“Too much lyricism to digest, I do it on purpose. Two of my bars are more lyrical than two of your verses.”
– R.A. The Rugged Man – “Tom Thum”
Terribly underrated and often ignored, R.A. The Rugged Man is a name-drop among hip hop heads to test the credibility of one’s love for the genre. Most might know him by his award-winning Verse of the Year on “Uncommon Valor (A Vietnam Story),” but if you’re not familiar with the man’s work, take the $10 you’ve got in your pocket and cop this album on iTunes. I will guarantee satisfaction.
Rugged Man doesn’t put out any bullshit. It’s been 9 years since he released his debut album, “Die Rugged Man, Die,” through Nature Sounds. He has a strong underground following because he values quality over quantity, which is something I truly respect in a musician if they do it right. As an independent artist, he has no corporate backing and a limited budget (AKA this mother fucker does shit on his own, for the love of the game). So before I even review the album, when I say take that $10 and buy this dude’s album, I mean it. As hip hop heads, we NEED to support artist’s like Rugged Man who are unique voices in sea full of conformists.
Now to the album.
Standout Tracks: “Tom Thum,” “Learn Truth,” “Legends Never Die,” “Sam Peckinpah,” “The Dangerous Three,” “Still Get Through The Day.”
My personal favorite track is “Tom Thum.” Rugged Man demonstrates an unbelievable mastery of the flow over a production that changes frequently throughout the song. He’s known for spitting lines upon lines at a fast rate without taking a breath, and he addresses this talent. “I don’t need to breathe when I rap I got gills fuck lungs.” The second verse is one of my favorite of the year especially when the beat cuts out and he raps, “I’m at the Best Western tossin’ your girls salad with some french dressing.” Listen to this track a few times just to make sure you don’t miss any of his genius lines.
“Learn Truth” is the lead single, and rightly so. With the help of fellow hip hop vet Talib Kweli, they provide a socially conscious narrative of the world we live in today. Many consider this to be RA’s best verse since “Uncommon Valor” and I can’t fault them. He finds a way to say what many young American’s are thinking, all while giving us a history lesson and making that shit sound dope over a fire piano riff.
Rugged Man enlists Brother Ali and Masta Ace on “The Dangerous Three,” and wouldn’t you know, they all step up to the plate and knock it out of the park. Brother Ali gets down right gritty on this track, which is something we all like to hear him do from time to time. Masta Ace is like the Vinny Testeverde of hip hop, just steady putting up numbers (quality verses) for over 20 years. On “Sam Peckinpah,” Vinny Paz of Jedi Mind Tricks trades lines with Rugged Man in the old school Beastie Boys/Nas and AZ style of rapping. I wish more artists did records like this, because it shows versatility and chemistry. When I hear RA and Vinny going back and forth, I picture them hanging out, shooting the shit, and spitting for fun. It’s something new artists lack that needs to come back.
While we see Rugged Man’s humor and raw lyricism on most tracks, “Still Get Through The Day” and “Legends Never Die” will bring a tear to your eye. “Still Get Through The Day” is almost like a self-help song. He tells about his cousin, sister, brother and father who have all passed on from disease or drugs, but makes sure to let you know that at the end of the day, “It’s a miracle just being born. Learn to enjoy life.” So true. Life’s a precious gift and we have no control over when it ends, so value that shit. “Legends Never Die” is an ode to his late father, and by the end of the song if you don’t feel emotionally moved by his words, then you’ve just got a big steamy dump in your pants. His producer Mr. Green flipped the “Halo” sample by Beyonce and turned it into an upbeat production with extremely heartfelt content by RA. Simply put, the man loves his father more than life itself. He had such a strong influence on RA, teaching him “combative green berets tactics,” and about “Crazy Horse and his tribal glories.” We’ve all lost someone who has meant a great deal to us, and hearing RA tear up at the end of his last verse will bring back the feelings you had for that person.
It’s truly refreshing to hear an artist on the level of RA stick to his guns and not sell out. The content of this album wouldn’t have been possible if he had to bow down to a corporate label. He’s got an incredible flow and the brains to match. When I heard he was dropping an album, I got excited because I knew he would bring the heat, and he didn’t disappoint. Remember that $10 you have in your pocket? If you support independent artists who do all the leg work on their own and want to hear a quality album that ranks among the best of 2013, hit up iTunes and download “Legends Never Die.”