Runkus is a Jamaican singer, deejay, MC, songwriter and producer, and one of the island’s most sought-after young talents. Blending the cultural gravitas of reggae and dancehall with the wordplay of hip-hop, his music is global in its perspective yet unmistakably Jamaican at its root. Now aligned with Delicious Vinyl Island, the new Caribbean music imprint from iconic hip-hop label Delicious Vinyl, he is taking his message to the world with the new single “99%.”
Born Romario Sebastian Anthony Bennett in Portmore, Jamaica, Runkus is the son of reggae artist Determine and booking agent Paula Francis. While most artists choose their stage name at the start of their career, he earned his before he was even born. “When my mom was pregnant with me, I would give her a lot of trouble and a lady who lived nearby would rub my mom’s belly and say ‘runkus,’” the singer recalls. “I think she was trying to say ruckus. But here I am today: Runkus.”
Growing up in Portmore, Runkus was raised in the same fertile music soil that’s produced Jamaican music icons Vybz Kartel, Spice and Popcaan. It was his father, Determine, who was his greatest influence, introducing him to the teachings of Rastafari and the movements of the Jamaican reggae business. The two began recording together when Runkus was just 7 and, when he was 15, they released a joint mixtape, Like Father Like Son.
In 2010, Runkus entered a talent search organized by Jamaican television station RETV, alongside guitarist, Scot Leslie. Being the only contestant with an acoustic set, he astounded the judges and easily won the competition. This led to his inclusion on a school tour of Jamaica, performing alongside big names like Beenie Man and Ding Dong. He also got the opportunity to film his first official music video for the song “Badmind” on the Magician Records label.
Forming the OldSkl Bond — a variation on “Old School Band” — he began performing regularly in Jamaica while releasing singles like “Victim” (Bassick Records JA, 2014) and “Run” (K-Jah Sound, 2015). The latter would also appear on Runkus’ debut EP, Move In, released through Germany’s Oneness Records in 2016. The musically-diverse set, which contained seven original tracks and three dub remixes, was well received, helping to build Runkus’ international following. He toured Europe in Summer 2016 and again in 2017, performing at nearly all of Europe’s major reggae festivals, including Reggaejam (Germany), Rototom Sunsplash (Spain) and Reggae Geel (Belgium), as well as at England’s eclectic Boomtown Fair.
Beyond his own recordings, Runkus has contributed to works by some of Jamaican reggae’s top names, in a diverse set of capacities: Writer, producer, featured artist, recording engineer. His songwriting credits include “Truths & Rights” from Protoje’s Grammy-nominated A Matter of Time album, as well as upcoming releases from Ky-mani Marley and Jah9, for whom he also co-produced two tracks alongside frequent collaborator Iotosh.
While preparing his debut album over the last year, Runkus has continued to build his name through a steady stream of collaborations, as well as a Soundcloud-only EP dubbed orientation. He appeared on “Armageddon” from British reggae-punk outfit The Skints’ Swimming Lessons LP, which topped the Billboard reggae charts earlier this year, and has dropped tracks alongside up-and-coming Jamaican talents like Royal Blu, Ras-I and Iotosh— artists he considers close friends. The co-signs keep coming in: Koffee, arguably Jamaica’s fastest-rising music star in a generation, recently named Runkus as one of her inspirations in an interview with Billboard.
While Runkus sees himself as a reggae artist first and foremost, his experiences have shaped a sound which is borderless. “I was grown cultural, so that means Rastafari, roots music, reggae, one-drop, dancehall and all that is natural to Jamaica is second nature to I,” Runkus explains. “However, I simply do music, not just reggae, not just dancehall.”
This year, Runkus is set to reveal the fullness of his artistry with his first full-length project, classisHim. Runkus relates the LP, a meditation on the themes of classism and the dream of a classless society, to concept albums like Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city which create an immersive, movie-like listening experience.
“classisHim. came from the idea that there is no class, there is one class which is people,” Runkus says of the project, which was recorded primarily at Jamaica’s Smartkid Records studio. “All of the songs correlate with the title, and speak to each other. I don’t know who this project is influenced by but I know I’ve never made music like this before.”
On lead single “99%,” Runkus tackles the issue of income inequality over bouncy, trap-inspired production from Iotosh and Kone, striking a deft balance between serious business and lighthearted fun. A thought-provoking video, directed by Runkus and photographer Yannick Reid, intersperses scenes from Portmore with “hidden” messages meant to encourage financial prosperity. “There’s a lot of videos where people talk about money with expensive cars and clothes they don’t actually own,” Runkus says. “I wanted to show that you can watch a video and make money… literally. So I included what I call ‘money tips’. Simple tings. Like where to find cheap gas in Jamaica.”
classisHim. is set for release soon via Runkus’ own Runkus Music and Delicious Vinyl Island.