Long Island, New York emcee R.A. the Rugged Man is an independent Hip-Hop pioneer. The complicated rapper had a short stint with Jive Records before venturing out on his own, pressing up his own vinyl and eventually doing work with some of the best Hip-Hop acts of the 90’s.
R.A. recorded tracks with the likes of Kool G Rap, Sadat X, and the Wu-Tang Clan all while preparing for the release of his official debut album. In 2004 Die, Rugged Man, Die was released on Nature Sounds Records. The album featured appearances by Wu-Tang’s Masta Killa and Clan affiliates Timbo King and Killah Priest.
Nearly ten years after dropping his first album the Rugged Man released his sophomore album, Legends Never Die. The album features production by the likes of Buckwild, Will Tell, Mr. Green, C-Lance, Ayatollah, Marco Polo, and Apathy. Guest starring on Legends Never Die is Talib Kweli, Tech N9ne, Eamon, Brother Ali, Hopsin, Masta Ace, Vinnie Paz, Krizz Kaliko, and Sadat X.
R.A. the Rugged Man spoke to usedview.com about his views on politics, the loss of his father, the resurgence of East Coast Hip-Hop, and his new album, Legends Never Die.
SS: Explain the title of the album, Legends Never Die.
R.A. the Rugged Man: Legends Never Die has got a lot of meanings. Obviously I’ve been in the game for a million years. I’ve been rapping since I was 11-years old. Since the 90’s I’ve been the legendary R.A. on some cocky arrogant sh*t. It has more of a meaning because the title track, Legends Never Die is specifically about my father passing. My father is a certified legend, whether I am or not, my father really is. It’s also a part of Hip-Hop culture. A lot of legends in the game have passed like Cowboy from the Furious Five, Big L, and Buffy from the Fat Boys. We lost a lot of legendary heroes in the game but they’ll never be forgotten.
SS: On the title song you speak eloquently about your dad. How have you coped since losing your father?
R.A. the Rugged Man: It’s a shock to the system. Some people aren’t close to their mother, father, or family. If you have a father like mine who was an amazing man who loved, worshipped, and lived his life for his kids, it was a little bit of a harder hit for our family than some other families who have a father who ran away from home and doesn’t see the kids but once or twice a year. The first year was tough but you just roll with the punches. It’s part of life; it’s part of growing. It’s a cliché but loss makes every person stronger. He used his life to strengthen his children’s lives so you wake up one day and realize that part of your life is over and you gotta move on. I’ve lost a lot of family and you get used to it. Even though you never get used to it, you get used to it.
SS: Why was there almost a ten-year gap between Die, Rugged Man, Die and Legends Never Die?
R.A. the Rugged Man: It’s eight years. The one was released in December of ’04 and the other one was released the beginning of ’13. I guess it’s eight years and a month or something. There was also Legendary Classics Volume 2 which I dropped in between there. It had ten new songs on it and ten songs that were never released. I counted that as an album too. To beef it up I threw some classic records on it just to familiarize people with my work. I also was working heavy on collaborations with people and working on songs in between the two albums. I dropped at least fifty records between the collaborations and solo records that dropped.
Also, there’s financial issues and distribution issues and if everything’s not right I’m not quick to jump into bed and say, “Oh, let’s put out an album on some iTunes sh*t and whoever hears it, hears it.” When I do a record I want it to be set up properly. I want the Hip-Hop community to know it’s coming. I want to be able to spend as much time as I can on the record to make the album very good. If I don’t have all the cards on the table I’d rather just make music and put it out here and there and do what I do. Tour the world, do my 150 shows a year, rap with Jedi Mind Tricks or Wu-Tang Clan. If I’m going to do an album the situation has to be right for me. I don’t think doing albums is the be-all, end-all of Hip-Hop culture. Some of the greatest artists of all-time don’t have ten albums out. They put out an album when it’s time.
SS: How did the song ‘Learn Truth’ with Talib Kweli come about?
R.A. the Rugged Man: Me and Talib was boys for a lot of years. We knew each other for about fifteen years. When I was up at Rawkus I had the reputation of being the crazy, crusty, maniac that’ll break sh*t, destroy people, bring hookers up to the label, and getting arrested, and Talib was always the conscious cat. It didn’t make full sense in my head to do a record with Talib Kweli in that era. I’m a lyricist, man. I can spit with any artist and make a great record out of it. By the year 2001 I decided not to pigeonholed myself and say, “You don’t have to only do records with thug rappers or rappers who get a little gritty.” Not every rapper has to be an Akinyele or a Biggie Smalls rapping about p*ssy. I’m a lyricist and I can write a song on any subject. I’ve been directing some of Talib Kweli’s videos and then I said, “Yo, we need to do a record,” and he said, “I’m sayin’. When we doin’ it?” I said alright, let me think of a concept and let’s get on it. I was sitting by myself in IHOP at ten in the morning and I was thinking, “What the f*ck kind of song would I make with Talib Kweli?” I just started writing bars. Each bar was about the f*cked up history of the world. I wrote the rhyme and sent it to him and he wrote his rhyme and that’s how the record got made.
SS: On the album you kind of pay tribute to Biz Mark’s ‘Albee Square Mall’, what inspired you to do the song ‘Definition of a Rap Flow’?
R.A. the Rugged Man: What happened was Dev-1 had a loop of the same sample that they used from the classic hippie record in the 60’s. It was way faster so I could flow really crazy on it. It wasn’t going to be an Albee Square remake but when I started rapping on the same sample I decided to put a little homage in there to Biz. That’s why I had the girl singing “Albee Square Mall.” The hook was using the melody from the original record. It’s funny because I’m touring all over the world and there are teenage girls coming up to me singing, “Go shopping, go shopping.” These people have no f*ckin’ clue what a Cold Chillin’ record is. In some random European country I got them singing Cold Chillin’ hooks and I’m proud of it because that’s my era. I grew up on those legends.
SS: Do you think the East Coast sound is making a comeback to East Coast music?
R.A. the Rugged Man: Everything always comes around full circle, no matter what it is. The young kids that you’re talking about obviously are Joey Bada$$ and [Action] Bronson. Joey’s from Brooklyn and Bronson’s from Queens and they’re rapping over authentic Hip-Hop beats. That’s not going to stop the wack New York rappers from trying to rap like other styles. There are so many wack New York rappers. It helps that there is some authentic Hip-Hop coming out of New York again. What we really need is somebody to come and transcend the music the way New York did originally again. We need a 15-16 year old kid that ain’t even known yet, somebody to come out of nowhere and show what New York is. Show that we started this sh*t. The kids doing the ’90’s homage New York rap is dope but I wouldn’t mind somebody doing some 2020-this is what New York does-we originate all styles type of sh*t, and destroy the planet.
SS: How’d you hook up with Apathy to record ‘The People’s Champ’?
R.A. the Rugged Man: Apathy wanted me to rap on a song called ‘Captain Caveman’ and I said, no doubt. I did that for the Demigodz album and told him I needed an energetic joint to open my album up. I needed something for when I do shows to make the crowd go crazy on some mosh pit-kick-bite and get the party jumping. He sent me a batch before and I liked them all but I needed one more to get the people on some hyper sh*t. He said, “You know what, I think I got exactly what the f*ck you’re looking for,” and he sent me that beat over and that was it. I started writing bars to it and I started working on some extra hooks to get that military chant going. Once we had the military chant, the Apathy beat, and the rhyme I wrote I said we can open the album now after the Buck[wild] joint and it all made sense.
SS: On the song ‘Media Midgets’ you imply that Vice President Joe Biden is a racist. Can you explain that rhyme?
R.A. the Rugged Man: Well you know the whole Democratic Party comes from the f*ckin’ Ku Klux Klan and they were the racists. Now they try to erase the whole history of the Democratic Party and say they were always the party for the people and reversed. No, you never reversed, you’re the f*cking Ku Klux Klan, that’s who the f*ck you are. Biden, that stupid mother*cker, did you see the YouTube clip of him talking to Indian people? He said, “I can barely go into a 7-11 without hearing a slight Indian accent.” Wasn’t he the guy that said Obama is squeaky clean black guy? What happens is they villain-ize the one side so nobody looks at the other side. They say, “Only the Republicans are bad and we’re the good guys,” which is a complete f*ckin’ lie! Both sides has got the evils. They try to say Biden is a good white guy who is down with the black guy. No he’s not.
SS: On ‘Shoot Me in the Head’ you said it was a crock that they were looking for Bin Laden. What makes you say that?
R.A. the Rugged Man: We’re the United States of America. If it takes them ten years to find this mother*cker hiding in a cave there is something suspect about it. An old ass man is hiding in a cave and it takes you ten years to find this mother*cker? Come on. You weren’t looking that hard.
SS: Are you one of those people that believe Bin Laden is alive?
R.A. the Rugged Man: No, I believe he’s dead. You don’t put nothing past the goddamn government. You see all these lunatic conspiracy theorists; everything is a conspiracy to them. If it’s a tragic shooting the government was involved. If the buildings came down the government was involved. The thing is, the government does so many shady things you go, “That’s a possibility.” I’m not one of those guys that takes for granted that the government plans or plots things. None of us really know. We act like we know everything. These kids watch a couple of YouTube videos and they know everything about 9/11 being an inside job. This guy watches a couple of news broadcasts and he knows Bin Laden did this or that. We’re just being fed information from all different kinds of media and we all act like we know what the f*ck we’re talking, but nobody knows sh*t. They’re not letting us really know what the f*ck is going on. If I’m wrong or right on a couple of things that I’m taking a stab at, that’s what it is. Sometimes you gotta take a little guess at something that doesn’t feel right because they’re not giving us the accurate information.
SS: Why should fans cop Legends Never Die?
R.A. the Rugged Man: Because I put my heart and soul into the record. I’ve been competitive and at a top level my entire career and this is some of the best work that I’ve done. Some of the greatest rappers on the planet are on the record from Talib Kweli, Brother Ali, and Tech N9ne. Some of the greatest beat makers like Mr. Green who was one of my favorite people I’ve ever worked with, Buckwild from the legendary Diggin’ in the Crates, Marco Polo, and Ayatollah who is a legendary Jamaica, Queens producer who produced many Hip-Hop classics. What I did was I put my heart and soul into it. I grabbed some of my favorite producers and I wanted to make vintage lyrical Hip-Hop music with amazing production. I ignored what the radio tells us to do and the nerds on the internet tell us to do and made a legitimate 2013 classic Hip-Hop album that I’m very, very, very proud of. I guarantee that everybody that gives it a listen that loves Hip-Hop will be very satisfied. I’m very proud of it.
Purchase: R.A. the Rugged Man – Legends Never Die