Scenes from Tha Ruger

by Jordan Green

Scene 1: The rapper Ed E. Ruger steps out on his front porch in the shadow land of the fallen Cone Mills textile empire. He announces that he’s going to put the dogs ‘— three rambunctious Labrador mutts ‘— in the backyard.

The house is owned by his partner, Teresa Mitchell. Following a warning by Ruger against the yapping and jumping canines during a quick sniff test, Mitchell emerges from a back room and orders them outside before disappearing again. Then Ed E. Ruger, known to his parents as James Raymond Armfield, gestures to another room outfitted with a desktop computer and decorated with Fantasia, Ludacris and Rock Against Bush posters.

The 28-year-old rapper beams.

‘“I got sixty CDs that just came in yesterday,’” he announces. ‘“I’m just bootlegging some CDs just in case. I just got this’….’” He clutches a metal monogram between his thumb and forefinger ‘— a metal-cast ‘“ER’” hanging from his neck.

‘“Hopefully we get shut down tonight by the Fire Marshal,’” he says.

It’s June 2. Ed E. Ruger headlines an all-star Gate City hip hop lineup at Blur, a West Market Street dive, to celebrate the release of his album, Shots From Tha Ruger.

Scene 2: Ed E. Ruger’s hype man, Kodean, bursts into the room. Kodean, AKA John Mincello, announces that he’s drunk a gallon of water on the drive from Kitty Hawk.

‘“I went out to the coast to get my life straightened out, and that’s where I met my wife,’” Kodean says. ‘“She saved me.’”

They live together in a trailer on the beach. Currently unemployed, Kodean sits at home, bombarding people with Ruger’s music and proposing creative and business collaborations through Myspace.

Kodean is the stepson of a well-known Greensboro lawyer and former elected official, known in these pages as ODB, or Old Dirty Barrister.

Ed E. Ruger is likewise the fallen son, the black sheep of his family. Or maybe it’s the other way around.

‘“Picture this: My dad was one of the top guys at forensics at the city [police department],’” Ed E. Ruger says. ‘“He disappeared from my life and I’ve only seen him a couple times. I think my dad’s in Asheboro right now; I’m not really sure.’”

The rapper’s mother, who he describes as ‘“basically a preacher,’” abandoned a career track as an office manager to run a rehab center and thrift shop in Fayetteville. The vocational change, Ed E. Ruger says, was inspired by his wayward and often wasted youth.

Those family dynamics are described in ‘“Old Man,’” a tale that has become a staple of the rap genre. With a nod to Neil Young, Ed E. Ruger raps: ‘“I never knew how powerful these little raps could be. I’m in the spotlight now where all the acts should be. You hear the crowd and how they react to me. I’m a grown man now and you ain’t half of me.’”

Scene 3: It’s about 10 p.m. at Blur. Terry Jones, the mother of slain rapper Tre’ Stylez, sits at the corner of the bar wearing a straw cowboy hat, positioned center court in the confines of the hazy club whose décor is a combination of blue-painted brick, corrugated metal and aluminum barstools.

Choke, a rapper from Winston-Salem who’s slated to open the show with his partner Pressure, steps to the floor to greet a fan. Whether intentionally or not ‘— it’s impossible to tell ‘— he drops a full can of Bud Light between them, letting its sudsy contents explode and settle in a puddle in front of the stage.

Jones says it’s the first night she’s been out since her son’s death.

‘“I don’t know how it’s gonna go, but these are all his friends,’” she says.

Tre’ Stylez makes eponymous appearances on two tracks on Shots From Tha Ruger: ‘“Monsters’” and ‘“Holdin’ On.’”

Another of the album’s guests and the night’s performers, Celinski, describes the collaborative process of making Shots From Tha Ruger as he wraps up his set and brings up the headliner. The rap scene in the Piedmont Triad is tight, brimming with support between its artists but still searching for its audience.

‘“We had some good times and some bad times making this album,’” says Celinski, who is known as the rap mayor of Greensboro. ‘“Probably the biggest tragedy was we lost a brother, Tre’ Stylez. That just made us want to work harder to make it good.’”

More than once tonight audience members, some of them wearing oversized, commemorative Tre’ Stylez T-shirts, will throw the rapper’s hand sign into the air ‘– three extended fingers with the thumb and forefinger pinched together.

Scene 4: The club floor, which had earlier begun to thin, fills with pulsating bodies as Ed E. Ruger’s crew takes the stage after midnight. The tracks radiate from the DJ booth with fury and clatter. The mercenary, hard-knocks lyrics, counter to their literal meaning, seem to escalate the sensuality as young women in miniskirts rock against each other and hastily chosen male dance partners.

It calls to mind a paradox discussed earlier by Ruger and Kodean back at the house in northeast Greensboro.

‘“My next song is gonna make everybody bad,’” Ed E. Ruger says. ‘“Celinski says, ‘You’re an asshole.’ I say, ‘It’s not for you. It’s for me and my fans. My hardcore, cult fans need a certain thing.””

Kodean mentions a track on the new album, ‘Everytime I’m In the Club,’ that despite its celebratory title, conveys an irritable attitude towards its subject.

‘“You’ve got one club joint on there, and in my opinion it’s one club joint too many,’” he says. ‘“I don’t really see ‘club joint’ when I see you.

‘“I see aggression.’”

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