Underground Essentials | R.A. the Rugged Man
It’s not uncommon for underground artists to follow the money and demand for their music that comes with success. R.A. Thorburn (born in New York, 1974) would face the same options as he began his career, but his personal choices to stick to the art and never sell out earned him a place in the list of essential underground artists in hip hop. Inspired by Rakim, Kool G Rap, and other golden-age rappers, he continues to hold the underground scene down to its roots. A gatekeeper and veteran, R.A. the Rugged Man has seen it all in the industry- and lived to tell the tale.
Thorburn was only in his teens when the music industry tried to swallow him up. You can’t blame him for joining up so soon, he had been amazing the locals with his flows since he was 12. When Jive Records landed a contract with him, the aspiring artist would quickly learn a tough lesson: record labels are business, and rarely anything more. Label issues were prominent in the beginning of his career, from controversy to delays. Nearly lost to history for his reckless treatment of his contract is the original debut, Night of The Bloody Apes. With tensions high between him and record executives, R.A. was left with no choice but to release the Niles-produced project under the alias Crustified Dibbs, unofficially. Leaving Jive Records left him with the task of creating a new piece of work, which Capitol Records was ready and waiting to help produce.
As you may have expected, this went poorly, ending in his name being blacklisted from labels across the nation. As urban legends have it, there were backstage fights, lawsuits, offended executives, and much more. While experiencing his last few months in the major label circuit, R.A. created (and then was forced to leave behind) his “second” debut American Lowlife. Leaving the businessmen behind and going out on his own, the Rugged Man paved his own path with stories of his antics being left in the wake.
2004 brought the first official album from R.A. The Rugged Man. Die, Rugged Man, Die was released to great acclaim from all parts of the hip hop community. It was the epitome of the man himself: rowdy, nasty, and fast paced as hell. Released by a small (but notorious) Brooklyn based label Nature Sounds, this was the first full project, truly unveiling the already-weathered rapper to the scene.
By this point, it was obvious that R.A. knew the music industry. He was a student of the golden age, watching the new era be shuffled in. To expand his platform, he branched out into the beginnings of a writing career. By the time you’re reading this, you should know the OG himself has written articles for movies, music, and more. Vice, XXL, Mass Appeal, and Complex are just a few of the publications that he has been featured in. He wasn’t done with the music though, and the next installment would show just that. Legends Never Die is an album for the hip hop heads. R.A. gave us this expert slice of raps when he was truly hitting his stride. With his musical talent showing, the Rugged Man crafted a swinging, moving piece of work that twists and turns beneath his heavy handed bars. Crazy ass raps and unabashed confidence permeate the entire project.
In the following years, Thorburn would welcome two of his own babies into the world. In the meantime, he was only showing himself to be more prolific than each year previous. He wrote movie scripts, interviewed film directors like William Friedkin, and was published even more widely in magazines. To top off a long career, his most recent album was dropped in 2020. All My Heroes Are Dead is a commentary on the death of true underground hip hop, as well as an ode to the people in his life that he has lost, from family to friends. R.A. presents himself as a prime example that some skills are timeless, like rapid fire delivery and self-aware humor on a hip hop track.
As a veteran in the game, R.A. the Rugged Man stands for everything underground hip hop used to mean. Anti-commercial content, independent success, and complete lack of a filter. This guy has been shouted out by Biggie- need I say more? While his albums may come once in a blue moon, his presence in the culture is still growing to this day. Even long after he fades out of the spotlight, the imprint R.A. the Rugged Man made will stand the test of time as a true devotee of real raps, real stories, and what it really means to be a rapper.
‘Uncommon Valor’ by Jedi Mind Tricks ft. R.A. The Rugged Man was featured on Hip Hop Deep Cuts vol. 1 earlier this year. Check out what else we’ve been listening to!