Words by DJ Sorce-1
For RA The Rugged Man, the road to success has been extremely bumpy. After being part of a massive label bidding war in the early 90’s, RA finally signed to Jive records. He was subsequently dropped soon after for inappropriate behavior, and rumor has it people at Jive were afraid to have him in the same room as Aaliyah. However, despite getting dropped by Jive, being banned from performing live in the US for much of the mid 90’s, and taking twelve years before finally releasing a full length debut, RA has remained a dominating presence in the world of rap. His hip-hop resume reads much like a who’s who of the industry, boasting collaborations with the likes of Sadat X, Notorious B.I.G., Mobb Deep, J-Live, and Tragedy Khadafi.
Beyond rap, RA is also a prolific writer, film reviewer, and most recently, movie producer. In addition to having his writing appear in Vibe, King, Mass Appeal, and Rides, he is currently collaborating with editor in chief at Maxboxing.com‘s Doug Fisher on a full length book about the sport of boxing. 2008 promises to be a big year for RA, as he gears up for the release of “Bad Biology“, a film which he co-wrote and produced. In a recent phone conversation, The Smoking Section’s DJ Sorce-1 was able to talk to RA The Rugged Man while RA ate dinner. RA spoke about early career milestones and gave us the inside scoop on the “Bad Biology” soundtrack, which features rap heavyweights Kool G. Rap, Masta Ace, and Sean Price, as well original score work from Prince Paul. Read on, and find out why RA The Rugged Man remains the number one guy the music industry can’t get rid of.
TSS: The early part of your career was filled with up and downs. Can you talk about some of some of the more memorable moments from when you first got signed?
Ra The Rugged Man: “Every Record Label Sucks Dick” came out in 1994. It was so ahead of its time, and I thought I broke down a lot of doors with it. Back in the day you’d go to The Tunnel and there would be Biggie, Tupac, Busta, and Redmanâ€¦name a rapper and they were all hanging out at The Tunnel. It was a different era in New York. Rappers got along a little bit better and they could all hang out on the same premises together. I went through The Tunnel and every rapper you could name was like, “Yo, that ‘Every Record Label Sucks Dick’ joint is crazy.”
When I first signed to Jive, KRS-One wasn’t a fan. These are stories I heard, and this is what my label was telling me. My A & R was going, “Yeah, we played your shit for KRS and he wasn’t a big fan.” So in my head I’m going, “I don’t have the acceptance of KRS-One. That hurts a little.” A year after I signed to Jive I made “Every Record Label Sucks Dick” and I saw Kenny Parker at The Tunnel. He came out his face and said that it was his favorite record of the month. He told me about how he and KRS-One drove somewhere and played the record over and over again for six hours. I thought, “Oh shit, that’s my pinnacle right there.” But that was thirteen years ago. You keep going and doing other shit.
TSS: I know G. Rap is a huge influence for you. Is there anyone else you can point to and say, “That guy challenged me to advance my style”?
Ra The Rugged Man: Right now today?
TSS: At any point over your career.
Ra The Rugged Man: Yeah, of course. I can name some cats that you would say, “Really? That’s corny.” But I’d say, “Nah, that dude was incredible.” Let’s name a pop record, ok? When “O.P.P.” came out in 1992 I was a young kid writing. I was like, “Goddamn. Listen to how many fucking flows that dude has.” I know Treach from Naughty isn’t the answer you wanted, but he was an influence. How about “Uptown Anthem” and the shit he was spitting on that? I was just talking to someone about that song the other day. Positive K and Milk D were also influences when I was a kid.
Throughout the years I felt threatened by dope rappers, and it makes you step your game up a little bit harder. There are so many influences and cats that I love in hip hop. I love the music so much. I always bring up Just-Ice, KRS-One, and Rakim of course. Redman was incredible in his day. There aren’t many cats today that hit me hard or make me say, “Wow, that’s scary, I might get taken out by that dude.” That doesn’t happen very often anymore.
TSS: I like that you mentioned Treach. A lot of people from my generation who know Treach would laugh at an answer like that. But if you look at Naughty By Nature’s first few albums, especially on tracks like “Hot Potato” with Freddie Foxxx, Treach was nasty.
Ra The Rugged Man: Treach was a monster. Treach was a fucking monster. It is what it is. Once someone tells you someone is corny or something is a pop record, you’re not allowed to like it anymore. I like whatever the fuck I like. I don’t care if the world tells me someone is too poppy. I don’t give a shit. I think Ludacris is dope.
TSS: I agree. I DJ, so I like a little bit of everything. But I agree that jaw dropping verses don’t happen as frequently today.
Ra The Rugged Man: That’s why you have cats like me, Tragedy Khadafi, and Kool G. Rap still lyrically murdering everyone. Like Saigon has all this hype around him. I love Saigon, he’s a good man and I’ve known him for a lot of years. But look at what happened when G. Rap got on that “Letter P” shit with him. G. Rap showed him, “Yo, I’m G. Rap. I’m still the best out there. Put me on a record with all the young kids.”
TSS: Yeah, he’s rhymed for what, twenty-five years? And he’s still murdering it.
Ra The Rugged Man: Yup.
TSS: I heard that you have a new album in the works.
Ra The Rugged Man: I’m about four songs in. But I have another project that I’m finishing up first. I produced a movie called “Bad Biology“. Frank Henenlotter is directing it, and right now I’m putting together the soundtrack. That should take me about another month and a half, and then I’ll get back to my album in the New Year.
TSS: I’m a big fan of Frank Henenlotter. I saw his movie Basket Case when I was in 7th grade. It helped make me the horror movie addict that I am today. I’m excited to see how “Bad Biology” comes out.
Ra The Rugged Man: If you like Frank’s movie, you’re going to like it a lot. Some of the heads are going to be caught a little bit left field by it cuz it’s crazy. But I think we’re gonna make some good money on it. I think I did a good job as a producer and co-writer. I put in a lot of work for it. Right now I’m putting together the soundtrack. Two days ago Kool G. Rap and Smooth Da Hustla came in and did a song together for it. I just got a beat from Buckwild. He’s gonna do a song for Sean Price and Masta Ace. Killah Priest and Reef the Lost Cauze got a song together. The lead actress is the movie, Charlie Danielson, is a singer too. She did an acoustic guitar, relationship type song. The Atmosphere kids, they rap about all that relationship stuff. I talked to them and emailed them the beat, and they’re going to do a song with her. That’s a different vibe than what I usually do, so it’s kind of cool.
TSS: If you have all those people, it sounds like it’s going to be a classic.
Ra The Rugged Man: It’s all non sampled beats too, because I couldn’t afford to clear shit. I don’t know if this is going to happen yet, but I just talked to Dante Ross about getting Everlast on a song with Jedi Mind Tricks. That might be some cool lil’ shit. Hellraizer and Shabazz The Disciple did a joint together. Murs is coming in and doing a song. Tech-9â€¦.
TSS: Is Prince Paul involved? I read somewhere he was helping compose the score.
Ra The Rugged Man: He’s doing the original score with a composer. We’re taking a traditional score and then Prince Paul is going to come in a freak it.
Ra The Rugged Man: Yeah. As far as the soundtrack, I’m forgetting a couple of names off the head, because I’m a little retarded (laughs). It’s actually killing me because I got Kool G. Rap in the studio and everyone was like, “Yo, get on the song son.” I said, “Nah, it’s a soundtrack, it’s not an RA album.” If it was my album it would be different. But this is a soundtrack; I’m just trying to put good songs together. I don’t look right rapping on every single song.
Even when I approached Dante about Jedi Mind and Everlast, he was like, “Yo I’ll talk to Eric and see what’s good. That shouldn’t be a problem. Everlast is a fan; he likes your shit a lot RA. Why don’t you get on the song?” But I’m only getting on like one song. I don’t want to be like the ham of the show, like, “Oh, I produced the soundtrack, so I’ll rap on the whole thing.” I’m trying to act like I’m not a rapper while I’m putting together this fucking soundtrack. But trust me; it killed me with G. Rap. I was leaving after we were in the studio, and I was depressed on the train thinking about how I could have just rapped on a song with G. Rap.
TSS: You guys gotta make that happen. RA and G. Rap would be a serious problem.
Ra The Rugged Man: We’ve talked about it. I said, “I’m not gonna let you do me like you do them young rappers all the time. I’m gonna put in my work on it.” He said, “I know you ain’t gonna let nobody take you RA.” But he was just being nice. What was he gonna say? “I’m gonna rip your ass apart” (laughs) He said, “You know what RA, it’s gonna be the showdown of the gods. It’s gonna happen, and it’s gonna be the showdown.” Now, we’re just making sure we pick a monster track. There is a potential beat from Ayatollah that I like a lot. There’s a sample of someone saying, “The greatest”, which is kind of ill, because it’s like an old school battle rap record where you’re allowed to say you’re the greatest.
TSS: So it’s going to be one of those throwback, friendly competition battle tracks?
Ra The Rugged Man: Exactly
TSS: “Bad Biology” is a horror movie. You’re well known for being a passionate horror movie fan. Can you list some of your favorites?
Ra The Rugged Man: Hmm, horror moviesâ€¦shit. I hate when people ask me that, I never know what to say. If you go to my house, I have about 1500 DVD’s and in storage I got another 1300 VHS movies. I have a monster collection. So it’s hard to say. My favorite horror movieâ€¦I’m working on this documentary right now about my family and myself, and that’s a fucking horror movie. That’s a real horror movie. Recently, my father has gotten sick. He has four stage cancer, and I’m starting to document his treatments. I have a lot of other material that I can use. My little sister is a nut; my brother’s been in and out of jail for the past few years, so I’m gonna get him doing some knucklehead shit for the film. I’m just gonna tell the whole story of my family. I think I have an interesting story to tell.
TSS: Is it going to be self-produced, or are you getting help from other people?
Ra The Rugged Man: I got creative help, but I want to own the whole picture. So I want to do it all myself. I’m gonna shoot a lot of it real ugly and grungy. It’s gonna be a borderline horror, borderline real movie type of thing. I’m gonna make sure it’s edited really dope, and I’m confident that when it’s done I’ll be able to get it picked up by somebody. It won’t be done for at least another year to year and a half. But yo, I actually just hit the door of the studio, so I gotta go call my engineer. He’s ghetto and doesn’t have a fucking buzzer.
TSS: (Laughs) Thanks for doing the interview, I appreciate it.
Ra The Rugged Man: Alright, thanks brotha.
For more information, visit www.myspace.com/ratheruggedman.