Longtime underground mainstay RA The Rugged Man has had a career many mainstream rappers would be jealous of. With a catalog full of big time bangers and collaborations with some of hip-hop’s most revered names, the Long Island emcee has remained a fixture in the underground scene for decades. Ahead of newest album, All My Heroes Area Dead which released today, RA took some time to speak with Weekly Rap Gods on the challenges of rolling out an album on quarantine, creating a hip-hop legacy and keeping the boom-bap sound alive. Always candid, always raw, The Rugged Man gives you a glimpse into his creative process and what to expect from his latest project.
I was wondering for you, you’ve been in the rap game for a long time, but this is the first time you’ve ever rolled out an album during a global health pandemic. What’s that been like?
I think it’s the first time most of us have. It’s the worst. I spent all my money and time and everything to get this album done so I could go tour with it because that’s how you make your money back, is touring with it. A lot of people were like, “Well, shouldn’t you have pushed the album back?” I’m like, the fans have been waiting so damn long for this damn thing and I announced it. There’s no turning back. Let the fans get the music and I lose some money. It is what it is. But the music lives forever, so when the pandemic’s over, it’s strong music. I’m pretty sure that they’ll still let me tour the thing, even if I lose the initial album release tours, which always pay the best. This is the same thing the whole world is going through, so I can’t feel bad for myself. The whole world is going through the same exact thing. They’re losing jobs, losing money, you’re losing businesses, losing lives, losing health. We’re all going through it.
Honestly, it’s almost like the first time because I never get a break. So this has almost been like a retirement for me where I’m doing the family life, sitting on the couch, not working, waking up and just being with my family every day. I know that the virus isn’t a good thing, but it’s been a blessing in disguise for me. I’m seeing my kids grow and do amazing things, where initially I was going to go on the road and do 200 shows. You think like, Oh I’m doing a good thing for the kids because I’m going to do 200 shows and put all that money away so my kids are set up. So you’re thinking for your kids. But at the same time, now I’m getting these memories of seeing my babies grow. There’s blessings to every tragedy.
Definitely. It sounds like you’re finding the bright side of things so that’s good. Are you trying to do anything else creatively while you’re on lockdown? Are you trying to find different ways to promote?
I’ve been working on a couple videos to try to do some video work and promo things for the album. Because originally, I had March 24th set up. We were going to do a video with with Jazzy Jeff and A-F-R-O. I was aiming to try to get Inspectah Deck for video and we were aiming to get Immortal Technique for a video and Immortal said he’s committed. It was all good. Then things happen, so now I’m trying to think of promo ways to promote the video, promote some of these songs without being able to have film crews and collaborate it. Trying to think outside the box a little bit for sure.
Plus, it’s a little bit hard because I got my son and daughter, and my little nephew here. My nephew is one and my son is three and my daughter is four. It’s not that easy to be creative all day when you got kids bouncing on your head.
I feel you. So about the album, man, I was listening to “Golden Oldies” you put out with Slug of Atmosphere, so that was dope to see you guys put something together. I’ve noticed that it was a funny song to me. Not funny in that it was like, ha ha ha. You’re kind of poking fun at yourself.
It was meant to be a, ha ha ha. I’m not offended by that. It was meant to be a ha ha ha record.
I thought it was refreshing man, because I feel like a lot of hip hop has been so defined by it’s a young man’s game, but you’ve been in the game for a long time. You’ve been holding your own, done records with legends. So I’m just wondering, what’s the process now of you making an album versus 10, 15 years ago? Obviously technology has changed, but your approach. What you want to talk about, things like that, how has that changed?
That’s the same as the human mind. When you’re 40, you think differently than 30. When you’re 30, you’re different when you’re 20. When you’re 20, you think differently than 15. You grow as a human being. Some people grow corny. Some people turn old and corny. Some people take the wisdom and are able to flip it into something better. It all depends who the person is.
Everything’s different now. This particular album I had more money because I was touring a lot. So I was able to get a lot more musicians to come in and this track needs something. We need a flute player here, we need a horn section here. We need a guitar vocal here. We need a opera singer here. Whatever I needed, I was able to get it this time. I need a live band to replay this part. So this particular record, back in the 90s, you wanted it to be crusty. If you was getting a lot then, like what are you DR. fucking Dre? Come on, man. Sample the record. You sample a dirty loop off a cassette tape and not care. It was about that hiss and the grime. So that process is a little different where we’re not recording on two inch reels, two inch tapes. It’s a different sound that we’re working with. You evolve and you try different things and this album is a lot more musical than my other albums.
I have a song called “Living Through the Screen” with a French producer, Hugo. He’s super, super musical on it. It’s one of the most musically flipped songs I think I’ve done. Just really a different style. There’s a lot of really musical stuff on here. Where we go, oh, you know what? We originally had a drum loop and that’s dope. That’s some dope hip hop shit. But then you go, let’s see how this live drum will do some rim shots, if this sounds better. You go, you know what? My rhyme is more bouncy with the rim shot than a dirty loop. So let’s use the rim shot thing. You just try things more on this one. That’s the difference on the process of this one.
“Cunt Renaissance” Featuring The Notorious B.I.G.
For sure. It’s dope to see artists that grow not only as lyricists, but also doing the musicianship side. I think that sets a lot of people apart as they go on in their career.
It’s well known you’ve been blacklisted by the industry back in the day. With hip hop moving to that more commercial sound, a little more poppy, the trap wave, that Atlanta sound taking over radio and things like that. How have you managed to maintain doing what you do, not sacrificing your passion or your values and staying relevant in the game for so long?
The way to do that is not try to fit in with these clowns that ain’t doing what you do. A lot of legends will, Oh you know what? I want to get back on the radio. I want to have a hit. They try to do a sound that they sound ridiculous doing. You’re like, yo that record is terrible. But it’s like yo, advance your own music. Get better at the music you make. Don’t try to make someone else’s music so you could sound like what’s going on right now, because that’s how you fall off. You just be like, you know what? I’m dope and making music. I’ll continue to be dope at making music. I don’t care what this guy’s doing and that guy’s going. I don’t need to do nothing like them. When you start imitating and trying to fit in, that’s how you fall off. So just be true to your own self and make what you feel and put in work still. Make sure it’s high quality and you won’t fall off.
The new album you got coming out called ‘All My Heroes Are Dead.’ We talked to you a little bit about the “Golden Oldies” age, legacy. What other kind of themes? That’s a really heavy album title. So what kind of themes can we expect that you’ll be exploring on this album?
Definitely it’s a heavy title. It’s a lot of heavy content and it is about death and loss, and pain and struggle, and sickness. What’s going on, on the entire planet and there’s a lot of pain and suffering going on. So there’s a lot of that on the album. But there’s also braggadocio. You don’t want a whole album of gloom and depression, but I definitely have some really uncomfortable, sensitive subject matter that go there about truth and reality, and drop a lot of knowledge, and tell a lot of stories. There’s a lot of storytelling on this. “All My Heroes Are Dead” and that’s the life we live. We live in a world where you grow and you see all your loved ones die. You see all your heroes die and you see your era die right in front of your eyes. All the great ones are not being taken serious. It’s almost like with the dinosaurs, which sort of take an era that you love of graffiti and beatboxing, and DJ-ing, and MC battles. It’s almost like that’s the Mad Max wasteland, like the album cover. We’re in a different world. We come from a different set of rules, a different world. That world is dead to standard society. So we have to kind of wake it up and bring it back to life, and show the world that this is what we are and who you are.
One of the things I’ve also been noticing with the album coming out now, is that we’ve seen the past couple of years a resurgence of the boom-bap sound. I feel like at least in the mainstream, right? Why do you think pop culture and the “industry” is coming back to that sound again?
Well, because it’s a timeless sound. That’s why the underground is able to continue doing it forever and maintain fans worldwide. It’s a timeless incredible sound, boom-bap, true hip hop. It will be loved forever. Every kind of great music or great fashion, or not even great. Every kind of fashion or trend historically, always comes back around at some point in different ways. It doesn’t matter what the genre is. You can take The Ronettes and then a decade ago they had Amy Winehouse doing it. It’s just how music works. Look at The Weeknd. He got beats that sound like straight 80s R&B songs. Or what was the kid? Tyler The Creator, he was in the late 80s R&B. Everything comes back around, no matter what it is. In the 80s, they had Billy Joel was doing doo-wop songs from the 50s. He was doing 80s versions of it. It’s like every kind of music comes back in some way. Or every kind of art, whether it’s painting or filmmaking, they’ll always bring back elements that work because if it worked in the past, it could work again every time.
I feel like the album that you’re coming out with now definitely stays true to that. You’ve got a lot, a lot of legends, a lot of heavy hitters. But I also noticed too that you also have some younger cats. You have your protege, A-F-R-O that you’ve been working with, as well as Chris Rivers. I know you’re a vet, you’ve worked with legends. Do you have any plans to mentor or work with more younger talent? What are your thoughts on some of the newer cats in the game?
Well, there’s a lot of dope new cats. I always do that. I always put on young cats. If they come to my shows, “Yo come on stage, obliterate this microphone.” My last album, I had a contest for rappers. The kid A-F-R-O was in it, the kid Token, who now got millions of views, he was in it. The kid Job There’s a lot of kids doing that contest. Back in the day, Snack and Merck came on the tour with me. Now Merkules is a big Canadian rapper and Snack’s a big Canadian rapper. The kid Kaan, he’s dope. Mad Squablz, I just shot a video with him and Napoleon and Scrooge. If I’m in your town and your a dope, young rapper, I’ll be like, yo, come to my show. I’ve stopped the show in the middle and let you just spit some bars and show the world what you got. A lot of incredible dope, young spitters be like, “Okay, sure.” They’ll just destroy the microphone at a show of hundreds and hundreds of people that might not have ever heard of them. I’m all for showing the young talent because that’s the way to keep the culture alive.
I’m dope still, but how long is Rugged Man going to be alive? How long is any idol? How long are my idols going to be alive? It’s like you’ve got to keep passing down to the next kid, to the next kid to keep it alive. Then that kid, then that kid and that’s how you keep it alive by letting these dudes … a lot of dudes my age are intimidated by dope younger spitters. Not even younger spitters. A lot of dudes, not even dudes my age. A lot of people, a lot of MCs are threatened by MCs that are really dope. They won’t let them rock during their sets because it’s like, what if this dude outshines me? Why can’t I get the spotlight? This is my shit. I’m like, yo man, if you’re that insecure, then don’t let nobody rap during your shit. I’m confident. You can rock, I can rock, we all can rock and we all look good.
For sure and I think that’s dope that I appreciate about seeing how you move. Because that means, like you said, a lot of artists, even on a local level don’t always put people on. It’s like, oh I don’t want to put that cat on this bill because he might out shine me. This is supposed to be my thing.
The local scenes are the worst because it’s all competitive and it’s so small minded. That’s the advice I give every young rapper, get the fuck out of your town. Don’t do that local shit. If you’re trying to be the hype-est guy in your town, your career is going fucking nowhere because that’s where you do rhymes for your town and be the best in your town. The town is hating on you and you want to open up to every famous rapper that comes to your town. Get the fuck out of your town and go do shows all over the fucking city, all over other cities, all over the other states. Get the fuck out of your country even.
Then once you’re doing that, then your town has to give you your props. But if your whole thing is rocking the best show and it being opening acts, those kids are crazy when they do that. I tell them to stop that right away every time.
You’ve had a really full career. You’ve worked with some of the best. Are there any other hip hop mountains that you still have to climb? You feel like you want to climb? Career milestones? People you want to work with? What’s some things that you still want to accomplish in hip hop?
There’s a lot of dope ass legends or people I respect who I never got to work with. You want to get in the studio with some of these dudes that you respect your whole life, and you want to still get some of those records done. There’s a few records I’d still like to make of course, that I haven’t made. I’m just looking forward to this record drop and making a lot of noise, and doing well, and then figure out what’s the next step, what’s the next game plan, what’s the next record, or what do we do next. But right now it’s all about this album and promoting it, and getting it out there, and letting the world hear it.
So speaking about next and other stuff, I know you dabbled in the podcast game a little bit with the RA The Rugged Man Show. So have you ever thought about trying to set something up like a podcast, something a little bit more formal? Maybe a boxing type of podcast? Because I know you’re into that. Is that something that’s ever crossed your mind?
I was doing a podcast for a bit and it was a little, I was bringing MCs up there, we were talking about hip hop. MCs would rap. Even on that show, I’d bring young cats up and come spit on the page. But the thing is, I didn’t have a producer. It was me getting the artists together, getting the location together, editing it, putting the sound on it. It was too much work. I would do a podcast again if I had a producer come in and all you got to do is show up RA. Sure. Let’s go. Producing the whole show and hosting it, it’s like, this is taking away from my actual music. You can’t do this RA.
The album, it’s pretty heavy. You’ve got a lot of heavy hitters. Of all the songs, do you have a favorite? Do you have a favorite song on the album? What’s something that you’re excited for the fans to hear?
It all depends what day it is. It’s not my favorite song on the whole album, but there’s one that I really love because I dedicated it to my daughter. I wrote a song about my daughter. A lot of people write songs about their firstborn or whatever. This is a wild, crazy version of one of those songs. I’ve got to say that one because it was for my daughter. I don’t know. There’s a song. The last song on the album is a song called The Afterlife. I don’t know if it’s my favorite one, but there was a girl named Sarah Smith that used to come to my shows and her brother Greg. They were really dope people. Sarah used to call me, she wanted to be a singer. She passed away. She died and it was crazy. She’s a young girl. So we sampled her vocals and made a song out of it. I ended my album off with it and I really went personal about a lot of things in the world. The Afterlife was the album and I thought it was a good way to end the album.
You know what? I like the intro and I like the outro. I like the “All My Heroes Are Dead (Intro)”. I’m spitting, really just spitting and it’s a description of the album. Then the outro is a description of life. There’s so many parts of the album that I really, really feel good about.
Definitely. I can imagine it’s hard to pick which one’s your favorite. I think that’s powerful with just the theme of the album and to bring in that young woman’s vocals. That sounds powerful.
You know what’s crazy? Is All My Heroes Are Dead, the opening intro, we start off with Reggie Ossemy old lawyer. And that’s AKA, Reggie is Combat Jack. So I started off with one of my heroes and then Sarah Smith. We ended off with Sarah who was another hero. So we ended the album with two amazing human beings that aren’t with us anymore.