R.A. The Rugged Man is not for the easily offended or squeamish. However, he is a true student of Hip Hop and a proficient technician of lyricism. When he first hit the scene in the early 90s he mostly got recognized for his shock value approach of outlandish sex rhymes and things of the sort. However, that is merely one facet of his verbal techniques. The other side relies purely on intricate rhyme schemes, flawless flow, and head-smacking content.
Here are the first five R.A. verses that blew my mind:
-“50,000 Heads” w/Sadat X (’96): The title of this track, along with the sampled chorus, comes from one R.A.’s cult classic, “Every Record Label Sucks…” where he states, “There’s only 50,000 that are true to this/The rest are clueless to what real Hip Hop music is…” Here, he continues to build from that concept and after a top quality first verse from Sadat X, R.A. goes for the throat. The highlight comes towards the end where he quickens the pace, “…I’m top five lyrically/if you ain’t listing me, you’re dissin me/49 wins with no losses, heavyweights know who the boss is/Disrespect? (You) don’t want to find out what the cost is/I make this comeback in ‘97/You lyricists who Hip Hop is your life get love back in ‘97/Don’t play me, I react violently now in ‘97/Ignorant minds better speak silently now in ‘97/R.A The Rugged Man hated by everyone/That’s what I’m hearing y’all…that’s what I’m hearing…”
-“Lessons” (’04): For the remainder of the 90s R.A. The Rugged Man continued to release relentless and unapologetic music while building a cult following and likely offending a range of people along the way. Simultaneously, he was perfecting the craft with each new step. He learned to master better use of his voice. He perfected the flow so that he could effortlessly command control of an array of rhyme patterns and when needed, shift the flow speed at will. Pairing these enhancements with the already present explosive content, which was also elevated, proved to be a lethal combination. I first recall making note of this progress on “Lessons”. The first line even suggests this is a bit of a return for him, “Yo, people wondering where the f**k I been/At the V.I.P section, they ain’t lettin’ me in/They say maybe if you had Dr Dre or Timbaland/They say, ‘A white boy need a black boy to win/Uh…Bubba Sparx did it and so did it Slim/Just Blaze is hot now, Why don’t you get with him?’/I watched mad rappers bite my s**t and blow up/And make millions of what I created, that’s tuff luck/I first started given coverage/Around the same time Steve Stoute used to carry Kid N Play’s luggage/I seen rappers turn from sex symbols and heartthrobs/To being forgotten, now they out looking for jobs/I seen EPMD break up/I seen my little brother, Max, fall asleep and he ain’t never wake up/So when I rhyme listen, seriously/When I spit I’m giving you the truth, clearly who I really be/It’s an audio version of reality TV/I had deals from Russell Simmons to Master P/Even 5 year old white girls be rapping today/On the playground like, ‘Go shorty…it’s your birthday’!”
On the second verse R.A. continues to intertwine personal life events with various shifts in the Rap industry, “I’ve seen good days, sun rays, church Sundays/Made love, made war, been rich, been poor/Lost friends, lost lawsuits, loss my dough/Seen beef between Bad Boy and Deathrow/I seen disease take the life of my sister’s kid/Six months on the earth, that’s all he had to live/I seen Biggie, Big L, Big Pun pass away/Buffy from the Fat Boys, Jam Master Jay/A month before they blew up with Mystikal and Jay Z/The Neptunes came to see me at D&D/I knew this chick name Norah, a lounge singer/A year later she a six grammy award winner…” At times, the brutal reality is as painful to bear, as it is entertaining to hear via his picture-perfect delivery and authoritative tone.
The third verse begins, “I’m a peace with myself now, how about that?/I hated life, I wanted to die a few years back/I was mentally ill, it’s hard to come back from that/But I got it through it, now I got my sanity back…” It’s as if to suggest a transition into a peace of mind, but in truth it is just a calm before the returning storm. Sanity regained and retained or not, R.A. still returns to form with more scathing criticism of the industry, best reflected in the song’s closing moments, “I ain’t down to sign autographs or shake ya hands/I don’t want trendy ass followers for fans/I don’t wanna sell records, I won’t wanna be big/I don’t MTV runnin’ up in my crib/I don’t wanna be liked in the music biz/I don’t want fans that don’t know who G Rap is!”
“Chains” (’04): This is a great posse cut produced by Ayatollah and features Masta Killa and Killah Priest. R.A. is placed in-between the two Wu MCs and this is the track where I first peeped him flipping his steady stream flow that is based on rhyming the same (or similar) suffix for an extended amount of time with rapid-fire precision, “Hospitable, hittable, cooler than Digable/Criminal miracle, lyrical/take very syllable literal/Little riddle profitable/visual, irritable, little brittle pitiful/fist’ll do little, you tickle, you’re typical…” It’s sort of a like “Ain’t No ½ Steppin” styled Big Daddy Kane on a coke binge. The BDK reference is not completely without merit, as R.A. references it in the opening line of his verse and then immediately follows with, “They say, ‘Rugged by now you should’ve at least blown/It’s funny, I’m mad famous for being unknown…”
“Renaissance” (’07): This track comes is from Hell Razah’s “Renaissance Child” album and features Timbo King of Royal Fam on the hook, a very impressive verse by Tragedy Khadafi, and is closed out by R.A. Rugged Man. In this display of verbal gymnastics R.A. plays the name game, giving props to some of the best to ever did, the well known and overlooked, “Yes, oh yes, I guess/Suggest the rest you fess/I’m Tribe Called Quest, I’m Moe Dee Wild West/Treach, Naughty, Jazz Jeff, Slick Rick, I’m Doug Fresh/I’m def, I’m Canibus before he met Wyclef/Original, I don’t bite/I don’t need nobody to ghostwrite/Kool G Rap strike the mic/I recite the type of hype that you like/I’m Sweetback, I’m Uptown Saturday Night/I’m Black Caeser, I’m Rudy Ray Moore…Dolemite/I’m an Assassin rappin’/I’m Grandwizard Theodore when he invented scratchin’/I’m WU-tang Killa Bee, epitome of Public Enemy/Gamblin’, Hustlin’, like Smooth and Trigger be/Bitter B, Bum-stickedy diggety, Das, literally/I’m Pun in the middle of Little Italy/Didn’t do diddly, getting me/Listen to me, I’m all good, I’m hood/I’m Ice Cube before he turned soft and went Hollywood/I’m Poetic from Gravediggaz, I’m ODB/I’m Headquarters, I’m Ted Demme, I’m Paul C/If I ain’t better than B.I.G, I’m the closest/I’m Richard Pryor before multiple sclerosis/ I’m beef, I’m gold teeth. Peace/Mantronix, Stetsasonic, Symbolic, Bambaataa, Soul Sonic/I’m Dre, The Chronic/Melodic with logic, Islamic/A poverty prophet/Economy robbery, cock it/I probably properly drop it/It gotta be honesty/Opposite of novelty, rock it/I Herbie Hancock it/I’m Onyx Throwin Ya Gun/I’m Funky 4 + 1!” There’s no easy explanation of how insane this verse. The transcribing don’t do it complete justice. Listen to this and if you aren’t impressed, then I will awesome you don’t enjoy great lyricism.
5)”Uncommon Valor” (’06): This is a Jedi Mind Tricks song featuring R.A. The Rugged Man. R.A.’s verse is a story about his father and it showcases his talent of a story teller, with mental piercing visual images. However, unlike many great lyricists who tackle certain subjects and abandon their elaborate writing skills, R.A. deliver this tale of war with intricacies of a battle rap. Just listen to this one:
I officially met R.A. The Rugged Man the Summer of 2008 while on the Scribble Jam Tour in New York. While sitting at the venue he was talking about obscure Rap from the 80s and while everyone else there didn’t have a clue to whom he was talking about, I would interject my thoughts and additional facts about each artist. It didn’t take long for R.A. and me to bond over discussions about MC’s like Tony Tee The Composer. From there we stayed in touch and when he came to Minneapolis a while later he hit me up to DJ for his Minneapolis show and we rocked at set together at the Foundation nightclub downtown*. Beyond that, we would semi-regularly connect to talk about random 80s Rap lyrics. We’ve also had a few talks about his upcoming album, in which he has me very intrigued to peep it when it drops.
Come meet the man in person and hear him kick some ill Raps this Sunday at Fifth Element with King Magnetic!!
From 3 PM-4 PM and FREE! They do NOT Have a show in town so this is the only place to see them!!
Written By Kevin Beacham
Lyric Transcribes: I've done my best on the transcribes, though it is hardly an exact science. However, I feel pretty good abou them...
*It was in this same show where he casually threw out the comment, “Kevin Beacham knows everything about Hip Hop. I’ll give $100 to whoever can stump him with a question!” I was like, “What??!!” That’s a lot of pressure on a man. Luckily, I plowed thru the several questions with no issues and didn’t lose R.A. any money…ha. It should be stated that I DON’T know everything about Hip Hop, working it though…