Since the early '90s, R.A. The Rugged Man (f/k/a Crustified Dibbs) has been recording dense Rap lyricism paired with top-notch production. Whereas the Long Island emcee's first release, Die Rugged Man, Die was all new material, October's Legendary Classics Volume 1 officially released material dating back as far as 15 years. In a conversation this week with HipHopDX, R.A. explained, "Even the people who have heard the songs, have never heard [them] sound this good." He continued, "They always had shitty bootlegs. The sound is muffled - the high's are shitty, the bass [isn't low enough]. The old songs on [Legendary Classics Volume 1] never had the opporunity to be properly mastered. Some of the songs sounded good, like ['Uncommon Valor'] with Jedi Mind Tricks and ['Cunt Renaissance' with Notorious B.I.G.]. But the old songs don't sound good - they sound beautiful. I'm like really fuckin' proud of this shit."
With unproductive deals with both Jive and Rawkus Records, R.A. is even impressed by some of the Nature Sounds release's contents. "There have been songs that have been lost for 10 years, like ['Who's Dat Guy'] with Havoc. That reel has been lost; we made that song when [Mobb Deep] was recording Hell On Earth. That's vintage Havoc. He made that beat in that era. That reel has been missing for 10 years and we found it outta the blue." He also pointed to his work with another respected Queens producer, Ayatollah on "Windows Of The World, recorded around 1999. "I didn't even know this song existed, then somebody sent me a fuckin' MP3 of it."
DX asked the Harlem-based R.A. about one audio relic in particular, "Smithhaven Mall," an older song included on the collection. "That's the local mall, out there on Long Island. When I was on Chuck D's [Air America On The Real With Chuck D] radio show, he got a kick out of [me naming that song] that. That was an in-joke for Long Island heads." The song plays into the rapper's interest in horror culture with some very confessional rhymes from the time-period. "[In the song], I ran around the mall with a pistol. And when the cops get there, I went out like a bitch - and put the gun down. A lot of people love that song as a favorite, but the funny part is, it was at a really bad part of my life when I wrote it. I was really going through some shit in my head, and was really negative and unhappy. You can kinda hear it in the record. I still love doing negative shit, but that was a self-hating record. The first line is 'This ugly motherfucker in the mirror (this fuckin mirror) Punch a hole through this mirror (what am I supposed to do?) This faggot in the mirror (can't deal with this breathin shit) I hate this breathin shit (life is fucked up).' What I was sayin', that was true. I felt that way about myself when I wrote it. When people say it's one of their favorite records, it's not one of mine, because I hated that time. [Laughs]"
Legendary Classics Volume 1 also contains new music, such as "Posse Cut" with one of R.A.'s influences, Kool G. Rap. "Brand new. No one ever heard it," said a confident emcee, before adding, "Sometimes I don't even like listening to my own shit, but that album...we put it on the car the other day, I'm just very proud of these songs."
Having dealt with marketing and promotion challenges in the early '90s, R.A. touched on the contrasts of those strategies versus today's. "It's better now. It's way better, because any God-damned person on the planet can connect to you and contact you. If there's money out there for you, they'll find you. Back in the fuckin' day, maybe somebody would contact your label. Maybe the person at the label would contact your manager. Maybe your manager lets you know. You don't know where that money is before it gets to you." For Legendary Classics Volume 1, R.A. promoted the project through video blogs that led to a wide media response, as well as vehicles like Twitter and MySpace. Looking back to his Jive days, he said, "You'd have to go to all these events and parties and hope someone was there that you needed to meet. This new shit, everybody has access to everybody. This is free promotion for the world."
During the interview, R.A. The Rugged Man was asked about a rumored collaborative project between fellow Long Island veterans Freddie Foxxx and Prince Paul. Although he said that details and confirmation were premature, the rapper who worked with Mobb Deep, Jedi Mind Tricks and Smut Peddlers groups in past said there was merit to the rumors. What R.A. was willing to speak about, was a new studio album planned for March. "It's just more lyrical than I've ever been. My flows are better than they've ever been. It's the best music I've done yet. I'm just pretending that all the wack, garbage Rap doesn't exist and Hip Hop is still Hip Hop. And I'm advancing Hip Hop [by making this music]."