Before he was “Ricky from St. Louis,” Ricky Hughes was rapper and music producer Ricky Rock. He was also caught up in a wild lifestyle that he knew he needed to escape. As part of his evolution to a new version of himself, he started distance running and founded the St. Louis Run Crew, for “all faces, paces, and laces.”
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Ricky got into music in high school and formed a production company with some friends. He went on to college, but the production company started to take off, and he decided to leave school, rejoin his friends, and make music full time. They got their big break when they worked on rapper Huey’s debut single, “Pop, Lock & Drop It,” which peaked at number six on the Billboard Hot 100 and was featured on MTV Jams.
“We’re making like thousands of dollars,” Ricky says, “and I started producing and making video and content. I went on tour with my friend who had a band. It was just a wild time. But honestly, it was tough for me because I was into a lot of that lifestyle that came with music, like the drugs and the women. I was spiraling in a way and one day, I just left. My friend’s like, ‘What the hell are you doing?’
“I rode my bike to this lake. I prayed… it sounds like a storybook… and I felt like a spirit telling me I need to leave this situation. And I left. I’ve evolved since then, but I’ve always been able to pivot and be open to my new creativities. I still did music after that, but my lifestyle had to change.”
He got a job with an organization called Better Family Life, mentoring inner city youth. “I was seeing myself in these students and it made me be accountable because I had all these young brothers and sisters looking up to me. And from there, I started working in public health. Then I’m going back to school. Then I graduated; I got married; I had kids. But I think me being in a situation where I was in a community as Mr. Ricky and not Ricky Rock, I was accountable and I had to grow up because I had young boys looking up to me and they needed me and that changed my life.
“Now I look back, that was God showing me I have a light, but I gotta get it right. So that got me together and ultimately created a path for me to find myself. And I’m continuing to do that. I’m not like, ‘I found myself,’ I’m always trying to find what is the next evolution of myself.”
Running became a part of Ricky’s evolution. He was a champion sprinter in high school, but never ran distance. That changed the day he turned on the news and saw the video of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder. “The catalyst was me feeling like I had to finish Ahmaud Arbery’s run, and that was a spark that sent me out the door, literally. And that’s how I got to running more than 200 meters.”
The next spark was when he went to LA to do a podcast for a company called Dear Fathers. The father he interviewed was Alrick “Butta” Augustine, the founder of Inglewood’s Keep It Run Hundred run crew. Ricky had never even heard of a run crew before, but when Butta invited him to run with them that night, he agreed.
“I went to the run and it was like 200 Black, brown, white, Asian, Spanish-speaking people running in LA at 7 p.m. on Thursday. Blew my mind. I’m like, ‘What the hell is this?’ When Ricky got home to St. Louis, he promptly signed up for a 5K. He won his age division, and was hooked. “So that was it. I’m like, ‘Oh no, it’s over now.’ And that was a spark, not only seeing that a run crew could be a diverse run crew, but also I knew I was missing that challenge of sport. Butta and that 5K showed me the community and that my personal goals are still attainable, and I was off to the races, no pun intended.”
Initially, he didn’t want to start a run crew; he just wanted to join one, take his camera, and document it, as a new creative outlet. He soon realized though, that the St. Louis run crews were all white. At one meetup, he recalls, “Nobody spoke to me. They handed me a route, and I got lost in downtown Clayton at night time.That was just a terrible experience. I know I stuck out; I was the only Black person. Like, y’all saw me; at least say, ‘Hey what’s your name?’ Something? And then also, I’m Ricky Rock. I feel like, ‘Hey, I’m gonna bring some energy.’ But nobody spoke to me. I got lost in downtown Clayton, one of the richest counties in the country. So I’m a little scared; night time, Black guy running in Clayton.”
He knew he needed to do something, but he still wasn’t ready to form a run crew. Instead, he advertised some popup runs at local businesses. The first time, nobody came. He didn’t really mind. “I ran on my phone; I created a dope reel. I ran past my childhood home. I did a video; I’m like, ‘That was fun.’ So it was the creativity and the telling my story.” The next time, one person came. Then seven, then nine.
He thought of those runs like pilot episodes. “I was still kind of scared to do a run crew. But that showed me, yeah, people in Saint Louis wanna run, they need it. And St. Louis Run Crew was born right after that.”
It didn’t matter to Ricky how big the runs got. “I knew that I was gonna still run, no matter what. It was changing my life. It was helping me deal with some of my vices. It was making me more confident; it was making me healthy. I was a better husband, better father, better man. So I really wasn’t doing it for anybody. I was doing it for the most selfish reason, which was what I needed at that time. I was doing it so I could be a better person, mentally, spiritually, and physically. And then the community was the missing piece that I didn’t know that I needed and that Saint Louis needed the community.”
One thing Ricky’s experiences have taught him is the importance of being open to change. “Be open to your heart and creativity and trying new things, and not completely putting your head down, because if your head isn’t up, you can’t see the pivot. They often say, ‘A jack of all trades is a master of none.’ But my take on that is, that is old wisdom because I feel like you can do a few different things. Like you can run, you can do media, you can get into style, you can public speak, you can throw community events. Putting all this stuff together to make who you are.
“And don’t be scared to pivot and try new things because if I just was like, ‘I wanna be a rapper’ and put my head down, I wouldn’t have found running that has truly changed my life more than anything. And I can still drop a song tomorrow. Be open to the pivot, open to be creative, and follow your heart, and love your people, love your city, love your community and just give your all.”
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