When your pastor says your album needs work: Ruslan’s ‘Do For One’ forged from failure
There is no better way to start a conversation with an artist whose album drops soon than to tell them they didn’t reach their potential on it.
This is what pastors Jeremy McGinty and Pat Lynch of The Movement church in San Diego told Ruslan days before the release of his album Carry On in 2013.
“I just felt like [Carry On] wasn’t done,” McGinty said. “It was a rushed effort.”
Ruslan spent extra time on his new album, Do For One, which dropped on Friday. The patience paid off, according to his A&R Ray Rock, who’s produced for Andy Mineo and Beleaf.
“[Ruslan’s] last album, in comparison to this one, is trash,” Ray Rock said, “and this one, by far, is the best album out right now.”
That’s quite the improvement from music that not only Ruslan’s pastor critiqued, but also played a role in the breakup of his long-time rap group theBREAX.
This improvement is the result of twice as many hours logged, a stronger team and detailed note-taking of an honest Carry On critique by a prominent Christian rapper. The concept of Do For One, though, is the result of Ruslan sacrificing his own pursuits to support those around him, members of his record label Kings Dream Entertainment attested.
“Do For One is a great record,” Beleaf said. “It’s better when you know that, without Ruslan, I may not be in this situation at all — everything changes if you take one person out of the situation. He’s definitely irreplaceable … like a fearless lion. He’s that guy.”
Do For Millions
Beleaf wasn’t calling Ruslan a fearless lion in 2012. They had released four LPs and three mixtapes as theBREAX, but Beleaf wanted to go solo for several reasons.
He began as Ruslan’s DJ but became a better rapper. Ruslan wanted him to stay on the turn tables, as well as to finish their next album in six months — despite them taking four years to make Never Arrive and Beleaf having a baby on the way. They never stopped being best friends, but Beleaf grew tired of almost being Ruslan’s sidekick, which occasionally involved making songs he disliked.
“All I did was have your back,” Beleaf said. “What are you going to do for me?”
Kings Dream launched in the summer of 2012 under the banner of theBREAX. But by then, the group had disbanded and Ruslan had already started to work on his debut solo album Carry On. He believed he had a limited timespan to leverage the brand’s platform.
“People have a short memory,” Ruslan said. “I knew if I was going to launch myself as a relevant solo artist, I had to capitalize and strike while theBREAX were somewhat still relevant.”
The ticking clock in the back of Ruslan’s head was especially unhelpful when combined with his slow acclimation to creating commercial music, as opposed to the boom-bap theBREAX grew known for. Ruslan needed a more mainstream sound, he said, because as embraced as theBREAX was, its catalog lacked songs that engaged concert crowds.
His answer to this issue didn’t impress Beleaf, who told Ruslan several of the songs on Carry On were lousy. Ruslan ignored his critiques, so Beleaf eventually kept quiet, but he wasn’t the lone critic for long. In January 2013, Ruslan’s pastors heard Carry On and advised him to push back its Jan. 22 release date due to room for improvement, but he couldn’t.
Ruslan had already booked a release party at the San Diego House of Blues — before he completed the album.
“I didn’t know what I was doing,” Ruslan said.
In the same conversation, Ruslan’s pastors gave him additional advice that lightened the mood.
“I think you are a guy who’s going to see others do greater things, stand on your shoulders,” McGinty said. “You’re a pioneer in the way that you really want to bring people together. Even though everybody’s all for themselves, you’re all for other people.”
McGinty and Lynch had watched Ruslan develop into a leader over the years as a church staff member and mentor to Beleaf and John Givez. But like most artists, Ruslan sought a larger platform. In his pursuit to impact more people, though, he admittedly lost focus of those easiest to impact — his close friends.
This conversation triggered an epiphany: “What if I can do for one what I would do for thousands?” a concept inspired by Atlanta pastor Andy Stanley and question Ruslan asked on the title track of his album Do For One.