Creating a ‘Runkus’ - Multifaceted artiste and producer fulfilling purpose and causing a stir
“I’m so tired and hungry,” said Runkus, ready to start mischief. He lets out a laugh, and apologises for the sound of breadfruit hitting the oil in a frying pan.
“It has been another long weekend, day and night in studio until 2 a.m. in the morning, and now I am up early for this interview,” he shared.
He does not deny that being a troublemaker is one part of his multifarious personality, and is also how he got the name ‘Runkus’.
“From before birth to the present – from in my mother’s womb I have been making trouble,” he said, adding that the word ‘ruckus’ which means ‘disturbance’, inspired his name, “but I feel like the woman who gave me the name Runkus was trying to say that ‘cause I was always moving around during the pregnancy.”
It continued into his childhood years as an inquisitive boy asking grandma about sex, he said. Even now, appearing seemingly out of nowhere since the release of his debut EP Move In, Runkus has been gradually causing a stir with his juvenile-like curiosity.
“I am still a troublemaker, especially with the music. I like to awaken provocative or thought-provoking ideas with what I say and do,” expressed the Grammy-nominated songwriter, a title earned for writing credits on Protoje’s Matter of Time album on the Truths & Rights track.
Runkus shares that he still has not had his “eureka” moment in striking a balance as a singer, songwriter, producer and everything in-between. The last time he spoke to The Gleaner, he still high off his contribution to Jah9’s Note To Self album, where he has producer credits on two featured tracks, but he has not pressed brakes coming upon any of the crossroads in his career.
He said, “I am always at work, whether writing, recording or producing; but if I find that I need to a personal day, then I take one, but at the end of it all, music is a personal thing that I do. While I am working, even in doing interviews, I am fulfilling a purpose, and that could be what helps me to maintain some sort of a balance, although I say I still have not found it.”
Behind the mischief is Runkus’ carefree confidence. Listening closely to the 26-year-old, one is sure to discover unblinking lyrical bravado, a touch of humour and an experimental streak which result in the occasional burst of R&B and dancehall like what is distinctly heard in one of his latest singles, Call Up, produced by One Time Music. There is no one way to describe his style as a recording artiste.
“It’s not new; it’s not old — it is reggae, it is dancehall, a little bit of this and that, a mix of music,” Runkus expressed. “Artistes like Papa San and Ini Kamoze have done what I am doing, [there is] nothing completely new under the sun. I am a melting pot of all that, plus the Missy Elliot and BET influences.”
The time it takes to put the musical concepts together, he added, “can be short, can be long, and some of the songs I am releasing now are two to three years old, but that also speaks to the classic nature of the lyrics”.
Runkus recently collaborated with his friend iotosh, with whom he shares similar interests in singing, songwriting and music production. They recorded a track with San Diego-based band Through The Roots titled Words As Weapons which was released last Friday, and already added to Spotify playlists with over 500,000 subscribers. He also shared that he has another knock-out single coming through the stereos this week, which he calls Quarantine Slide, that the female fans, in particular, will love.
It’s his adaptable vocal register and half-whispered harmonies that makes Runkus’ music so memorable, propelled by properly constructed rhythms, whether by him or the music industry colleagues he chooses to collaborate with.
He’s home in Portmore, where he’s holed up with family, but with access to a studio close by, “coping for the most part” during the pandemic having to – like pretty much every musician releasing material in these times – make do with a digital-only promotion campaign for now.
“And with opportunities to tour out for a while, the time is being used to gather self and resources to sustain the music. From the production side, I have projects with 5 Star Celestial, Royal Blu, Tarrus Riley, Ky-Mani Marley, Jesse Royal and the likes lined up,” he shared.
In a not-so-distant past, Runkus, born Romario Sebastian Anthony Bennett, was on the road to becoming a forensic scientist.
“In school, I was one of those children that understood concepts and science, so there was a time [when] I was on that path, but I went to college, the University of Tampa, to study forensics and took one look round and said this is not for me,” he said. “It did not match my identity and what I wanted.”
Though, he will say, that is not exactly how he ended up where he is. Runkus said he knew his generation had a great responsibility to the earlier generations.
“I have to be honest and say that I don’t know what it took me to get here; definitely the Almighty powers and of my having a legendary deejay, Determine, as a father and my mother, Paula, who always told me to be a good person and to use my mind as a weapon – that alone made me grow consciously,” he said.
“That youth that explored into a studio as a child, not thinking about how things connected, I am still him, but a more constructed version of that. Now I am demonstrating purposeful vibes, it feels good to use the knowledge acquired over the years to achieve my plans.”