Ruger’s reputation as a modern-day sex symbol also gets in his way of crafting proper chest-thumping affirmations of his greatness, the kind that would be expected of a debut album creatively and audaciously named RU The World…
By Patrick Ezema
Ruger’s RU The World is his debut album which succeeds two EPs made in 2021, with which he made his introductions in January and then restated his credentials in November. The second of the EPs, The Second Wave – smartly continuing the Pandemic story he had begun with his debut – received the deluxe treatment. So while Ruger’s latest project will be mentioned along the “Best Debut Album” category, it should be noted that this project comes two years after attaining a near top-level music status, and as such, the debut tag does not tell the full story.
Another likely fixture in these conversations would be that Ruger’s time in Nigerian music thus far has revealed that he is stingy with features, as opposed to creating a competing strategy where a breakout artiste works to collaborate with as much of the industry as they can to increase visibility. On Ru The World we can see that he was saving his verses for himself. The album hardly requires any lag phase — a period where you listen in hopeful anticipation of it growing on you. Quite the contrary, his arresting melodies and vocals seize you as early as the intro and do not put you off until you’ve exhausted all the tracks. In part this is due to the album’s nature, being more a collection of hit records than an expository journey, but Ruger prioritises creating instant favourite songs over a storied album.
Ruger draws from and evokes the carnal on Ru The World, and unabashedly so, as he finally gets a chance to give his reply to the reactions that trail each sultry video that emerged from his world tour. He says, “I never take no one’s advice/ I’ll have them as many as I want it’s not your life, you know”. This “many” quantifier changes from track to track — he mentions nine women on “Nine”, and ninety on “Tour” — but the spirit behind his philandering is unchanging. He spins around subjects of love and lust, with the former almost always shrouded by the latter, so that even his most tender expression of affirmation will surprise you when it turns out to be just another well-crafted appeal for sex. Such as on “Blue”, when he begins with “Forever I gat you/ Anyway possible” and swivels into “I don’t want to say goodbye right now/ Can we just fuck now?” and then, crudely: “Take your pants down”. Its misdirection is aided by the low-tempo Afro-Pop, dipped slightly in the RnB tone of the track, suggestive of a more affectionate affair.
The album, for the most part, sonically orbits Jamaican Dancehall and Reggae, stopping along the way to take in bits from Nigerian Afro-Pop and UK Afroswing. Jamaican music culture has always held its place in Ruger’s music, it is the means with which he distinguishes himself from the many other euphonious male vocalists that supply Pop-leaning, club-thumping music in Nigeria’s crowded industry. But while in the past the genre was merely a creative influence, on his debut album it becomes the vehicle for his luscious journey. For authenticity he recruits notable Dancehall producers behind the boards, allowing expert hands to herald his proper love letter to the genre. A few names here will be familiar to Nigerians, if only vaguely. Projexx has worked his way into credits in collaboration with acts like Wizkid, DJ Tunez, and Ruger himself in the past, while Jugglerz sat behind the boards for “Bun Bun”, Ruger’s early release that appears on the album.
“Bun Bun”, and Projexx’s contribution, “Island Girl”, set the stage for a free-flowing carnival, as he soaks in other highs across the project — such as the grandiloquence on “Asiwaju“, the gratification on “Tour”, and lust that is pretty much everywhere. These feelings are transcribed into effervescent productions which he gilds with his peppery vocals, realising an album that is as colourful as its cover. While the core of his message is not nearly deserving of the resplendent vehicle in which it is carried, his artful writing offers a source of variation. His relationship with women ranges from one-night stands as on “All My Days”, to long-term booty calls as with “BoyToy”, but nowhere in all this great music and sexual innuendos does Ruger find room for a healthy relationship. When his description of coitus, varied as he tries to make it, gets inevitably monotonous, he attempts to throw in a more balanced view via “I Want Peace”, but the song’s low-tempo plea to a toxic partner drags in its pacing and is an awkward fit on the album. When the album takes in toxicity, Ruger is more likely the instigator, as he tells a partner this on “Red Flags”, a track released with, and overshadowed by “Asiwaju” in the lead-up to RU The World.
But there are times when his womanising rots into something darker, like on “Nine”, where he states “I carry you come my section you no wan knack/ Odabipe you stupid”, deriding a girl for not providing sex after he had bought drinks. It is distasteful that misogynistic lyrics like these would be anywhere near a mainstream album, but thankfully they are never repeated.
RU The World is also Ruger’s first project with a featured artiste, and this time there are five of them. Unsurprisingly, four are of Jamaican descent, and they enrich his connection to Dancehall. British rapper and single, Stefflon Don, in particular, finds good chemistry with Ruger on opposite sides of a relationship on “Addiction”, but her efforts are undermined by poor sound engineering that wants her to sound as autotuned as possible.
“All My Life” with Kenyan band, Sauti Sol is another standout collaboration, but it cannot decide if it wants to celebrate success in life or prowess with women, and ultimately ends up fashioning the latter into a metric for the former: “All my days/ Been hustling for my change/ I just want two girls for the night/ Chop life for the rest of all my days”. “Tour”, his album opener, also suffered from this indecision, so he waters down a heartfelt “Mama I made it” chorus with another formulaic philandering post-chorus.
Ruger’s reputation as a modern-day sex symbol also gets in his way of crafting proper chest-thumping affirmations of his greatness, the kind that would be expected of a debut album creatively and audaciously named RU The World. It is important to remember that it hasn’t always been this way; his previous EPs created room for his dual personalities, so that “Bounce” was prefaced by “Ruger“, while “Champion” accompanied “Dior“. For some reason, this balance is lacking in RU The World. He tries to strike it with “Asiwaju” and “Jonzing World”, but they are too few and were released too long ago to feel canonical to this album’s story. Even when he attempts to end his album on a religious note — a Nigerian album staple now going out of fashion — it feels about as spiritual as a closing prayer at the end of an orgy. RU The World is probably the sweetest-sounding album released this year, but a meal of sweets does not make for a very wholesome diet.
Lyricism – 1.6
Tracklisting – 1.3
Sound Engineering – 1.4
Vocalisation – 1.7
Listening Experience – 1.8
Rating – 7.8/10
Patrick Ezema is a music and culture journalist. Send him links to your favourite Nigerian songs @EzemaPatrick.