As a quick disclaimer: I wrote this 3-part article titled “My Name Was Ruckus” back in 2010-ish, and never had a chance to republish it after my blog went self-destruct on me. I’ve made a few choice edits, mostly to improve on amateur writing, but also because I have a lot more foresight on what should or shouldn’t be published online. Nonetheless, I’ve packaged up this series into one massive, eternally long narrative, in hopes that—
Actually, I’m not really sure what’s to gain from this. It’s not like I’m hoping to drop a new mixtape or drop a few bars on stage again. RAMONE is meant to be a memory dump of sorts, so I’m looking at this as a re-release of a very unique teenage story. Music has always been a hugely important aspect of my life, and while my early years were consumed by hip hop, grunge, the occasional top 40 classic, and whatever my dad would jam to on his guitar, rap was my necessary creative vehicle.
And it was challenging too. The story begins in the late 90s, when small towns in the Maritimes weren’t friendly with hip hop. Before gluttonous topics of money-cash-hoes and WAP went full berserk; before SoundCloud and social media made bedroom produced music accessible; before we even had a rap section in the local record store. I’ve always invited a good challenge, and rap at the time, was no different.
Here’s a historical rundown of my past life as a teenage rapper in the 90s.
This article was originally published in 2010-ish (with revisions).
Man, oh man. If I could only remember half of what I did in high school, I’d be publishing books right now.
In an effort to unearth past gems and shed light on things that’ve been well buried in the back of my skeletal closet, I’ve decided my next story for the Book of Ramone would be on my troublesome and occasionally malevolent past. I’ll start with high school, since well, everything before that is a huge blur and far less exciting to read. None of this is in chronological order, and slightly ADHD, although it isn’t hard to figure it out time frames based on my lack of maturity.
My high school was a big brick box in my home town of Saint John, New Brunswick. Saint John High School to be exact (-10 points for predictability).
I was a skinny little runt. As one of only a handful of Asian kids in the school, I wore thick eye glasses, went overboard on hair gel and frosted tips, wore oversized South Pole jeans and XL size tees. I was absolutely petrified of the opposite sex. I used to wear a lot of Randy River; with their powerful blue and yellow colour palettes and aggressively designed dragons. At one point I used to casually wear a pair of ski goggles on my forehead, in a sad attempt to look like a Filipino Method Man.
Speaking of the Wu, my favourite shirt was a Wu-Tang Clan jersey that my best friend had picked up for me during his travels in Malaysia. I never wore it in fear that I’d somehow destroy it. The first website I ever built was a Wu-Tang Clan fan site on Geocities in Grade 10. I spent months building this site, using only Notepad, Paint Shop Pro 4, and HTMLGoodies.com. I remember taking video screen captures of The Mystery of Chessboxing to create the animated enter button.
I used to rock a big-ass pager from CanTel, which I would never answer when my parents paged me. I did a lot of underage drinking in the backwoods with the crappiest alcohol a young teenager could scavenge: Peach Schnapps, Colt 45, St. Ides, and room-temperature Smirnoff (shiver). I didn’t really hit a lot of the high school parties that the cool kids in my school threw – for the most part, I hung out with a tight group of miscreants, and other friends from different high schools.
My most intriguing teacher was Mr. Hodgins. I say intriguing because during class he kept the curtains shut and stayed out of view from the windows because he believed there were snipers were across the street aiming to take him out. Plus he looked like Mr. Bean. Don’t believe me? Read it here. He gave me an A in Economics, which compelled me to take it in university for some easy credits. I failed. Twice.
I was only suspended from school once. I helped steal a broken speaker from my history teacher with this shady dude who just got out of juvenile hall. Someone in our class ratted; as an accomplice, I was suspended for three days, he was expelled and sent back to juvie.
Two years later, he got out and sucker punched me at a pool hall and booted my face until two teeth popped out. To this day he still thinks I ratted him out.
Actually, it kind of got kind of worse than that. He had goons who would hunt me down every lunch hour. He put a mark on my head for $100, but nobody bit. The good thing about being in a small city is that all of his friends were also my friends.
In Grade 12 I was suspended from the computer labs for jokingly – and I stress the word jokingly – looking up a website that combined sexual intercourse with human waste. I thought it was funny; my computer teacher didn’t.
Occasionally I grabbed lunch at my friend’s house who lived across the street from school. He called it the ghetto sandwich. Two thick slices of bologna with ketchup in the middle – no bread. Who knew that 10 years later, popular carb diets would make this sandwich look somewhat less pathetic.
My first job was a volunteer gig at a nearby hospital that my mom worked at. I was 14 and highly addicted to the cafeteria’s subpar chicken fingers. Enough that my friends and I snuck in the volunteer office late one night and swiped a handful of meal tickets and forged my boss’ signature. I ate so many subpar chicken fingers that summer. I was fired after my volunteer work term ended, which I still don’t understand to this day. And yes, I was fired from a volunteer job. #failtastic
My first paid job was at the Sobey’s grocery store deli counter when I was 15. I made the worst pizzas ever. People would cautiously spend $3 on a stale, expired pizza that barely had cheese and sauce on it. It was a $3 triangularly shaped piece of orange cardboard. Making pizzas just ain’t my thing. The pizzas were so bad that they eventually just stopped putting me on the schedule. Without a formal notice of termination, I spent the next 15 years dreaming of being summoned back to Sobey’s to make another crappy pizza.
I was probably the only kid in high school with a CD burner, so I did what most business-minded individuals would’ve done: I monetized. I designed the artwork, sold burnt CDs at $20 a pop, and called them Big Fat Booty Mixes Vol. 1-5. Disgustingly cliche, I know.
My early Paint Shop Pro skills were essential growing up. I once lost my bus pass, and in an act of desperation, I designed a fake copy of it and used it for a few days until I was caught. In hindsight, I probably should have just bought another one considering it only cost the price of a Big Fat Booty Mix CD.
One of the things I wished I was able to do in high school was learn how to breakdance. When hip hop was on, I’d tear the dance floor up – but there were always two b-boys who would always step it up a notch. I constantly hassled them for a copy of the breakdance DVD that they learned from, but they didn’t want to share it. You see, that DVD would’ve been the only way for me to learn how to breakdance. We didn’t have YouTube, BET, or urban dance schools to work with. All I could work with was taped re-runs of Usher’s “You Make Me Wanna”.
Inevitably, the question always ends up as: What was my favourite part about high school?
It’s a story I never brought with me since moving to Toronto.
I used to be part of a rap group. The Sworn Allies.
We were six teenagers deep, all extremely talented rappers.
And my name was Ruckus.
I don’t know where to start. So I’ll just say it.
The Sworn Allies were dope as fuck.
It started with four members in 1998: Armz, Tempoetic, Odd Rock, and Ruckus (yours truly). We originally had individualized duos: Armz and I were Infliktion; Tempoetic and Odd Rock were Subliminal Criminals. Later, Jelusy and Napz, two brothers fittingly known as the Blood Brothers, joined us to make six of the most talked about, down and dirty group of dudes across the city.
The Sworn Allies started off as six guys who liked rap, but we had a massive crew that we rolled with, from MCs to hustlers, from bboys to baby mamas. Off the bat, we wrote verses and spit them anywhere we could: from our bedrooms to street corners, from house parties to make-shift block parties. The rural Canadian, anti-rap law enforcement sure didn’t seem to like those block parties; imagine seeing 50 coloured kids setting up DJ speakers, microphones, cardboard for b-boys, and well, 50 coloured kids doing anything for that matter would sound an alarm. The whole crew went by the Rope Squad. Tight like chain links.
The Rope Squad had a ton of dope folks in it. JP, Samsonite, Bub, McKey, Sparky, Mastermind, Lust, …the list was endless. I don’t like including real names on my blog, but for the most part, I don’t really remember everyone’s nickname anyway.
Eventually we stepped it up to high school dances and assemblies. At one point, during our first show in front of the school, the entire Rope Squad bumrushed the stage like a hip hop awards show. Fifty colour kids rushing the stage and cussing on the mic at the entire school? Notoriety.
For the most part, our performance songs were just shit we threw together. Our next step was to put something on wax. And by wax, I mean on CD. None of us could afford decent turntables anyway.
By 1999, we were moving on from our archaic ways: We needed our own beats. Relooping tracks using cassette tapes was becoming a pain in the ass (hell, you try recording a 3 second instrumental loop from one cassette to another 80 times consecutively). Odd Rock built a studio in his mom’s basement, which was essentially a closet covered in ratty old blankets. Armz used a program called Hip hop eJay to create the beats. After months of writing, we recorded, we stayed up until 7am every night for three days. That month was painful: rewriting verses, making cardboard pizzas for studio cash at Sobey’s, and finishing up the school year.
After 72 hours, our first album was completed. Vocal Point was distributed to friends and family, fans and record labels. Sixteen tracks of fire. In contrast to today’s internet rappers, I’d say we did pretty damn good for a couple kids in the predominantly anti-rap Maritimes with a Pentium 100, a closet covered in blankets, and studio equipment. You rappers these days have it good.
Vocal Point was our first single – we performed it almost everywhere, and if we didn’t perform it, the bars (we snuck into) would be playing it.
In order of appearance: Armz, Odd Rock, Jelusy, Ruckus, Napz, Tempoetic.
I have my favourites on the album of course. SAGA (Six Deep) was a six verse track that had an emphasis on short bursts of comprehensive lyrical content. Kind of like showing up, bangin’ em in the head with some killer rhymes, then walking out. Rated R Sound Squad was an ode to the Rope Squad. And most of all, we got to be ourselves.
Applying the tricks of the trade from my days monetizing Big Fat Booty Mix, we sold Vocal Point CDs at $20 a pop. Through word of mouth, we sold dozens of copies and pocketed the revenue to cover recording debts and future studio equipment.
Our most embarrassing thing about the album, well my most embarrassing thing, were the album photos. I don’t plan on posting all the photos, cause really, I’d sleep better at night knowing all these photos were destroyed. Yeah.
From there we stepped it up to bigger things; we toured a few venues across New Brunswick and did a couple shows in Halifax.
We had interest from Universal Music after we sent in our demo. They loved it. However, they only had one request: they wanted a video from one of our live performances.
But like all good things, they eventually come to an end.
My first year in university was exactly what you would expect from a typical Asian kid in computer science.
I kicked ass at Counter-Strike.
I sold cameras and cell phones at Future Shop. This photo sums up what I was doing when 9/11 happened. While pointing at the crumbling Twin Towers on the big screen TV behind them, I asked the shoppers, “Don’t you see what’s going on?” They didn’t care.
I started a small hacking crew and did things that may never surface in writing.
I started a local Asian gang that spewed hate against the racially insensitive and the ignorant. This is not a real photo of us, but I feel like it perfectly exemplifies the right amount of try-hardness. You can read about my experiences with systemic racism here.
I was bestowed on a new nickname: The Angry Mexican, or in short, the AMEX, born from my red hot temper that seemed to spiral out of control when I hit the bottle too hard. Also, people thought I looked Mexican for some reason.
And of course, I had my rap group. The Sworn Allies.
By 2000, the Universal Music opportunity came and passed without a word. I don’t think we were ready for that kind of shine. Either that or we were just too stupid to realize how much of a pivotal, life-changing moment that was. You know, that old wish we always dreamed about: If I only knew then, what I know now.
But hey. At least we got better at this rap shit.
Scriptchaz (previously known as Armz and my other half in Infliktion) and I were first to follow up with a sophomore release, Arc Angels. I decided that Ruckus was way too common of a word, so I started going by rX, while the rest of the crew called me Demestik. I still hate that name. What was I, a stay-at-home dad? A domestic import? Did I give tell-tale signs of domestic abuse? Whatever. My name was still Ruckus.
Knowledge is still my favourite track on the album. I still don’t know how I, at 18 years of age, was able to write something this deep. I must have caught the Holy Ghost or something.
Around that time, Prosody (previously known as Odd Rock, and yes, we love having multiple personalities) dropped his solo album, Daily Topics, which he still pretends doesn’t exist. I don’t know, I thought it was pretty dope.
Another crew emerged during our come up in ’99: Vet Cru. We respected their music a LOT. Their rhymes were tight, beats weren’t from Hip Hop eJay (they had an actual producer – whoa!), and they even had a rapper/DJ who could scratch really well. We were kind of embarrassed of our album when they dropped theirs, but we were extremely stoked to have another group of good rappers in the city that we could work with.
2001 came, and Scriptchaz and I had been a few years into DJing on the side. We started in high school at dances and parties, playing music under the title, “Beat Fusion“. I found these two gems last week while digging in my collection. Check the legendary Paint Shop Pro 4 skills.
We had a radio show on 107.3FM campus radio at UNBSJ: the Sickly-Ill Cypha. We surfaced the hottest underground hip hop music, hosted live rap battles with the Sworn Allies, Vet Cru, and other Rope Squad rappers, and basically did and said anything we could to get our show taken off the air. Inmates at a local prison would call in their weekly requests for 2Pac and DMX. We created a strong following of listeners, and it allowed us to seed Sworn Allies tracks to people across the city. We lasted for an awesome nine months before the station booted us, and the only other rap show, off the air. Presumably to Make 107.3FM Great Again with no more rap.
The Allies hosted a ton of rap shows across the Maritimes: from Saint John to Fredericton, Moncton to Halifax, and even the smallest of towns in-between. We opened for Swollen Members, Thrust, and other Canadian rappers and rap groups that currently escape me.
By the end of 2001, the Sworn Allies began to split into different directions. Words were spread. Sides were taken. Fists were thrown. For most of us, it’s something we never bring up much, other than the odd, “Hey, remember them days?”. Although we all live mostly in different places in Canada on very different life paths, we’re all very much cool with each other. Maybe not tight as chain links, but we’re forever connected none the less.
That year, Scriptchaz, now going by the name Anubis, dropped his solo album: Symbolik Intervention. The Book of the Dead was the finale to a saga of what-could’ve-been.
2002 came, and as we struggled to mend our friendships, some of us continued to rap. Tempoetic who, on a road trip to Halifax for the DJ Olympics, decided his new rap name would be Phakt. We were joined by DJ Loc Dog and Philintheblank from Vet Cru, where Phakt tore everyone apart in the MC battle.
I managed to safeguard an audio copy of the battles, with cuts and beats provided by Scratch Bastid.
Phakt later signed with Halifax-based CTG Records for a period of time and put out this dope video.
The same year, Prosody teamed up with Expedyte (a Rope Squad vet that previously went by Mastermind) as Piece of Mind. Their content was more political in nature, featuring quotations from Herman & Chomsky and corporate corruption in Organized Crime.
I recorded a few tracks with Piece of Mind, both unmastered.
Still Underground was featured on an online Okayplayer Mixtape, the same label that hosted The Roots, Talib Kewli, etc. As hype as that may sound, it didn’t really mean anything, and you can’t find the mixtape anywhere online anymore. But the song was chosen to be on it, which is kind of rad.
Philintheblank added a few cuts on Naturally Graphic, but it remained unfinished.
Napz and I began forming together this unnamed track, which I believe was produced by Cess from the Vet Cru. It was never finished, but still goes down as one of my favourite beats I’ve ever purchased. It’s also one of the best verses I ever dropped.
Expedyte was later signed by Man Bites Dog Records, a label based in Virginia, and put out an insanely good album featuring underground rappers Killer Priest, Louis Logic, and C-rayz Walz. Later, he started an incredibly talented band called Three Sheet and toured the planet. But I’ll always be a fan of this never-released track & video.
While some of the boys had went official, we still liked making magic in the lab: putting together tracks that were never meant to go anywhere. There’s a certain clarity involved in the process of writing lyrics and executing them in poetic form.
Ignoring beats and content for a short moment: when you break down the science of rap (and well, all types of music) to its linguistic level, it’s impossibly beautiful. Rap as an art form has so many unseen variables. I loved writing lyrics that combined penmanship and distinct word play. The challenge of choosing words and phrases with an exact number of syllables to orchestrate a memorable flow into each bar. Writing with finite purpose. Exploring dictionaries and learning new words to include. Adjusting sentence structure to facilitate gaps of air to breathe between lines. Mastering the art of delivery.
While I have always preferred writing over rapping, I will say this:
There’s nothing more empowering in life than holding a microphone in front of an audience and unleashing your creative freedom.Ruckus
By 2003, the Sworn Allies recorded their last track. By then, Anubis had moved out west and the remaining five members of the team got back together for one last song. Anubis recorded his verse remotely and sent it over – the best he had ever recorded – but it unfortunately never made into the track. To some, a choice of career can divide even the most simple opportunities.
Unofficially named Da Allies, a unit that was less sworn to each other but still very much allied, our final track was never mastered nor released. I do recall Prosody trying to delete it, but I was able to make a surviving copy. Ignore the shifting audio levels near the end. That’s us fighting over the soundboard to preserve it.
The comparison between our humble and amateur beginnings to the final recording was substantial. It was a tale of growth from troublemaking kids to creative maturity. And in the Port City, we’d say this shit was dope as hell.
We were Ruthless.