In 1999, Rawkus Records released Soundbombing 2, One of the best rap compilations and displays of turntablism ever. One track on the album, “Stanley Kubrick,” by R.A. the Rugged Man, raised a lot of questions about who this grim emcee was. Nevertheless, Rugged Man himself states that he “first started getting coverage / Around the same time Steve Stout was carrying Kid and Play’s luggage.” After years of being screwed by different record labels for his controversial lyrics, he finally convinced Nature Sounds to release his debut album, Die, Rugged Man, Die.
The most attractive feature of this album is its morbid and gruesome sense of humor. As Rugged Man eloquently puts it in the “Make Luv” outro, “This ain’t no Jesus Christ rap, this ain’t no Kanye West.” The quirky sound effects and simple production on tracks like “Dumb” and the title track make a perfect background to his sloppy voice and grungy lyrics. The artificial guitar and scant bass line on “Casanova (Fly Guy)” help bring out his cynicism as he describes himself in third-person: “Look at that fat fuck over there / Ugly white dude with a big gut and shoulder hair / Look at the clothes he wear / Barefoot, no shoes on, do he even own a pair? / Smell the odor over there / It’s obvious he don’t care, he’s a fly guy.”
Amid the rampant sarcasm and humor, many might ignore that Rugged Man is actually a talented lyricist with a creative edge. The innovative song, “Black and White,” featuring Wu-Tang affiliate Timbo King, on which the black and white theme of the album is epitomized, is the best example. The boxing ring imagery throughout the song establishes an interesting setting that allows the two emcees to rhyme back and forth. King starts, “Ay yo, we black macks with black hats and black bats / Black panthers with black gats, 21 blackjacks.” Rugged Man chimes in, “In the white house, white out, turn the light out / White boy night out, knock your white ass right out.”
The high points of the album are when the Rugged Man drops sincere and honest lyrics, as on “Lessons” and “Midnight Thud.” It is a refreshing testament to the fact that he is not bound to only making songs like “Stanley Kubrick.” The nursery bell chimes and humming children’s voices of “Lessons” set the tone of the album as he describes his hardships in life as well as his previous thoughts of suicide. The humility expressed on “Midnight Thud” tells his listeners how he wants to be viewed. These tracks make Die, Rugged Man, Die a fairly well-rounded album.
Although not a classic, Die, Rugged Man, Die is lyrically one of the most interesting albums this year. Rugged Man is like hip-hop’s ugly duckling, a grimy and raw personality who has real talent. However, he has no interest in becoming the mainstream swan. Rugged Man often makes clear that he has no intention of acting as a positive role model: “I’m mad negative, if you want positivity / Buy a Mos Def and Talib Kweli CD.”
Rating: 3 and 1/2 out of 5