Q&A With Veteran Bakersfield, CA Hip Hop Group Royal Ruckus
Hey guys! Much respect on your new album. We appreciate you guys holding down Hip Hop, especially out in Bakersfield since 1998! How did this epic duo come about? How did you guys meet?
Chunjay: First of all, I want to thank you for taking the time to chat with me. You seem to really “get” our album, it’s an honor to talk with you. And yeah! Flatline and I have known each other since grade school, went to the same church and schools. It was sort of a fluke though, when one day after a youth group event at Flatline’s house, he was playing around on his keyboard making rap beats. I dug his stuff and invited him to join this joke rap group I was starting with another buddy, and the rest is history. When people started taking us seriously and offering us real gigs, we decided that it wasn’t a joke after all.
Your guys’ style and sound is really rare nowadays! Adding tons of humor in music along with being true and having fun with your music! How did you guys come up with your guys’ original sound scheme and actually perfect it!
Chunjay: You know, I was heavily influenced by DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince’s story-telling style and sense of humor growing up. And I really dug UMC’s and their ability to make you feel good and smile. People should look up their first album if they don’t know. But then along came LA Symphony! And these dudes were fun but not corny, and they rapping about girls in a very fresh but innocent way. And I was like, “You mean I can make a break-up rap song? Or a song about getting dissed by girls? And it’s okay to do?”
On top of that, Flatline was not much of a rap guy. I think when Royal Ruckus started, he’d listened to LA Symphony and Wu-Tang and that was about it. And he plays like eight instruments, at least. We’re both pretty musically well rounded, so when we sit down to make a song, it’s not going to be like anyone else out there. At all.
At the end of the day, we’ve never tried to be anything other than two suburbanites from northeast Bakersfield who grew up skateboarding and going to church. I mean, I’ve lived in the hood in North Philly, so I can hold my own. But I’m not Ice Cube either, and I’ve never tried to be. We like laughing more than we like being mad at people.
A lot of rappers and producers who tend to get big completely disappear from their local communities and never give back! What is your take on that, and lets say you hit it major one day, what will you do?
Chunjay: The thing is, we love where we come from, and we respect our friends and family there. One of our first photo shoots was in front of the famous Bakersfield archway sign. We’ve always repped our hometown! In fact, it was Pigeon John, we did an EP with him in like 2001, and he was like, “Homie, you need to rep Bakersfield all the time. Let that be one of your things.” And we did. We used to sell “I Love Bakersfield” bookmarks at our shows, even. Were we to “make it big,” I would want to do something to further the local music scene in Bakersfield, and help grow the artistic community where we got our start. Bakersfield used to be known as Nashville West for its great country acts—I’d love to help bring that reputation back, but for all genres.
Please breakdown the creative process of your latest album The Summer Of The Cicadas. Also, tell up about those amazing features! Solid MC’s across the board!
Chunjay: Well, it was tricky, because I am currently living in South Florida, and Flatline is in Austin, Texas raising a couple kidlets. So there was a lot of Dropbox, Gmail, and texting involved in the process. That said, I went to Austin twice to make sure that we had that in-person synergy, too, and we recorded most the vocals together in Texas.
When it came time to record, we had tracked all of the music ahead of time in home studios, and some of the vocals, and then we teamed up with DJ Sean P and KRUM (formerly Playdough) to record together in Fort Worth. Sean was our engineer, did the mixing and mastering, and just did an incredible job. He gave a lot of creative feedback in the studio as well. I just couldn’t imagine this album without him. And KRUM was a huge help, too. He came in the studio to listen to us rap—and essentially to produce our vocals, coaching and critiquing every step of the way.
Originally, this album was supposed to be two records: a Royal Ruckus record, and a Chunjay solo project. Flatline was involved in both projects, but obviously there was a more significant collaboration between us for the first half of the project. Act I (songs 1-15) tells a love story, and originally it was going to be a thematic album, not an actual story. As we wrote the album, we realized if we put the songs in a particular order that they would form sort of a story. Once we had a narrative outline, we could start filling in the gaps in the story so that it can be listened to from start to finish and make sense.
If you listen to Act I from start to finish with that in mind, then when you get to Act II, it’s like I’m picking up the pieces from an incredible, beautiful, but painful, failed relationship. The metaphor shifts to “Lone Gunmen”—rugged individuals in community, capturing the tension in life of being an individual but together with others. This was the inspiration for my “solo” album being loaded with guest spots. It’s like the relationship tanked, and now I have to figure out life, and it’s one big conversation with my friends about death, life, love, dating, fathers, beers, everything.
The guest spots were amazing. Part of the inspiration here was, “Let’s assume this is our final album, how do we want to go out, and with whom do we want to go down guns blazing?” Originally, Act I was not going to have any guest spots, those were going to be saved for Act II. But when it came down to those songs, as we were writing, I was like, “‘Coulda Swore I Saw You’ is just begging for a Pigeon John singing hook,” and I knew “Time for Us” needed a strong, masculine voice, and Bonafide of GRITS proved to be perfect for that song.
Pretty much everyone on the album is a friend, or a friend of friends. We just made a list of rappers we have known over the years, dudes we respect, and started shooting out invites to be on the album, and we got a couple recommendations from friends. The only one that was a bit of a stretch was Eligh, but we have mutual friends, and I got lucky to catch him on like a month break between tours. The second he heard the beat and the concept, he was in, and had his verse within a couple hours. It was dope.
What are you guys looking forward to for 2017? Anything you going to be doing differently as a group compared to past years?
Chunjay: Well, for the most part, I’m doing live shows solo, repping Royal Ruckus. I’ve only done that a few times before, usually Flatline and I are rocking together. I miss touring with him, but RR is originally my brainchild, and I don’t have kids to take care of! It’s a slow re-build, as it has been more than a decade since we actively toured. But I’m in it for the long haul and trying to build up that Ruckus Nation.
Any pressuring situations before you decided to push your album? Did everything work out according to plan?
Chunjay: The only real pushback was that our friends from Invisible Library Records said they wanted to jump behind the record, but only if they had time to promote it. So the record got pushed back from October to February. Alas! But it’s out now. Not nearly as frustrating as “The Great Hard Drive Crash of 2002” that threatened to wreck our Self-Titled project!
What are you guys working on now, any new projects coming out!?
Chunjay: With The Summer of the Cicadas being so freshly released, really all of our energy is there right now. We’ve been playing around with the idea of a mixtape, and I did hit the studio with Spoken Nerd for a really fun song, not sure what project it will go on, but it’s great. I’m not really sure where any of that will go. We will certainly keep you posted!
Rappers nowadays think by throwing up a few videos up on social media and pushing quick projects, they can blow up overnight! Give us your view on how over saturated the market is right now with so many MC’s/Producers but not too many quality music.
Chunjay: LOL! Yeah, instant success is unlikely unless you just get really, really lucky with a viral video or something. The market is saturated, man. It’s crazy. We were one of the early adopters in the late nineties to utilize the Internet effectively for our music. It’s a completely different beast 19 years later. On the plus side, it’s easier than ever to get your music out there. On the negative side, people don’t value the music as much. They don’t feel a sense of ownership of the music with streaming. As artists, our job is not only to make a great album creatively, but connect with people in a way beyond the music.
How often do you perform LIVE. Shows lined up in the near future?
Chunjay: I’ve been hitting a lot of open mics lately. It’s one thing to write a great rap and nail it in the studio—it’s another to spotlight a bunch of songs and captivate a crowd for thirty minutes. So right now I’m fine-tuning the show, and I’ll be hitting the road soon. Have some exciting stuff in the works for this summer. We’ll definitely promote it on the website.
Where do you see yourselves in 5 yrs time?
I’d like to have re-established Royal Ruckus in the underground scene by then, and hopefully will have some more solo stuff out there. I’d imagine my current day job will still be going strong—I work from my laptop and set my own schedule, so I really don’t want to mess that one up!
Here it is! Our most popular question! What is your definition of “underground hip hop”?
Man, underground hip-hop is anything that keeps the spirit of hip-hop alive, even without the backing of one of the majors. If it’s authentic, if it’s fresh, and if it’s representing the foundations of hip-hop culture, I’m all about it.
Where can people find you on the web? Drop all the vital links.
Lastly, and shout out?
Chunjay: First, I want to thank Flatline. He’s been a faithful friend and an amazing music partner. Like I say in the record:
“Still down with MPWalker, we text all the time/ Imma be his friend ’til the day that he Flatlines/ Or if I’m going first he’ll hoist me in the hearse/ And I’ll pray for him from heaven ’til sadness is reversed”
I’d also like to shout out to all the amazing artists that gave their time and their talent to make the record what it is, especially the homie DJ Sean P for putting that special touch on it. Shout to Cookbook from LA Symphony for coaching me and keeping me accountable. Thanks to Status Escalate for help on the promo front! And of course a major shout to our Kickstarter backers for helping us make this project a reality—and to our families for the support when we wanted to make unconventional hip-hop.