Youth is the ambrosia that sustains both rock ’n’ roll and hip-hop. A steady injection of new blood is fundamental to the unspoken, yet universally understood, apostate principles of these cousin genres. With older artists, the law of diminishing returns often applies, and it’s sad when our musical heroes overstay their welcome. Watching the sinewy tension of teen angst soften into the doughy sleepiness of middle age is depressing (and can lead to prolonged bouts of staring into a mirror, bemoaning your own mortality).
But the length of a cat’s teeth can also provide wisdom and perspective. When an artist accepts and embraces where the long hand is on the clock of life and approaches his or her music from that vantage point, good things can still happen. At least that’s the hope of Cedric Ruffin, better known as Complete, one-third of Fort Worth hip-hop godfathers Fort Nox. Now on the downhill slope of his 40s, the veteran rapper has just released his first solo album.
“At first, I was reluctant to do it,” Complete said. “Being in group mode was the only thing I’d ever known, and I seriously wondered if anyone would want to put up with hearing just me.”
Produced and recorded by Tim “Big Hub” Webb (except one track by Scott “Furious” Johnson), My Three Cents is a mature album that blends themes of humble appreciation, learned self-reflection, and thoughtful lessons taught – a credo and tone befitting one of local hip-hop’s de facto elder voices. The record’s six proper songs are intercut with sections of Complete monologuing on his personal and professional history, providing deep context for his novel worldview and the responsibility he feels to put an empowering message out into the world.
“I try not to go into preacher mode,” he said. “But because I’m putting words out there, regardless of who they reach, I feel like it’s my duty to put out words that are worth hearing.”
As a dedicated father, man of faith, and someone who doesn’t drink or even use vulgarity in his rhymes (the other members of Fort Nox do a fine job of handling that, he joked), his persona is at odds with the stereotypical idea of a rap artist. But with over three decades in the game, Complete believes he’s earned the credibility that accompanies longevity, and he hopes his message finds young ears eager to listen. Being a mentor wasn’t a conscious pursuit on his part but rather an inevitable byproduct of how he’s always approached his music.
“It’s mostly a subconscious thing,” he said of any paternal role he’s adopted. “I think it’s just part of my nature and my character.”
He embraces the role most directly on “Show U the Way,” an upbeat track with a surprising, bouncy, root-fifth country bassline. With the benefit of circumspection, he demonstrates a different approach to young aspiring rappers. “Comin’ from an elder statesman / If you want to be great, act great then,” he counsels on the hook, adding, “Just take it as a word of advice / Let me show you how to do something nice.”
Largely apolitical, with his uniquely positive take on addressing the problems he sees in the world, the old-school MC is wary of being perceived as casting judgment down from atop a high horse, acknowledging that his opinion is exactly that, an opinion.
“You can’t help but find yourself commenting on things about the world,” he said. “Whether it’s issues that women are facing or issues people are facing because of their racial background, it all finds itself into my pen. I’m just giving my three cents on it.”