The Rukus: Soulful trio is making noise in the hip-hop scene
(All this week, we’re spotlighting tbt*’s 2012 Ultimate Local Artists on Soundcheck. Today: The Rukus.)
Never let it be said that The Rukus aren’t grateful.
Their 2011 album The Patience Project kicks off with a song called One (Million Shoutouts), in which the hip-hop trio delivers pretty much exactly that — dozens and dozens of shoutouts to rappers from all corners of Tampa Bay, not to mention countless DJs, promoters and scene supporters. (Toward the end, even tbt* gets a mention. Hey, that’s us!)
“It had been a long time coming for us to put out that album, and we wanted to make sure that we thanked as many people as possible,” said Keith Hernandez, a.k.a. KeithElite. “And not necessarily everyone that we’ve worked with, but people that we might have done a show with here or there, or we see, or we know.”
It comes naturally for The Rukus to ingratiate themselves to those around them. Keith Hernandez and Rudy “Rude” Hernandez (no relation; “We’re brothers, but not really,” says KeithElite) are both military brats who grew up all over the country, eventually meeting in high school in Okinawa, Japan and reuniting once both settled down in Central Florida.
KeithElite is the group’s primary MC; Rude focuses on beatmaking and production. Rounding out the trio is longtime local hip-hop DJ Blenda, a.k.a. Michael Mendolusky, who lends his encyclopedic knowledge of old-school hip-hop, and also adds to the dynamism of their live shows.
Together and separately, The Rukus (pronounced “ruckus”) are part of the Tampa Bay roots, reggae and progressive hip-hop artists collective known as Gwan Massive, which in many ways is a local music scene in and of itself, a self-perpetuating entity whose members support each affiliated act unconditionally.
Though they each made a few homemade recordings in high school, KeithElite and Rude have been performing together in Tampa as The Rukus since about 2005. Rude was studying music production at Full Sail University in Winter Park, and KeithElite was hitting open mics and rap battles around town. They fell in with Gwan Massive and caught the ear of Blenda, who’s been part of the Tampa Bay hip-hop scene since the early ’90s.
“It was more of an older ’90s hip-hop sound, more of a conscious style,” Blenda said. “They weren’t really following current trends. They were going in more of a soulful, older, New England/Northeast hip-hop format. And we just got along together. Everybody was on the same vibe.”
Blenda helped them establish a foothold in the local scene, which led to gigs sharing stages with De La Soul, Wu-Tang Clan and, most recently, Slaughterhouse. But their crowning achievement, they say, is The Patience Project — a reference to the years it took to create an album they were all happy with. Rude, whose father was a Latin percussionist, produced all but one of the tracks.
“If this never went anywhere else, and today was the last day — we never did another song, we never did another show, we didn’t do anything else — I can say that in my life up to this point, I had a blast doing it,” Rude said. “If anything ever were to come about — we somehow got a record deal or whatever — that’s icing on the cake. For me, it’s just not about that. I love doing it. I love music. I’m a music nerd. I love all kinds of music. I just feel fortunate that I’m able to do what we’ve done so far.”
Next on their agenda is a Gwan Massive album, featuring contributions from as many members as possible. Rude says he’s been recording and mixing tracks with various members at his home studio, including one six-minute song with “everyone on it.”
“There’s no weak links in the crew,” KeithElite said. “Everyone is good by themselves, so nobody has any type of ego when we all come together. It’s a pretty good thing.”
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*. Photo/video: Carolina Hidalgo, tbt*