An MC Ruff and DJ Tumble Adventure – Part 1
Break it down,
Shake it down,
Ruff and Tumble make your world go ‘round.
A small amount of feedback came through the stage monitors. MC Ruff made the universal turn it the hell down symbol to the girl running the sound booth.
we ain’t gonna stop,
Not ‘til we done make your booty pop.
The crowd waved their raised hands from side to side, barely visible through a haze of synthetic smoke and beams of red and green light. Ruff could smell years of accumulated sweat and spilled alcohol. He zeroed in on one young kid and his girlfriend as a mass of fans pressed the two of them against the front of the stage. The girl’s hands were wrapped around the boy’s left arm. While he bounced around to the beat, she held on, staring listlessly at Ruff as if she were dreaming about planning their nuptials and the resultant seven little brats.
Since it was impossible to see the majority of the audience because of the lights, Ruff liked to focus on people in the front row. They paid the most credits anyway, so why not make them feel special? Besides, they would tell all of their friends about the amazing night (“I swear, Rhonda, he was looking right at me!”) Word of mouth sold tickets and tickets sold merchandise and that’s where the real money was at. No cut to the venue. No cut to the booking agent. No cut to the record label that Ruff and his partner had signed their life away to in youthful ignorance.
Just pure credits deposited directly into his Intergalactic Blockchain account.
From behind the couple, a familiar face emerged, or rather, a familiar hairdo.
Ruff and Tumble’s tongue-twisting, rapid fire-spitting rival from Newtonium Records.
His coiffed tower of blue dyed hair stood a foot tall like a tapered, upside-down salt shaker. Even through the haze, Ruff could swear he saw him wink and smile.
Whatever. Though he was probably here to try and throw off the dynamic duo’s game, he was just as free to be entranced by the mad skills of MC Ruff and DJ Tumble as the rest of the crowd.
Ruff looked back at the man behind the turntables. His friend of funkified flow. His compadre of beat concatenation. Long ago, in a galaxy not so far away, they were young punks sneaking into shows just like this. The deft DJ slid his hands smoothly across the reproduced vinyl and scratched out a little ditty. Then he spun around while the corners of his red leather jacket flipped in the air. He picked up the beat without a moment’s hesitation. His gold-capped teeth gleamed in reflection of the stage lights. Tumble was too busy to notice Cubicle. All for the better, Ruff thought.
He turned back toward the front of the stage. Cubicle was gone. He was lost in the packed sea of two hundred clubgoers. Not a large crowd by any means, but Chubb’s was a tiny venue. Normally, Ruff and Tumble played arenas averaging fifty thousand, but they liked impromptu gigs in tiny clubs every once in awhile, especially with new releases. They would announce the ticket sales on their Twister account the night before. These types of gigs kept them grounded. Closer to the fans.
Tumble’s rapidly clicking hi-hats faded out and the crowd applauded wildly.
“Meridia 7, we love you!”
Ruff knew it was cliche, but that never stopped the people from going wild every time they heard their home planet mentioned.
“I just want to say that y’all have been the funkiest, freshest crowd we’ve played for.”
A pair of incoming panties landed on his shoulder. He raised his eyebrows and picked them off. Pink, gigantic, and unadorned, they looked like something his grandma would have worn.
“Aww. Y’all know how to make this MC and DJ feel welcome.”
More screams and applause. The auditorium vibrated under pressure.
“Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end.”
Groans reverberated through the crowd.
“But we gonna send you off with somethin’ you ain’t never gonna forget!”
On cue, Tumble launched into their number one hit. Analog crackle permeated the air. The thumping 808 kickdrum seemed to envelop them all like a warm, smothering hug.
Hundreds of years after its invention, the famous Roland drum machine sample was still a staple, though highly regulated. Because it was a low frequency sine wave that could cause structural damage if left unchecked, every sample was automatically run against a cryptographic hash function to ensure it didn’t exceed Federation parameters on auditory tones (Section XVII, subsection 12, paragraph c, subparagraph iv of Federation Statutes on Audio and Visual Performances).
A dreamy, distant saxophone loop rode on top of the beat.
“Who…. wants… to rumble?”
Ruff held the mic out over the audience.
We do! We do!
“I said, who… wants… to rumble?”
We do! We do!
The music stopped. The crowd hushed.
“Ha ha. Yo…”
A brief pause.
“…you know you can’t mess with Ruff and Tumble.”
A sonic assault of blistering breakbeats was unleashed. Ruff watched as a mad intensity swept through the crowd until they became one pulsating mass. He used the opportunity to bend down behind a speaker cabinet and take a quick swig from his hydration bottle. The next verse was a long one. As he lowered himself, he felt a little twinge in his back and so he slowed himself. He shook his head. This is a young man’s game, he thought. He and Tumble had only been halfway through the first track before he began looking forward to getting back on the ship, taking a shower, and picking up where he left off on Grandmaster Bash’s thought-provoking The Rise and Decline and Re-rise of Hip Hop – An Historical Introspection – 1979 to 2133.
Of course, that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. There would be the impromptu autograph sessions on the way out of the venue. Kids trying to upload their tracks directly to his ID cube in the vain hope of securing their own record deal. And then Tumble would want to invite some of the better looking groupies into the dressing room, partying until who knows how late.
These were only a few of the thoughts racing through his mind when the music halted and the lights went out. The roar of the crowd turned into a few moans of confusion.
Ruff looked back at Tumble, but couldn’t see anything but a vague outline standing still with his hands to his giant earphones.
Damn it. This facility can’t keep their act together long enough for us to finish the show?
He had barely peeked his head out over the Mars Shell speaker cabinet to see what was happening when something bright and red flew by his face, tickling the right side of his head. He instantly smelled burnt hair.
“The fuck?” he said.
No sooner had the words emptied from his mouth then he felt a body fall on top of him and press him painfully into the ground. If his back wasn’t already going to be sore tomorrow, that about guaranteed it.
“Clear a path! Set up a perimeter!”
The voice was loud and clear even through his earplugs. Ruff didn’t know what was happening, but he was relieved that he recognized the voice as belonging to Nizumi, his head of security. Otherwise, he would have jammed an elbow into the busta’s face and fought his way back onto his feet. He hadn’t been back to the neighborhood he grew up in for many years, neither physically nor mentally, but the street-smart instincts were still burned into his nerves.
“What’s goin’ on?” he asked.
Nizumi ignored him. “Metsk, verify the back entrance. Dado, you got Tumble? And Sanchez, tell this shit venue’s so-called security team that they need to get the crowd out of here.”
Ruff heard no reply. Nizumi was likely using her nanoset to communicate. He thought it best to wait. Sounds of chaos were still evident in the crowd, though it seemed to grow quieter.
After countless curses and a few “good”s, Nizumi finished with, “Okay, I’m bringing him through.”
The lights were still out but by now, Ruff’s eyes had adjusted. “You want to tell me what’s up?”
“Other than the fact that someone tried to shoot your face off, I’ll let you know as soon as I find out,” she said.
The red light. A laser weapon.
“Shoot me? For real?”
Ruff took a deep breath. The rap game was getting dangerous again these days.
Nizumi picked up Ruff like he was made of paper and rushed him along toward the back of the stage. Phase pistol in hand, she shielded him every step of the way. They wound their way through a narrow hallway and made it to the dressing room. Inside, they paused for moment. Tumble was standing in front of the mirror in which they had meticulously checked their fly outfits only an hour earlier. The DJ seemed shaken up, but that only meant his eyes were a little less glazed over than normal. Dado, Nizumi’s unassuming, yet dangerous cousin, stood beside him, his eyes focused on the door through which they just entered.
“You cool?” Ruff asked Tumble.
“Yeah,” Tumble said. The disappointment was evident in his voice. No groupies tonight.
Metsk was peaking out the rear door. His enormous back was to them. He was a big man–half Samoan, half German–nearly seven-feet tall with a dark brown ponytail reaching his waist. The constant odor of spam followed him around like a lost puppy.
“We’re clear,” he said.
“Sanchez,” Nizumi said into her nanoset, “we’re headed back to The Fly Honey. Stick around and find out what you can. We’ll pick you up in a couple of hours.”
Ruff and Tumble were ushered outside under Meridia 7’s dim green sky and shoved onto their transport. They collapsed onto a pair of opposite-facing couches lining the insides. The propulsion drives kicked in and they were on their way back to their ship.
“Keep an eye out,” Nizumi said to Dado. He manned the navigational controls instead of relying on autopilot.
Then she turned to Ruff.
Ruff smiled graciously and nodded. She could have this one. He had debated bringing the full security detail with them. It took away some of the intimacy of the small club shows, but Nizumi had managed to convince him otherwise. He insisted she do something fun for the night, maybe even, you know, relax, but she insisted right back that nothing could be more fun than security and there was no way she could relax knowing he and Tumble were playing Chubb’s without their own eyes and ears.
At least tonight, he was glad for her stubbornness.
“It had to be Cubicle!” Ruff said.
“Seems likely,” Nizumi replied.
Tumble only nodded and poured himself a Tanqueray and soda from The Fly Honey’s well-stocked wet bar.
“Which is why I have my doubts,” she finished.
“I don’t doubt anything,” Ruff said. “That sucka’s been bitin’ my rhymes for so long, he finally decided there was only enough room for him in the game. You’ve seen his numbers. He hasn’t gone platinum in two albums. Homeboy’s jealous.” He looked up at Nizumi. She was pacing the titanium floor as she always did. “You got the Meridia authorities involved, right?”
She shook her head.
“What? Why the–”
She held up her hand.
“That’s not the only reason I have my doubts.” She walked over to the communication console and docked her ID cube. Sanchez’s face flashed on the screen and Ruff knocked over a pair of half-empty cocktail glasses on the table besides him.
Next to him was the girl from the front row. Her face was smeared with eye shadow left behind by poorly wiped tears.
“Sanchez, tell him what you told me,” Nizumi said.
Sanchez spoke. “She says she saw who fired the shot.”
Ruff’s jaw was slack. “No shit?”
“No shit,” Sanchez said.
“Well let’s hear it!” Ruff said. Tumble nodded his head quickly.
“Mr. MC Ruff, I…When…I…”
She swallowed, or tried to, but her tongue was tied. Ruff was anxious to find out what she had to say, but he knew she needed to feel comfortable first.
He tried to put on a congenial smile. “Take a deep breath, girl.”
Her chest, graced by a tank-top bearing an image of Ruff and Tumble’s first album cover, rose in an exaggerated manner.
“I’m only telling you because–”
“Yo, you don’t need to explain. Just tell us who did it.”
“It was Derek.”
“Derek? Who the hell is Derek?”
“It wasn’t Cubicle?”
“What? Was he there?” Her face lit up momentarily. So much for fan loyalty.
“Have you told anyone else?” Nizumi interrupted.
“No,” she replied. Her voice was choked. “I thought I should–”
“Good,” Nizumi replied. “Did anyone else see him?”
She was growing flustered again. Ruff stepped in. “It’s okay. Look, don’t fret, girl. Do you know why he tried to shoot me? I mean, I know a lot of peeps didn’t like our change of direction on this last cut, but damn…”
She shook her head and her face lit up. “Oh no, Mr. MC Ruff! We both love Broke No Mo’. It’s one of your best yet.” There was that gleam in her eye that he saw earlier at Chubb’s.
“So why’d he do it? Tumble was cuttin’ so hard. Ruined his flow, man.”
Tumble scrunched his eyebrows and looked indignant.
“Derek’s a good dude,” the girl said defiantly. “Something…I don’t know. It was like he snapped. As soon as the breakbeats kicked in on the last song, he stopped moving and got real stiff. Then all of the sudden…”
“All of a sudden what?” Nizumi asked.
“You’re gonna think I’m crazy.” She looked at Sanchez.
“Tell ‘em what you told me.” he said.
She paused for a second and took another deep breath.
“I swear, it was…a laser shot out of his eyes. Or his eye. His left eye.” Obviously still in shock, she was searching for the right words and memories. Ruff felt some sympathy for her, but then remembered he had to be on his guard. She could still be lying about this whole thing.
“Where is he now?” Nizumi asked.
“I don’t know,” she said.
If she was acting, Ruff thought, she was pulling it off.
“I lost him as soon as the crowd panicked. After the shot, he seemed to…wake up. He was still dazed and I backed away from him.” She shook her head. “I was so scared, I didn’t know what was happening. And then these big security guys pushed through, knocked me over, grabbed him and took off. I could barely stand up, the crowd was just going crazy. Even when I got to my legs, they were so shaky and there was a mad rush to the door.”
“Security guys?” Nizumi looked at Sanchez.
He shrugged. “Not us,” he said. “Chubb’s lead says none of his guys were involved. He shamefully admitted none of them were even on the floor at that time.”
The girl interrupted. “By the time I got outside, Derek was gone. I asked everyone that was still around but no one knew anything.
“When I saw him asking questions,” she indicated toward Sanchez, “I thought you guys would know where he was. I even hoped it was a part of the show.”
“I had her call his ID cube,” Sanchez said. “It’s registering as disconnected.”
The tears came bursting through again as the girl broke down.
“Come on now, girl,” Ruff said. “We’ll find out what’s going on. What’s your name?”
“Nina.” Or something that sounded like that. Hard to tell through the sobs. “I don’t know who really tried to hurt you tonight, Mr. MC Ruff, but I know it wasn’t Derek. He would never try to hurt you. Or Tumble.”
“Sanchez, Metsk is already on his way. We’ll talk more when you’re back on The Fly Honey.”
The screen shut off and Nizumi stepped in front of Ruff.
“She telling the truth?”
“We have to assume so.” She shook her head in disgust. “Chubb’s didn’t even have their feeds running, so we have nothing to verify. It probably would have been useless through all of the smoke, anyway.”
Ruff sat down again, exasperated. He noticed Tumble was already on his third cocktail.
“I’m glad to have you, Nizumi,” he said.
“Don’t be. You were almost killed.”
“You couldn’t have–”
“It’s my job.”
She was always too hard on herself. A trait that made her sometimes miserable to be around but, Ruff supposed, good at what she did.
“And you know what makes me most nervous?”
It was a question not expecting an answer from anyone but Nizumi.
“You two are playing to a sold-out crowd at Ruebos in two days. I’m supposed to keep you safe at one of the galaxy’s largest festivals? Between now and then, I need to figure out who’s got it in for you.”
“We,” Ruff said. “We’ll figure it out. Look, I ain’t frettin’ over it.”
Artists were used to lying.
Tumble shook his head in deep contemplation while his knees bounced nervously up and down.
“Man, what happened to the days of dissin’ on records and battlin’ on the mic?” Dado chimed in. “Now we got fools shootin’ lasers out of their eyes? On the last track, too! You guys were tearin’ it up.”
Nizumi looked at him. “I’m going to go turn up my nanobuds and get to work. Let me know when Sanchez and Metsk are back.” She walked off toward her quarters, her bootsteps echoing along the corridor.
Ruff contemplated what he should do next. He was shaken, but didn’t want to show it front of his crew.
A call was coming into his ID cube. He really didn’t want to talk to the guy on the other end, but he knew he couldn’t avoid it.
“Ruff, what the fuck is going on over there? You okay? I heard about it on You know I can’t have my prime source of income bleeding out on the floor of some little piss-filled club. You know how I feel about those shows. And what was Nizumi doing? She ought to be fired, Ruff. I’m sorry, but there’s no excuse here. Nope. I know you have this thing for her, but if she can’t–”
Ruff turned off the audio feed, but didn’t hang up. His head hurt and he poured himself a gin and pineapple soda. After a couple of sips, he hit the button again.
“–and if you think that I’m going to let you play at Beat Street Fest without some extra security, you’re fuckin’ mad. Fuckin’ mad!”
Ruff noticed he wasn’t concerned enough to call the whole thing off altogether.
“We’ll be fine, Sharky.”
“Fine?” Ruff could almost see his manager tearing his hair out in clumps. “Fine!? I’ve made some calls, Ruff. Got the Meridia 7 police involved. Also filed a report with the Federation. I can’t believe Nizumi didn’t even–”
“Enough. Nizumi is why Tumble and I are still here. No one expected something like this to go down.”
Sharky spoke in a low whisper, as if it made a difference. “Tell me, who do you think did this?”
“I really don’t know. I mean, this girl’s saying it was her boyfriend, but then I know I saw Cubicle in the audience.”
“Cubicle? Well there we go. I’m going to call his manager. This shit has got to stop.”
Ruff leaned forward on his elbows over the tiny table. “Look, Sharky, I don’t know it was him. It was dark and smoky in there, but it seemed like it.”
“Take care of yourself. Get some rest. I don’t want you going anywhere, doing anything, until I meet you on Ruebos. That goes for Tumble too.”
Tumble snorted. He couldn’t hear the conversation, but Ruff was sure he had a good idea at this point who was on the other end of the call.
“This ain’t no joke,” Sharky said. “You do what I say if you want to keep being relevant.”
Ruff pulled away from the ID cube and scrunched his eyebrows at it like it was Sharky himself.
“See you in two days, pops” Ruff said and hung up.
He chugged down his cocktail, bid everyone a good night and headed back to his quarters.
Stripped down to his replica 1985 Kangol underwear, Ruff spread himself out over his most welcome gold satin sheets.
What came next? They would arrive for rehearsal a day before the festival kicked off. He had a lot of faith in Nizumi, but it had been a long time since he had been shot at, let alone on stage. None of the story made sense, so far. Lasers being shot out of eyes. Some dude that may have been Ice Cubicle stalking them from the club floor.
Ruff fell into a restless sleep, dreaming intermittently about being a young man. He was playing a block party with Tumble behind the tables. He wore a red Kangol hat, Adidas low-tops whose replicated blacks and whites were even deeper and brighter than the original issue, and a gold chain with links thicker than his wrists. Cardboard was scattered throughout. People clapped their hands while the breakdancers spun in circles and did their thing.
Ruff was about to kick off one of his favorite rhymes when the ground shook and people started to scream. He looked at Tumble who was wobbling around, trying futilely to keep his LPs from flying off the table and smashing into the concrete.
His eyes stung. He needed more sleep. Nizumi stood at the foot of his bed.
“What?” he said. “What’s up?”
“Unscheduled landing. The engine’s burning up.”
“Overheating?” Why did she need to wake him for that?
“No, it’s literally on fire.”