One of rap's more elusive figures, East Coast emcee R.A. the Rugged Man worked with multiple legends as he was coming up, guesting on tracks by Wu-Tang, Mobb Deep, and even Notorious B.I.G. before quietly releasing records of his own. His high-speed delivery, juvenile lyrical mean streak, and self-depreciating humor were all factors that put R.A. ahead of his time. His career was held up by legal issues with major labels, so after over a decade of delays, he formed the Nature Sounds label as an outlet for his music, independently releasing everything from his 2004 debut, Die, Rugged Man, Die, to his 2020 album All My Heroes Are Dead.
R.A. the Rugged Man was born Richard Thorburn in 1974. By the late '80s, the Long Island native was rapping in underground New York circles, playing shows, and attracting label attention for his audacious lyrics and party-starting stage presence. He signed with Jive Records in 1992 but had a hard time working with the label. Though R.A. released several singles, an album's worth of material remained unreleased, tied up in contractual industries. He signed on with Priority Records in the mid-'90s, which resulted in more contractual issues and another canned album that never saw the light of day. In the meantime, he was guesting on tracks from huge rappers and contributed to all of Rawkus Records' seminal Soundbombing compilations.
Fed up with the dead ends of the music industry by 2004, R.A. went the indie route and released Die, Rugged Man, Die on Nature Sounds. In 2009, the compilation Legendary Classics, Vol. 1 rounded up his collaborative releases with names like the Notorious B.I.G., Jedi Mind Tricks, and Sadat X all landing on the track list. Talib Kweli, Tech N9ne, Krizz Kaliko, and Masta Ace were some of the names that joined R.A. on his 2013 sophomore release, Legends Never Die. Seven years later, third album All My Heroes Are Dead arrived. The record was another testament to R.A.'s quietly legendary status, boasting guest appearances from respected rappers that ranged from Chuck D to Ice-T to Ghostface Killah and many other Wu-Tang Clan members. The record did well, cracking the Top Ten of Billboard's Heatseekers chart as well as placing 22nd on the overall album sales chart shortly after its release. ~ David Jeffries & Fred Thomas