Updated: Jul 30, 2019
“The vibe is definitely real. The Ruler is back,” proclaims east Detroit native Raphel Douglas a.k.a. Ralphie the Ruler. Douglas has been on hiatus from the Detroit hip – hop game for a minute, but is re-emerging with a promotional and brand building strategy to keep him at it for the long haul.
He shares the impetus behind stepping away for a few years; why he was, in his own words, “touch and go” with music.
“Creatively, I hit a wall, and it was a hard wall, on top of things in life not going right. When things in my life started to go left, I really couldn’t concentrate. A lot of the stuff I was creating was coming off real dark, hooks weren’t coming, and I just wasn’t interested in finishing songs. I have never reached this point in my life before. At that point, I thought it was over. It was something that I had never felt, and plus life was kicking my ass…severely. I was like ‘oh, well – maybe it’s time to step back and re-arrange some things’ “.
The city is no stranger to the hip – hop scene. Douglas has the maybe dubious privilege of being a player in the game in the city where platinum – selling and Grammy winning artist Marshall Mathers a.k.a. Eminem emerged. He shares a little on the hip – hop scene circa the rise of Eminem.
“I really can’t put my finger on it. Marshall came out of nowhere, but as you do the research on him, he’d been on the scene for a minute. And shout out to Royce Da 59 – Royce is still out here killin’ it – a Detroit pioneer. As far as opportunities, I was really too young to take notice of all that. I was really particularly in tune with what was going on in New York City. I was so captivated with what was going on in New York ‘cause New York had such a strong pool of strong thugs. It really blinded me to what was going on in the city. You had DMX, Ja Rule was emerging, and at the same time, the South was making their presence felt.”
Although the Detroit EMCEE was enamored with the New York scene, he paints an illustrious picture of what his hometown scene was like.
“The underground in Detroit was just one of those things where you really, really had to be there, because the underground scene is, more or less, our mainstream, because the community is so big. The people that were in it were so serious about this; you could literally go somewhere and get embarrassed in the Detroit streets if you weren’t lyrically prepared. It wasn’t about how you were dressed or nothing like that. It was grit and grime, but most importantly, it was lyrics.”
Douglas expounds further.
“Going up against those guys around the Shelter area; places like Alvin’s; a historic place in Detroit, these guys were killers, man. With Marshall blowing up like that, it put a spotlight on it. In the underground scene, you would hear the rumbles. You would hear when bodies were caught; when you were caught slippin’ in a battle and you didn’t come prepared. We come from a bloodline of warriors, man. Shout out to Supremcee, Mo Dirty, Marv 1, and Fatt Killahz…the list goes on. I don’t wanna keep naming ‘cause I don’t wanna’ forget anybody. That Shelter scene (in “8 Mile”); I don’t think nobody could have described it better. It was a perfect depiction of how it goes down at the Shelter on hip-hop nights.”
Talking about his influences in music, Douglas names Michael Jackson, Tupac, Notorious B.I.G. , Ice Cube, and Rick Ross. He goes into more detail as to why these artists were so influential. He begins with Michael Jackson.
“He was such a big star; very, very vocally talented. But his star power was amazing. You would see footage of thousands on top of thousands of people packed in stadiums and arenas and passing out like…they were literally surfing bodies out of the crowd to get these people some sort of help. When you’re young and seeing this you’re like ‘who the fuck is this guy and why do they love this guy so much?’ It wasn’t the talent, per se, but the star power was crazy.”
When discussing his hip – hop inspirations, his observation is more collective.
“They embody the art of storytelling; like Tupac could paint a perfect picture of what it’s like to be black in America, as well as Ice Cube. Ice Cube just did it in such a west coast way. It was still the grit, the grime over the hard beats and the west coast lingo. Tupac made you proud to be black. He took you down roads that you didn’t even know that was really happening.”
The EMCEE quotes Tupac’s “Runnin’”
‘My man had two strikes, slipped, got arrested, and flipped
He screamed “thug life” and emptied the clip
Got tired of running from the police’
“Like….SHEESH! Did that ever really happen?! That guy was determined not to go back to jail. No more run-ins with the police; my second strike on to my third? – no way…it didn’t even matter.”
“Biggie was the same. He brought you the mafioso real-playerish type deal, but it was really just the art of storytelling. He could paint a picture…so crazy. But it was so smooth, laid back…nothing out of place.”
Finally, Douglas discusses Rick Ross.
“Though he was generations later, he still carried the torch. The more and more Ross kept going, his sound got bigger and his content got more and more solid. It all was brought back to the art of storytelling.”
“They all embodied that, and that’s not the easiest thing to do. To be able to paint such big pictures with words… this is why I love those guys so much, and why I still listen to those guys to this day. I still listen to these guys like they came out yesterday, because you still feel the energy; you can still see the pictures they painted. Rest in Peace to Biggie and the great Tupac.”
In 2008, Douglas was signed to a compilation deal with Griffith Records in his hometown.
“It was definitely school. If it wasn’t for them, I can honestly say I probably wouldn’t have experienced the art of showmanship. That was my first professional deal with music; with my name on some paper.”
During that time, Douglas performed with a crew and was regularly a guest at the local Detroit radio station.
“Shout out to 98 FM.”
After a couple of years of performing and being played on local radio, Douglas was ready for a change. When a good friend of his moved down south to Atlanta, he quickly followed suit.
“Being on the radio station and hearing your voice on the airwaves, it’s like ‘where do you go from here?’ At that time, I felt like I did it all; I was on a two- year run. I started off at Griffith in the beginning of 2008. We did shows to promote the compilation, but after a while it died down. In the city, I felt like I had capped out…so I went out to do my own thing. I felt like I needed something new. It was a life move; a life experience…my first time hopping on a plane, living out of town.”
Though Douglas left the Griffith Records compilation deal after two years, he did so with a lot of gratitude and appreciation.
“Shout out to Griffith Records, man. Fabian Griffith is a good guy. It was actually a pure pleasure working with him. The moment he heard my music, he didn’t hesitate to give me a shot. That’s a confidence builder in itself. He didn’t try to change who I was. When I started recording with him, he gave me free reign to do whatever I wanted to do. He was very, very supportive of me, even outside of music. At that time, I was still one foot in the street or whatever. Any time I would call he was right there for me. I’m still humbled and grateful to this day. If it wasn’t for that, it wouldn’t be this. I probably wouldn’t be doing this interview – shout out to Hip-Hop Forum Digital Magazine.”
Douglas’ time in Atlanta was brief. Things didn’t line up in the financial sense for him to execute the things he wanted to down south. Could it have been because the scene was too competitive?
Douglas laughs at the question.
“Oh, no. We welcome all competition; I welcome all competition. A loss is never a loss; is always a lesson.”
The seasoned EMCEE has had the opportunity to be featured on a couple albums; 2011’s “Loud Pack” by Cartier Cash and 2017’s “Ultralit” by Rock Cobain. He shares how this came together.
“I actually met him (Cartier Cash through the friend who moved down to Atlanta before me. The joint that you heard was actually recorded down in Atlanta. We had a studio in the crib. We started the idea at the house, and then we took it to a big studio with Corey and Mike Moore – producers from Atlanta. I didn’t even know he put it out. I just thought it was for us to listen to. I was happily “Google-ing” myself one day, and I saw it. I was like ‘oh, alright…well…good lookin!’ ‘Shout out to you all for puttin’ it out and givin’ me credit too.’ Those guys are my friends, man. I can’t call too many people my friends, but those guys are my friends.”
“Rock Cobain is one of my guys. We actually went to school together. We have mutual friends, and we were all musically inclined. He sent me an idea, and I loved it – I didn’t hesitate. When it comes to features, if you hear my voice on it, send it – I’m not gonna’ turn it away.”
Additional opportunities came the talented artists’ way when he got on an opening slot for Cash Money, UTP, and G-Unit artist Young Buck at the Hayloft in Mount Clemens. Douglas talks about the experience of getting on the bill.
“Young Buck was promoting Cash Real records and another performer busted down his slot so I could get in. I got a chance to kick it with him and rap with him. He’s a real cool guy. That was a dope experience. It was an awesome experience for me. I enjoy big stages and that stage was pretty fucking big.”
As the Detroit artist is returning to the game, he has released four tracks, following his promotional strategy; “Teardrops” produced by Beats Planet, “Passports and Visas” produced by Detroit Killa B, “Talk that S***” produced by Rock Da Prophet, and “Reloaded” by Zack Yoder. Douglas discusses his criteria or reasoning behind choosing producers.
“If you ever hear me on anybody’s track, it’s because the beat started to talking to me first, and it gave me the opportunity to talk back. You hear it one time and it’s just a vibe and it’s deeply rooted. I’m like ‘ok, I can get off to this.’’ You play around with it, and next thing you know, you got something special. I don’t chase a sound, per se. I just enjoy good music. If it’s a good rhythm or hard beat….as long as it resonates to me. All this comes straight from the soul, man….straight from the heart.”
Although the artist is excited about the music he’s recently released, “Teardrops” is particularly poignant and personal for him.
“Actually, I had been sitting on that song for a few years, man. I remember around the time I wrote it, in my neighborhood, we had lost a few cornerstones in the neighborhood, and we had lost them in such a violent way. Rest in Peace to my guys – Lil’ Cliff and Poncho.”
Douglas reminisces for a moment.
“If it wasn’t for Poncho….I would be walking home from school, and you wouldn’t see nobody and, out of the blue, you’d hear ‘yo, fat-ass, man, get your fat-ass home, man!’ I would then turn around and he’d be hangin’ out the door. I’d say ‘hey fuck you, man!’ I always had a problem with being called fat, even though I’m big as shit. And he knew that…so he would say ‘them just words, man – fuck that.’ You’re a fat-ass, man – so what?’ I knew he didn’t do it out of malice; he did it out of love…you know what I mean? It’s hard to even think about; I miss him. I miss his voice. I miss his insults; you know what I mean?”
“There were so many close figures who died in such a close span. When I heard the hook for “Teardrops”, I just had to deliver on it. It touched something deep in me. It was an opportunity to express the frustration of, not only what was going on in my neighborhood, but what was going on in all these neighborhoods…all around the world. We’re killing each other…senselessly.”
He shares a verse:
‘What’s really the American dream?
Black on black violence the media scream
Young boy robbed out of his shoes and jeans
The world gotta change but it starts with me’
“And I meant that.
I think that’s the favorite quote of that whole song. If I don’t remember no other quote from that song, that is my most favorite quote. It’s going on; not only in my neighborhood, but in somebody else’s neighborhood. Somebody else is feeling the same pain that we felt. That’s somebody’s brother, that’s somebody’s son, that’s somebody’s cousin. We need to become more conscious in what we say and feed into the world.”
The current state of hip-hop has been a point of discussion, with pioneers like Darryl McDaniels among others chiming in on social media. The Ruler shares his thoughts.
“I just feel like there’s a lot of carbon copies; like you can’t tell these guys apart. But on the flipside, the courage of the art that’s coming out, these guys are actually going for what they know in their own little way. I can’t knock them for what they’re doing. I just feel like everybody’s trying to do the same thing.”
He continues by sharing some EMCEES in the later generation that are doing it right.
“If I had to say, of course Drake. His artistry is amazing. Then you got J Cole, Kendrick Lamar, and the emergence of Nipsey. Rest in Peace, Nipsey Hussle. His emergence was a great thing. They’re all their own type of artist.”
The Ruler is currently working with Jay Charles on his EP “Ruler Music Vol. 1, due to be on all streaming platforms early November.
“It’s my first time really locking in with one producer. Charles is actually the producer on Griffith Records’ “Multiple Choices Vol. 1.”
He admits he’s not ready to push for a full- length album at this time. Cultivating the brand and patiently waiting for the right moment is where he’s at.
“Right now, I’m just mixing and mingling; trying to get myself back acclimated with the streets, man. I’m trying to check out what this new scene is about. It’s still the same game, but the players change. I’m just checking the temperature right now and still building on the brand; increasing the artistry – that’s the first love.”
“God is good, man. If you’re gonna’ live your dream, then live it.”
Ralphie the Ruler’s music can be found on Sound Cloud, You Tube, and he can be found on all social media platforms.
by Boyd Lillard