They are a bit unconventional. Something is definitely a lot different from mainstream hip hop. Nonetheless, acts like Royal Ruckus are need in the hip hop genre. So make some room for them. Royal Ruckus, the positive hip hop duo composed of Flatline (Michael Walker) and Chunjay (Jamey Bennett) are two visionaries who are telling their stories and highlighting their truths all in the music. From fun tracks like “The Waitress Song” off of their double album The Summer of the Cicadas to our personal favorite “Lonely Christmas” from the Lonely Christmas EP, it’s safe to say that there is a song for everyone.
So we interviewed the bearded duo about their upcoming release, the plans for the rest of the year, and some life lessons the hip hop act has learned while in the music industry. Check out the interview below!
Tell us about yourself and your music.
Chunjay: We are a rap duo originally out of Bakersfield, California, and various life situations have placed Flatline in Austin, Texas, and I’m in South Florida. We tend to be positive and fun, and rap a lot about girls.
Flatline: We have a subtle twisted sense of humor that isn’t always picked up on first listen to our music. Musical and lyrical references abound. We wear our hearts and our ears on our sleeves, so to speak.
How would you describe your sound?
Flatline: A blend of modern electro pop with 90’s boom-bap beats has been the driving influence in our sound for our most recent releases. I’m influenced from a wide range of musical inspiration that I really enjoy incorporating into our projects. Lyrically we range from getting nostalgic about the what-was-and-could-have-been, to crafting ridiculous premises occasionally filled with inside jokes and references.
Chunjay: Yeah, that’s right. We actually started as a joke. I was the “rap guy” (though I’m inspired by all sorts of music) and Flatline was not a rap guy, so he brings something unique to the table. We end up with a very cross-genre sound. On the second half of the new double-LP, you get more of the classic boom-bap influence, and a lot of rock-ish distortion guitar. On the first half you get a lot more electro-pop. It’s a fun, fresh mix.
Talk about the experience making your new album.
Chunjay: Our latest project is a double LP entitled The Summer of the Cicadas, and is dropping February 3, 2017. It was a true labor of love for us. Originally intended to be two separate records: a Royal Ruckus project and my solo project, over time it became clear that the two belonged together as one. On top of that, Flatline is on like 6 or 7 songs on the solo project, so it really makes a lot of sense putting them together.
We had fun working with old and new friends on the new album. We called in a lot of favors from old friends, out of love for relationships we developed in the past. It was truly a joy to work with all these folks, most of whom worked from afar, from east to west.
Flatline: Technology is helping make this world a little smaller in terms of the ability to collaborate and create with others. What was once novel over a decade ago is now commonplace in modern recording. This double album is a testament to our vision and hard work to put out the best material we have to date and we were able to do it together, apart, and with friends from across the country. Truly a modern piece of art.
What are you currently working on? Any new projects? Shows?
Flatline: As a group we are working on the possibility of performing a handful of live shows for 2017 in support of our new album. Independently, we both are always striving to keep up our creative output. I plan on releasing a small batch of music over the next year with my MPWalker solo project as well as writing and performing with some local jazz/rock musicians in Austin, TX.
Chunjay: Yeah, I’m cooking up both solo and group shows. Pretty much everywhere I go, I’m going to be pushing it as Royal Ruckus, not as a solo act. This is the year of Royal Ruckus. I’ve been writing new songs, and have already recorded a collaboration song with me and our pal Spoken Nerd. But my focus right now is this double LP, and until that has run its course, everything else is under wraps.
What has been your biggest highlight in your music career thus far?
Chunjay: We had a few years living in Nashville and being signed to a record label there. It opened a lot of doors for us, and we made a lot of friendships with some really great folks in the industry. That, and doing songs with some of us our musical heroes, like Pigeon John, Eligh of Living Legends, and 80’s rap icon, The Rappin’ Duke.
Flatline: There are times I have taken the opportunities afforded to me for granted, but I am very honored to have been able to receive the support from my family and friends to produce and perform the kind of music that has been brewing up inside me. Although I have played great shows in front of large crowds and opened up for many big acts, I have found the creation and completion of this project to be the biggest highlight of my career so far. I feel like the best is still yet to come.
Chunjay: I’m glad you said that, Dude. Out of all the things we’ve done, this new record is the thing I am most proud. It’s funny, we always said that this next record was “the best to come,” and yet, like you, I’m pretty excited to see what is next, too.
Name your ideal collaboration: mainstream or independent artist(s).
Flatline: I would love to do work with some of the artists I’m influenced by, especially Animal Collective, Grimes, and Tame Impala. Things could get real weird but still stay really poppy.
Chunjay: Oh man, if we’re dreaming out of the box, I’d love to do a rap song with Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest and Adrock from Beastie Boys, with Flatline and DJ Muggs co-producing the beat. Bananas. That would be bananas. That said, the new album features a song called “Lost Boys” that I did with Eligh of Living Legends and Cookbook of LA Symphony. That was a pretty amazing accomplishment. Such a dope song.
Name something random that people do not know about you.
Chunjay: I used to drive a convertible Chrysler LeBaron, which was painted as one big Royal Ruckus graffiti mural. I used to pick my nose and store the winnings underneath the front seat. I would tell people in my car that I was cultivating a booger farm.
Flatline: Chunjay’s story is 100% true and still makes me queasy hearing about it. My story is less random and more of a guilty pleasure; Jamey and I are big taco fanatics. I have family in the taco business here in Austin, too. Despite the taco snobbery, I occasionally sneak out to Taco Bell late at night for their $1 menu. I usually pay for it with my body the next day, however.
Chunjay: Shhhhhhh… (Me too.)
What’s one thing you have learned or discovered while being in the music scene/industry?
Flatline: “If it sounds good, it is good,” a quote attributed to Duke Ellington; I keep this in mind when reminding myself that it’s not about having the most expensive, most up-to-date gadgets and studio hardware and software. I’m able to use the tools and instruments that I have available to me to their full extent and produce the kind of sound that I’m aiming for, and it sounds good, then I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing, and I find great freedom in that.
Chunjay: It takes hard work, the music industry. I don’t care how many people you have on your team, you won’t get any farther than you’re willing to go busting your own ass. Taylor Swift is probably one of the hardest working musicians in the world, or at least was until she got enough money to pay people to give her some slack, and even then she’s probably up there. If you want it, you go get it, and do whatever it takes to get there through hard work and building relationships. An artist’s growth and success (or failure) is 80% on his shoulders.
What can we expect from you in the future?
Chunjay: You know, it’s hard to say exactly what the future holds, but I am going to take this Cicada project as far as I can. This is our most ambitious project ever, and the best music we’ve ever put together as a group. I want to get this music into as many ears as possible, and share the joys and the sorrows of our tunes.
Flatline: In addition to support for the new album, I have a five-track EP I plan on releasing as MPWalker sometime in 2017 and will likely start performing live with a group of avant garde jazz artists here in Austin this year as well.
Anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Chunjay: You can check us out on Facebook and Instagram at @royalruckusofficial, and on Twitter and Soundcloud at @royalruckus. Our website SummerOfTheCicadas.com is a one-stop hub for all things related to our new project, media interviews, live shows, and picking up copies of the CD, if you’re a collector. The website has all our lyrics, and super cool info about the artwork behind the project.
Flatline: Eat your veggies.
Twitter, Soundcloud: @royalruckus
Facebook, Instagram: @royalruckusofficial