most outstanding rapper in Nigeria for the longest time. In a real sense, the pride we now take in Hip-hop and the idea of Nigerian Hip Hop was promoted extensively throughout Ruggedman’s career in the early 2000s. He made it his mission statement to put Nigerian rap at the forefront and battled whoever thought it was not good enough because it employed vernacular.
The environment he operated in very much affected the message in Ruggedy Baba. In the 90s, Nigerian masses had received a proliferation of foreign influence in their entertainment. Our TV shows of the 80s had all fallen below mediocrity due to the dwindling economy. If anything, the 90s felt like the least artistic time in the nation’s history. However, with the advent of democracy in 1999, art found space to return as renewed hope appeared, and everyone thought the economy was on the uptrend. The foreign influence, however, would not leave our shores, and quite a number of the rappers at that time, influenced by the popularity hip-hop received in the early 2000s, sought to replicate that style of music here.
But Ruggedman had a different message. He thought that Nigerians should drop the shameless act of trying to find themselves in a foreign language and embrace our mother tongue in our rap. To him, it was how we stamped our identity and what made Nigerian rap unique. This message is delivered piece by piece all over the 19 tracks numbered in Ruggedy Baba.
There were quite several gems in this album. Ruggedman was unafraid to call out the people who opposed his ideas and sought to trivialize his contributions. Listening through the album, one gets the sense that this was a father speaking to the young upstarts, detailing his experiences and giving them a sense of identity that would help them in their journey.
Right from the first track, you get the sense that you are listening to a rapper who has been there and done that. The boldness of naming his intro track “Naija Hip Hop 101,” after the style of an introductory course in the university and then giving the listener ten rules to adhere to as they broke into Nigerian hip-hop was the stuff of legend. From telling the listener to hone their craft to creating a party track on the album, Ruggedman covers everything and more that even rappers still need to have a solid career to this day. Track 1 was not just an intro; it was the Nigerian Rapper’s Guide to Breaking into the Industry and probably the oldest and best marketing document any artist would need to this day.
Move Something took a page out of the crunk playbook, slamming it with a Nigerian flavour that was even more powerful than if it was written in English. This song would fit right in the New York club scene right now. Club Rugged was as sexy as Ruggedman could get on a song. This was one of the best vocal performances on a rap chorus in its era. Drawing influence from Indian music,
There is the bragging that hip-hop is known for, but when Ruggedman self-promotes, we are convinced that he is worth every word he says about himself. He is also unafraid to tackle societal issues, more from an individualistic perspective than as a journalist.
In “Flesh 2 Flesh to Death,” he tells the story of a man who sleeps around, contracts HIV/AIDS, loses everything, and dies alone. It is a record of the wave of HIV/AIDS cases that swept through Nigeria in the early 2000s, requiring a national intervention before it was controlled.
The album closes out with an Outro, telling us more about the importance of cultural infusion in rap. Ruggedman delivers a short lecture on culture, leaving this message for the younger rappers who would become the face of the scene.
What were the plans for Ruggedy Baba?
Taking his advice, Ruggedman sets what will become the blueprint for any hip-hop party track. Get someone to sing a hook or chorus in Yoruba while you follow up with the rap; later, rappers like MI would benefit heavily from this.
Ruggedman’s Ruggedy Baba was all about his message. Having spoken so much and fought the rest of his contemporaries to be more cultural with their music, Ruggedy Baba was about walking his talk, and he delivered this excellently, at the cost of everything else. This made Ruggedy Baba a cornerstone album for hip-hop music in Nigeria. You could hear one or two of the tracks in the clubs and then in other spaces. People sang Flesh 2 Flesh to Death in schools as part of the movement against HIV/AIDS, and the titular track ‘Ruggedy Baba’ became very iconic, as it was used as a soundtrack to many a TV show.
Its cultural impact has been undeniable, and the knowledge contained in this album still rings proper and effective to this day. To this day, Ruggedman’s Ruggedy Baba remains an important album in Nigeria’s hip-hop history.