The Music Makers

Rhyme and Reason

For 20 years, Ryan Maginn was the rapper Ryu. At lodge, he’s just Ryan.

By Jospeh Bien-Kahn

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Listen to enough rap and inevitably you’ll come across a bar that references Freemasonry. With its mystical, cryptic reputation, the fraternity understandably holds a special appeal where hip-hop is concerned. Less common is the rapper who really is a Mason—or so you’d imagine. “I won’t say there are a lot of us, but there are a few,” explains Ryan Maginn. “More than you’d think.” 

Maginn, who raps under the moniker Ryu, is one of those few. And though his interest may have been subconsciously piqued with secret-society rhymes by the likes of Tupac and Mobb Deep, what eventually brought him to lodge was a more pressing concern: the unsavoriness of the music industry. “Everybody in the record business likes to call each other brother and claim that they have each other’s back,” he says. “I was looking for something where people had morals.” 

Maginn first made his name in the ’90s during freestyle sessions on The Wake-Up Show, a nationally syndicated radio program. He and his friend Takbir Bashir (who performs as Tak) rapped alongside heavyweights like Big Pun, Fat Joe, and RZA. Week after week, the local kids held their own. “Then the record deals started coming in,” Maginn says. “That’s where it went bad.” 

Maginn and Bashir released two independent studio albums as the duo Styles of Beyond. In 2005, they joined Mike Shinoda of rap-rock giants Linkin Park in Shinoda’s side project, Fort Minor. The resulting album, The Rising Tied, reached No. 51 on the U.S. charts and spawned two platinum singles, including “Remember the Name,” on which Styles of Beyond was a featured guest. 

The project’s success led to a major-studio record deal with Warner Bros. Still, the commercial fortune never quite materialized and the fit was imperfect. Says Maginn: “We had success, but it was just when the money and the friendships came into it, the wheels started coming off the bus.” 

It was right around that time that Maginn’s uncle passed away. He had been a member of the fraternity in Southern California, and as the family cleared out his home, Maginn was drawn to his gold ring with the Masonic square and compass. Years later, while at the home of Chad Bromley (who performs as Apathy), Maginn came across the book Freemasonry for Dummies. Late one night, Maginn found himself skimming through it. 

When he returned home, Maginn and a friend decided to apply to Long Beach No. 327. The draw wasn’t entrée into a secret society or esoteric knowledge. In the underground rap scene, he’d already spent decades in a niche community with its own rules and dialect. Now he was desperate for something else. “I needed to slow down and reevaluate who I was, because I was concentrating on the image of myself and on portraying myself, but I really wasn’t concentrating on me,” he says. 

At lodge, for the first time in years, Ryu was just Ryan. “They didn’t want me to do a song with them. They didn’t want me to perform at their grandson’s birthday,” he says. “They just thought it was super cool that the lodge had a rapper.” 

The lodge also presented him with a vision for life after hip-hop. Inspired by lodge member Jason Van Fleet, owner of Dutch’s Brewhouse, and a recent trip to Ireland, Maginn set to work designing his dream bar. The project was plagued by delays, but in November, at long last, Maggin’s Irish Pub will open in Santa Clarita. 

Maginn won’t say he’s fully retired from rap. Rather, he’s just entered the elder-statesman phase of his career. Now he makes time to mentor younger rappers who seek him out, including a few groups in Ireland. “I see what I can contribute and try to provide some guidance as far as navigating the music business,” Maginn says. He pauses, laughing at the image of himself as industry expert. “Well, at least I can show a lot of people what not to do, that’s for sure.” 

The Music Makers

Three Mason-musicians
honing their craft

Nee Quaison-Sackey

Ryan Maginn

Terence Trevor Panganiban

PHOTOGRAPHY CREDIT:
Courtesy of Dutch Markgraf

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