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Ruyonga: Been there, done it all

HE SAW THE LIGHT: Rapper Ruyonga now does Christian and social conscious music, but when he was a “bad boy” back in the day, he experimented with drugs in the US. He tells Edgar R. Batte his journey to redemption.

What is your biggest asset as an artiste?
My belief and faith. It pushes me because there are days when I don’t want to continue.

When did you start doing music?
13 years ago before I left for the US. Klear Kut had just started and there were two other groups. I was in one of those groups.

What was the name of your group?
It was called Urban Thugs. Radio stations were not happy with our name, so we became Urban Life. It was me, Lyrical G and Minus One (formerly Jay T).

Why were you calling yourselves thugs?
We were young and hip hop was very impressionable to us, so we felt we had to do it the way Western rappers did it. My name was Crooked (spelt as Krukid) because I was an admirer of Snoop Dogg and Korupt, which were dangerous names, so we felt we had to be dangerous too.

Were you proud to use Krukid as your stage name?
I felt it was cool, but I did not know that it was defining who I was and what I was saying, but when I understood what the name stood for, I changed it. I got born again and was challenged to many things.

When did you become born again?
About four years ago as I was working on an album. Things were moving for a while, then they stopped. I changed my name to Ruyonga and when I did, things started moving well again. I thought that was like a divine sign for me.

Taking you back, at the time when you were Krukid, what kind of music were you doing?
It was socially-conscious but it was dangerous because I was glorifying wrong things like messing around with women and other things that I am not proud to do now. The world needs an alternative message because everyone glorifies the wrong things.

How many songs or albums did you do under Urban Thugs/Urban Life?
We did two albums and one unreleased one. The album titles were Raising In The Sun and African. There were songs like Africa, which was talking about African countries and then African-American-American-African, which talked about the diverse relationship between African Americans and Africans in America.

What was the relationship like between African Americans and Africans?
African Americans abused Africans and called us monkeys, along with White people.

Were you ever called a monkey?
No, but my cousins were because they had stayed there longer. When I went there it wasn’t that bad. It was bad in the 1980s.

What do you think made an African American degrade fellow Africans?
I think they felt threatened because their women would gravitate towards African men. Plus, they felt inferior because Africans worked hard in America and prospered and yet the African Americans were stuck in the system and glorified things that Africans did not. So, when I got there I would use the ‘N’ (nigga) word, but my aunties cautioned me not to use such words.

What took you to America?
I went to study graphics design, and I always wanted to rap. I still do graphics on the side, but the music picked up more.

Where did you study graphics from?
That was at Parkland College in Illinois.

How long were you in the US?
I was there for 10 years.

How long did you study graphics?
For three years.

What were you doing for the rest of the seven years?
I worked a bit as I chased my music dream.

What jobs where you doing?
I had a friend who ran a nightclub so he put me on retainer to do the graphics for the club for quite a few years.

How is it surviving out there?
It is not easy. People hustle out there.

Apart from graphic design, what other jobs did you do?
Well, along the way some guys introduced me to cocaine but I never touched it. I smoked quite a bit of weed but I never sold it. My friends sold it.

What does it feel like taking weed?
For some people, it makes them feel free while others it makes them feel trapped. There are people who smoke and start crying. They sit in a corner and cry. Some get scared that they are going to die. It alters your spirit and mind.

What impact did it have on you?
I felt careless. I didn’t care. I was just having fun, so when I smoked I felt lost and sometimes cautious or fearful and with no control over what I was doing. It was not always good.

Why and when did you return?
I returned for family reasons. My mum called me and asked me to come back for a while. There were things they needed from me. I don’t know if you have ever been in a situation where your family thinks you can help others change. I was living a very dangerous life before I got saved. I was living in Las Vegas, and when I returned home, I started doing graphics design and then I put out two songs and they caught fire. These were Pesa and after a few months, Tutuuse. Things became hectic after that.

You are a strong lyricist, what inspires these vibes?
Well, it helps that I went to school and I love vocabulary. I love English and I always try to get to the heart and soul of a matter. I think that is where the best and deep stuff comes from, so for me even if the subject is simple, the lyrics are really deep. I have a problem with surface lyricism. I want to be the alternative whether or not people like my music. There are so many issues in the world for me to pretend to be shallow. Shallow stuff is easy but depth is painful but necessary. Without pain there is no growth.

What was the music like out there and how did you get to that turning point?
I was on a good label called Rocus Records. It is the label that put out Common and The Roots when they first started. I was making money and I was on stage with known artistes. I was touring the US, sleeping with random women, and drinking. It was something that I could not control, so I saw my music going up and my life down. I felt like I was entering a black hole so I cried out to God to help me and when I moved to Vegas, which is the worst place to get spoilt, I saw the light. When I got off the bus, I said a prayer asking God to help me and suddenly I did not want to smoke or drink.

Did your life change just suddenly?
No and it is not like my life has been perfect since then, but I feel the freedom. Even if I mess up, I will always know God is faithful. When I quit booze and weed, I thought may be after a while I would want to do them again but a day passed, two days, a week and months. I was eating better. I used to be overweight, but I started working out and going.

How did you handle the changes in your life?
The first day I was like ‘wow’, the second day I was like ‘eh’ but after a month I felt it was real and happening and I knew it wasn’t me doing it because I had tried and failed.
Did you ever backslide?
There have been moments, but in mind I have gone back to the bad old days and those moments have never stayed, for example, after I got saved, at some point I had picked up on drinking wine, then something bad happened and I stopped. I got drunk for the first time in two and a half years. It was a very sobering moment. I woke up and couldn’t remember parts of the night. I thought wine is easy, but I realised I cannot be flirting with these things. For me it is a process but I know Jesus is Lord and as long as I trust him, he will guide me through.

Do you think church handled your out-of-wedlock relationship and child well?
They were supportive because they wanted me to acknowledge and say it is not something I was trying to glorify. It is a good thing. I love my woman and I love my baby but I did it at the wrong time. It was a very trying time for me because I was sensitive and there was a lot of attention. It was hard but the church was there for me like a family. That meant a lot because all these people coming out and looking at you judging was not nice.

When did you meet this woman?
It was at church a few years ago.

What brought you together?
We talked and clicked and made plans for marriage and it actually took a long time. I blame myself for getting her pregnant because, as a man, I should have guided her, but at the end of the day you have to get up and keep going. We have a baby and I love them both to death. I don’t have time to keep blaming myself because I am not perfect. I keep moving.

What kind of family do you come from?
I have three siblings raised by a single mother. My dad died when I was 12. She was working in the government. She was an under-secretary for a long time. She worked in Law Reform and she is now a Member of Parliament.

Where did Ruyonga go to school?
I went to Nakasero Primary School and King’s College Budo before going to the US for further studies.

What message do you have for your fans?
I feel like a son to the Almighty Father. He forgives me when I am wrong. I try to listen when He is scolding or correcting me and listen when He loves me when I feel ashamed. I always say Mathew 6:33 – God knows everything you need. Seek first the kingdom of heaven and everything will fall in line.

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