R.A. The Rugged Man knows his worth in the rap game, and he’s got the bars to prove it. The New York native is a rapper, screenwriter, film director and producer whose career began at the young age of 12. Known for his impeccable lyricism, born R.A. Thorburn has worked with the elites from Mobb Deep to Wu-Tang Clan and even the late great Notorious B.I.G.
Off the rip, R.A. flexes his confidence.
“I’ve been good, better than most rappers alive for decades. I’m respected by most of the greats in the decades. I don’t know if that means s##t anymore,” he adds with a chuckle.
While he’s been signed to various labels throughout his decades-long career, R.A. continues to release music for the underground hip-hop lovers to the mainstream. Now following his debut album Die, Rugged Man, Die and 2013’s Legends Never Die, he returns with his third studio album All My Heroes Are Dead.
AllHipHop caught up with R.A. who was wrapping up a long day overseas in Berlin, after having to get his babies up at 6 in the morning.
AllHipHop: Being from Long Island, New York, what was the household like growing up?
R.A. The Rugged Man: Suffolk County, Long Island was a different thing because hip-hop was in the Bronx, then moved to Manhattan, Harlem, Brooklyn obviously. Brooklyn claims Grandmaster Flowers because he was doing the disco DJ. Everybody claims hip-hop even though the Bronx is known known. Long Island, we had to go extra hard. I saw a lot of people in the neighborhood be better than all the rappers on the planet. We had Rakim , De La Soul, EMPD, Public Enemy, Chuck D, all of the best. When I was a little kid, I thought “wow these dudes EMPD are in the same studio, these people are famous.” Biz Markie would be there, he’s from everywhere. All these rap superstars were right in the area.
AllHipHop: When did you relocate to Berlin, Germany?
R.A. The Rugged Man: I moved here in 2016 when my daughter was born. Their mother is a schoolteacher, so I’m trying to raise my kids out here. It’s good. The good thing is the healthcare system is better obviously, everything’s taken care of. If they want to go to free college, they could get the free college out here. They’re dual citizens so if they want to remain Germans, they have to pay a super higher tax when they get older. [chuckles]
AllHipHop: What’s the music scene like out there?
R.A. The Rugged Man: It’s huge! My guys Kool Savas, Samy Deluxe, these guys are legends out here. You can go to a Kool Savas show, it’ll be 15,000 people flooding the place. I’m like “you bring way more people to your show in your hometown than any of my New York people bring to New York. If Nas did a show in New York by himself, less people would come than you doing a show in Berlin.” It’s crazy how they support their own music.
AllHipHop: Are you guys on lockdown over there?
R.A. The Rugged Man: You’re allowed to go to the store to buy groceries, but yeah. You’re allowed to walk around with your kids, but you’re not allowed to be in groups. Four or five kids walk around drinking beer, the cops try to look for them like “yo, you’re not allowed to do that.”
AllHipHop: How are you adjusting to quarantine life?
R.A. The Rugged Man: When I release an album, I always hit the road heavy. I have European tour planned, a US tour planned, another European tour planned, a Canadian tour planned. We’re also looking into Australia. The thing is your body prepares for that, but you’re also mostly preparing to not be around your kids as much. Now that I’m home and quarantined, I wake up to my children every day. They love daddy being home. I lost a lot of money that they’d be able to have after I’m dead but in the meantime, they’re getting the memories of being with me. There’s two sides to that. [chuckles]
AllHipHop: Do you feel like real hip-hop is hard to be seen nowadays?
R.A. The Rugged Man: Yes, take a project like mine. Everything when it comes to even magazines, when you’re connected with the right marketing team or managers, you do favors for the right people. If you cover an artist, that’s more favors for you. When you‘re independent like some of us, we depend 1000% on the fans. With the internet, it’s awesome because we can outsell.
The biggest rap songs in America that I see everybody talking about, we outsold in the UK. We outsold that in Australia. In America, the whole capitalistic mindstate and the trend is hot hot hot. The rest of the world doesn’t care if you tell them “this is the hot s##t only.” They’re like “yo this is a classic, let me check it out.” Whether it’s film, just art period. The rest of the world’s quicker to not have to be told to like the trendy thing.
AllHipHop: What do you want fans to get from your new album All My Heroes Are Dead?
R.A. The Rugged Man: I laid it all out on the table there. I put a lot of real life stories, a lot of life into that record. Everybody who hears it knows that I put it all out on the table. The fans who actually take the time to sit down and listen to that record, they go crazy. The response has been astronomical. My job’s not “how can we get the Taylor Swift fans to really like this song?” It’s more these heads are waiting for that real s##t. If you drop some D-level s##t, they’re going to let you know. They’ll kick you in your ass for years, “remember all that hype behind that record and that s##t was whack?!”
AllHipHop: What does it mean to drop a song like “Golden Oldies” during this time?
R.A. The Rugged Man: That was a fun record. I have a song called “Malice Of Mammon” with Chuck D where we talk about the more government gains, it creates fear. The more government gains power, who do we trust? We wrote that before the quarantine. I’m not predicting s##t, it’s been going on forever. Now that they’re seeing it happen, they say “oh that’s prophetic.” I’ve been getting so much love. All my favorite OG rappers have been hitting me up saying “wow, omg. You inspire me.”
Logic hit me up to say “this album’s a masterpiece, I’d like to chop it up. I can’t believe what a masterpiece you created, you need to be proud.” The young boys are hitting me up, the OGs are hitting me up. We did pretty good with it. Doing it independently, we don’t have the big push for the first week so we have to keep creating visuals. We usually create tour after tour with the visuals to promote a record for a year or two, because we don’t have the money to throw it out there. We have to work it, let the fans come as the years go by. My records sell year after year, they don’t stop. They don’t make a big first week splash because we aren’t getting any of the mainstream media. In other countries, we do good with the media. [chuckles]
AllHipHop: How has your relationship with Slug developed over the years?
He said the first time he met me, he saw me bullying the bar staff at a bar. [laughs] He was scared of me, wanted to introduce me but he’s like “I’m okay, I’ll get him another time.” He said I randomly hit him up like “yo I’m working on a soundtrack, would you like to be involved?” He’s like “wtf, alright let’s talk.” He said that’s what started it.
The trend took time for people, they don’t understand there’s artists all over the world. You take somebody like Slug, if they do a college concert, they’re outselling every mainstream artist. I’ve been to Slug concerts where he outsold Lauryn Hill and Ice Cube, outsold everybody. The whole college is packed, you can’t even walk in the s##t. That’s a little independent kid from Minneapolis, he started doing 300 shows a year. He didn’t have to be mainstream to push them. Him and his little crew would go to your town, perform until he could ask for more money than all of them.
AllHipHop: You say “you’re going to be the best of every decade.” Can you expand on that? What’s it going to take to get there?
R.A. The Rugged Man: Oh yes, I’ll slaughter all of these f##king b##ch ass, want to be fake ass rappers. All of them, everyday. Hip-hop has always been a competitive sport from day one. It wasn’t about making records, it’s about going to the party, obliterating, being the best. Being the most memorable act of the night. Now if youc ome out saying “f##k rappers, I’m the best” or “I’ll kill that rapper,” all of a sudden you’re a hater. You’re this, you’re that. Being competitive is looked at as hate now. No motherf##kers, rappers and MCs came from competing. Being better than you, working harder to be better than that guy. If you put me on a stage with that rapper, I don’t care how many records he sold, I’ll obliterate that rapper. That’s what it always was. Now, “oh you’re just jealous because…” I’m not talking about me, they’ll say this to every rapper. “Oh, Locksmith doesn’t have hits like little twatbag…” Excuse my language.
AllHipHop: Top 5 artists in rotation?
R.A. The Rugged Man: What’s funny, I get the same Top 5’s for a lot of years. I listen to Black Thought, he had The same Top 5. The Rakim’s, the Daddy Kane’s, the Kool G’s, Chuck D’s, the KRS-One’s, basically that. If you want to go old school, you got Grandmaster Caz and those guys who were really changing everything. If you want to go more late 80’s and 90’s, you have the Redman’s and the Busta’s. Stage performances, Method and Red together as a duo stomped motherf##kers. They know how to kill flows, kill vocal tones, dance. They have their routines together and put on a show.
Everything changes. The reason why people always give it to Kool G Rap is because of longevity. How are you one of the best on the planet in 1986, and you can rap better than everybody in 1986? Then you could rap better than everybody in 1996, then in 2006. How do you do that for 40 f##king years? Is that even human? That’s not rap, people don’t do that in rap. They can’t beat everybody for 40 years. Kane might not be bar for bar as longevity, but prime for prime, Kane’s live show obliterates so many rappers.
AllHipHop: Anything else you want to let us know?
R.A. The Rugged Man: All My Heroes Are Dead out now, there’s legendary icons all over it. The solo records are the hottest ones with the icons, track after track after track. If you like boom bap in the hip-hop culture, there’s not a soul that won’t f##k with it. We gave it everything we had, it’s legend after legend proved on this one.