R.A. the Rugged Man cares. For all the brash “I don't give a fuck” talk that dominates his public persona, Legends Never Die is evidence the burly rapper with the manic flow has a heart for the craft, the culture, and the diehard fans.
It’s been nearly a decade since the Rugged Man put out a proper album. But from the first track on, it’s clear he hasn’t lost his touch. Producer Buckwild lays out a feel-good instrumental that gives off the vibe R.A. is pulling out a chair for you as he casually explains what he’s about (“being a great technician”), what he’s not about (“generic pop, novelty Rap”), and drops the right references that will get all the purists hype (“let’s get it started like Kool Herc did in that Sedgwick Avenue rec room”). It’s a great intro to what’s in store, but at the same time, it’s not what fans have been following the Suffolk County emcee throughout the years for.
They want to see him spaz on the mic. And spaz, he does.
The lead single, “The People’s Champ” features a relentless Rugged Man barreling through punchlines, referencing everyone from Hip Hop legends to pro fighters. It’s triumphant (Apathy comes correct with an anthemic production), blasphemous (“slap box God and sumo wrestle with Buddha”), and a little disgusting as he proceeds to sexually assault and then defecate on a drum set by the end of the third verse. “Definition Of A Rap Flow (Albee 3000)” is an impressive exercise in flow and what will undoubtedly be a challenge of breath control in a live rendition. There’s barely any space for the beat to breathe.
But his most impressive display might be his verse on the Talib Kweli-assisted “Learn Truth.” It’s reminiscent of his acclaimed guest appearance on the Jedi Mind Tricks’ “Uncommon Valor: A Vietnam Story,” as he sums up a lot of the pain in the world, hopping from country to country, and jumping from historical events to present day without missing a beat.
For guest appearances, R.A. nabs a lot of crowd favorites. The aforementioned Talib Kweli spits one of his better verses in recent years. Cats like Brother Ali and Masta Ace (“The Dangerous Three”), Vinnie Paz and Sadat X (“Sam Peckinpah”), and Tech N9ne (“Holla-Loo-Yah”) are veterans in the game and show the diversity of the culture. They each turn in the type of verses that will inevitably spark debate over who outdid whom.
But it’s not all lyrical showmanship on the album.
On “Still Get Through the Day,” R.A. takes a moment to encourage listeners who are going through tough times. He shares losses from his own family, the Hip Hop community, and speaks on the general bullshit people go through. It’s a heartfelt track that might have been better without the somewhat generic chorus, where Eamon sings, “Wake up don’t cry / So sad inside / I still get through the day / I’m gonna make it anyway…” Still, it gets the job done. “Legends Never Die (Daddy’s Halo)” is another song that hits the listener in an uncomfortable area (damn tear ducts). It’s an honest track that not only honors his father’s memory but explains everything from R.A.’s first exposure to Rap, to the origin of his obsession with boxing. Again, the chorus is a questionable choice but with verses like these, pretty much anything is permissible.
Legends Never Die isn’t a perfect album. The sequencing is a bit off at times, as it inexplicably jumps from aggressive, lyrical tracks to more subdued conscious records. Also, some of the production feels dated even for an “underground record.” But overall, it’s an album embedded with enough humor, knowledge, and obscure Hip Hop references (“I’m a whooligan like James Caan’s son…”) that will force listeners to keep this one in rotation. R.A. the Rugged Man might not care about an industry exec or releasing music on a consistent basis, but his love for the art is undeniable because he’s only getting better. The champ is here.