“My apologies in advance ’cause this shit is not humble,” Ru Johnson said with a confident smirk. “It’s just time for me to leave the Denver space, there’s nothing more here that I can offer that I haven’t already done.”
Whether you agree with Johnson or not, there’s truth to the statement. Is she humble? Not a chance. Has she made her mark on Denver? No doubt. The 34-year-old entered the scene 12 years ago as a go-getter from the East Coast. She started her company, Roux Black Consulting, to fill a need that she felt was unmet — developing stronger and more legitimate ways of elevating hip-hop in Denver. Since then, she’s been instrumental in the rise of local stars like Trev Rich. She’s orchestrated workshops for creatives, like “How to Kill the Game 101.” New events like Test Kitchen are her projects and she’s been publicly thanked for her industry work on one of America’s most recognizable stages — Red Rocks. She’s a self-proclaimed power broker, accelerator and advisor to many and now, after more than a decade in the Mile High City, she’s leaving.
“I also think that most proud of the fact that I endured and the fact that I have really done things that no one else has done before and especially now I’ve never done before and I’m a black woman. I’m not from here and I have sucked zero dicks to get to the top here. […] I put artists on some of their first stages ever — artists who are playing headlining shows. I removed obstacles for some of those artists. I instilled trust and safety with some of the venues so that they could take certain risks with artists that they wouldn’t have before. I have put more women on stages, I have worked with every single hip-hop artist in this town who’s worth their salt — even the ones who aren’t and think they are, I have worked with everybody. I have endured more than other characters and personalities in this community,” said Johnson.–
Johnson is leaving her post as the owner and founder of Roux Black Consulting to join the National Cannabis Festival in Washington D.C. — an event celebrating progress on marijuana legalization nationwide. And while she knows that her time in Denver was a necessary part of her growth and development, she believes that this next chapter is a truly serendipitous opportunity.
“My passion is music and politics, and all of those things come together with the National Cannabis Festival,” explained Johnson. “I was hired by The National Cannabis Festival in January. I do all of their brand-partner activations so all of their content strategy, all of their sponsors — I coordinate all of it.” When speaking about her involvement in activism and politics, Johnson said, “It’s a big part of my life’s work to politicize people who are not traditionally politicized. I believe the biggest way that we resist is by being who we are in all spaces, right? So you may not smoke weed, you may not care about weed, but you care about the perspective of people who have been oppressed because of something minor.”
Much like her upcoming pursuits in D.C., Johnson’s tenure in Denver began in politics — first working on campaigns before writing for Westword, Denver Post and 303 Magazine. And while she entered the local scene through political campaigns she quickly moved past that to become one of the city’s first and arguably most influential hip-hop writers.
“I’m not a journalist like that, you know, I’m a writer. I’m a purveyor of culture and the way that I translate that observation is writing,” said Johson in explaining her role at some of the city’s top publications. “When I first came here, as far as the music scene goes, I knew that there were are ton of people doing music and various forms of entertainment in the city before I got here and it was not as easy as it might look now for me to have broken into that climate because it was still really run by — especially on a grass level — a couple of faction crews.”
Johnson’s profile, in her opinion, is only rising. And she’s looking forward to taking the notoriety that she’s built here to the East Coast. She plans to approach the D.C. music industry with more refinement and finesse than she had coming up — essentially, she wants to do what she did here, but in D.C., and on a much higher level by operating as a talent buyer, rather than with direct action rap work (working one-on-one with up and coming musicians). And while Denver’s music scene has arguably, in recent years, grown in both population and talent concentration, Johnson feels she has outgrown Denver and knows her experience here has prepared her for this new, somewhat daunting challenge.
“My life is a series of serendipitous opportunities that I have been brave enough to take, you know. And I’ve lived here for 12 years and got really comfortable with the ebb and flow of my own power and the universe put one more really important opportunity in front of me and was like, ‘Are you gonna? Are you gonna? Are you gonna?’ I was like, ‘Hell yeah, I’m outta here,” she said.
Johnson believes that Denver had a huge hand in molding her into the woman that she is today. And while she admits that there have been bumps along the way, she feels that she overcame the trials and tribulations and has, in turn, finally grasped the full potential of her own power. When we asked her if she felt she’d outgrown the city that formed her she said, “100 percent, five times over.”
“There’s literally nothing else I can do. I’ve been onstage at Red Rocks being thanked for the work that we’ve done for a show. What else do you do? What else is there? I have no idea. I’m passing that shit on. Like y’all go ahead guys. I’ve been ready and I could keep staying here and taking up space. I’m super comfortable. Now it’s time for me to take my talents and do it over here in better, smarter ways and I will still have an imprint in Denver, I will still do certain things in Denver for sure but I’m also just not physically going to be here, which is probably the biggest thing,” Johnson explained.
Johnson has not announced the official date of her departure from Denver. She will, however, host one of her final events in the city, Test Kitchen, this August 31 at 8 p.m., at The Gothic Theatre. She created the bi-monthly event to give local hip-hop artists and MCs a chance to show off their talents and be judged by producers, journalists and industry professionals. The panel of judges offers feedback to each artist as well as a feedback report for the public to review judge comments and snag links to the musician’s material.
When we asked Johnson if she feels her move will upset people, she simply laughed and said she feels “they’ll be alright.” And when we asked her about regrets, Johnson reflected on a time when she felt an obligation to serve the music industry, rather than becoming part of it — needless to say, times have changed. Over her 12 years in the Mile High City, she’s grown into her own power as a woman and a self-proclaimed power broker and directly attributes this self-ownership to her decision to leave the comfort that she’s built in Denver. Nonetheless, she’s anticipating the opportunity that comes with entering a new market, with new people, in a new city. You may hate her, you may love her — and the loss of this hip-hop queen-pin is going to be difficult for some to swallow. Regardless, her passion and enthusiasm for the hustle will undoubtedly live on in Denver.