R.A. the Rugged Man, so much more than an idiot savant

R.A. the Rugged Man, so much more than an idiot savant

Two years ago, he described himself as an « idiot savant » in an incredible remix of a Taylor Swift’s hit. But R.A the Rugged Man is much more than that : he’s also a bible of hip-hop culture and and keeper of its fundamentals. A rugged interview.

Photography : Courtesy of Subotage

The story of Richard Andrew Thorburn is one of the most exciting stories in hip-hop. But it is also one of the most chaotic. In the early 1990s, R.A. experienced an emotional lift worthy of the dazzling – and sometimes deadly – successes of the 2020s. If he hadn’t already entered the whirlwind of the record industry in his right mind, The Rugged Man came out of it even more damaged. Regarded as the best by the Notorious B.I.G. itself, but blackballed as Method Man had told it, sued for sexual harassment by his label’s employees, seeing a nearly two million dollar deal evaporate with Jive, carrying with his family the ravages of Agent Orange to which his father was largely exposed during his participation in the Vietnam War, R.A has slowly rebuilt himself. First in learning to be an independent. But he remained crazy, extreme, sulphurous, to the point that even ODB (nearly) seemed an altar boy. Immensely respected by his peers, R.A has long combined this paradox : that of a completely unstable and unmanageable rapper, but with some of the most solid hip-hop foundations in the history of the movement. Whether in technical terms, in writing patterns, in cultural knowledge, in experience of the record’s industry, the man who first called himself Crustified Dibbs is fucked up in every sense of the word : by life, but even more by the music he chose to live intensely. Yet his madness was so fascinating that it ended up reducing him as a crazy MC, not to say dangerous. At the same time, it’s hard to look diffrently a rapper who pulls his own brain out of his skull in his video clips. R.A became the crazyest dude of the game, and the emblem of the excesses of american white-trash school in hip-hop. He was « the crazy rapper who raps crazy stuff fast on every beats. » Two years ago, in a delirious remix of a Taylor Swift’s hit, he described himself as an « idiot savant », referring to those people who have mental disabilities but also a monster talent in a particular field.

Today, however, the freak show seems to be over. The Rugged Man appears as a much calmer boy. His social networks and some of his videos still wield a devastating sense of humour ( (just have a look to the trailer at the end of the interview). But most of his posts exude (relatively) tranquillity and the joy of fatherhood. As for his music, while it has a little less craziness, it is no less excellent. Her latest album, All my Heroes are Dead, is a true pavement of grandiose things that rap can produce in terms of execution. Shelling seriously the album – in this case, it took several months – is a fascinating study in the art of rhyming. For almost eighty minutes, R.A multiplies incredible flows, going from beats close to a benevolent marshmallow to New York street boom-bap that look like shank shots in a leather coat of the Warriors’ most loubid of all. The rhyming constructions are multiples, fascinating, and their content is often exciting. For the listener, it is sometimes too much with a near 80 minutes long effort. But in terms of heritage, it’s extremely valuable. If there is one thing that R.A. has never desecrated, it is the culture to which he belongs. And of all these dead heroes that the title of his album evokes, hip-hop is the first one that R.A is determined to get alive again. And if his opinions are still as clear-cut as ever, they don’t have the ridiculous side of the purist, but the legitimacy of the one who belongs to the History of this music. This interview is the restitution of two email exchanges from which real hip-hop values are transpiring, nevermind for those who thinks that hip-hop fundamentals are today obsolete. And when the Long Island MC concluded the discussion with this rather frightening answer: « I’m not sure if I’m going to do anything else. Right now I want to get this album out there, and then, maybe it’s bye bye », it was a moment of vertigo. Because if the Rugged Man seemed sometimes cumbersome, his absence would leave an empty place that no MC would be able to fill. Irreplaceable ? It’s generally that’s why the best ones are known for. Interview.

Abcdr du Son : Your three solo albums conjugate the verb « to die ». The first one, Die Rugged Man, Die, was a reference to your dark years, the years when the record industry blacklisted you. The second, Legends Never Die, was a reference to your father, who died three years earlier. All My Heroes Are Dead seems to be a reference to a switch of era, the end of an age. Each album is a way to rebuild a vision of your personal history, but also of rap history ?

R.A the Rugged Man : I think you nailed it 100%, each album title reflects my own personal hell or heaven. Anger or pain, victory or failure, or what ever the hell is going through my schitzo’d out mind. Die Rugged Man was definitely coming back from the failures, they tried to kill me but I survived. Legends Never Die had a double meaning : we proved them all wrong, and outlasted them all and we’re here forever.  And as well, it was a dedication to our loved ones lost. And then, All My Heroes AreDead was a bit grim. We lost so many at this point, and the culture is looked at as dead to so many. We’re in the world of : « Lyrics dont mean anything, and live stage shows and MC’ing doesnt matter to the masses. »  They made street Hip-Hop such a commercial market in the 90’s, and left it for dead. Thats why I’m a 80’s Golden Era influenced MC coming back from the grave, coming back with a vengeance.

A : Since you’re talking about a golden age by putting it in the late 1980s, let’s talk about that right now. For that, allow me to give you a European and French point of view. From a European point of view, your golden age in the U.S is roughly the years 1992 to 1996. Those are the years when Gang Starr and DJ Premier came out, when A Tribe Called Quest released its best records, you’ve got Notorious B.I.G, Wu-Tang explodes everything, Nas and Mobb Deep appear, and even on the West Coast, those are the great years of Cypress Hill, Snoop Dog’s first album, the best solo records of Ice Cube. But you, you situate in many interviews the golden age at the end of the 80’s. Can you explain why, because if for us, it’s obviously also a great era, we see Public Enemy, Eric B & Rakim, NWA, the Beastie Boys or Run-DMC as conquerors, not as the golden age.

R.A : Well you all like « 1992 through 1996 is better » because that is when Hip-Hop was marketed world wide on a high level. Underground albums were marketed to the world and selling millions of records. There was the most money being pumped into real Hip-Hop at that time, so real Hip-Hop got the most exposure at that time. But as far as record making, 1988 was the pinnacle of Hip-Hop, that was Hip-Hop in its purist form. They were breaking down walls, changing the sound and doing things that had never been done before, in new ways. They were advancing and changing the music. Some of the groups you named are great, but the template was already created and done by Rakim. Every rapper you named wanted to be him. Kool G Rap, so many of those rappers you named would admit themselves they cant fuck with Kool G !  Stetsasonic, KRS-One and the live stage shows, Big Daddy Kane… All that Biggie, Jay-Z player shit came from Kane. RUN-DMC stadium stoppers, also Public Enemy. No vocalist ever had the power of Chuck. Ultra Magnetic MCs, Slick Rick…! Everyone you named was eating off Slick’s storytelling. MC LYTE and so many countless other greats the list goes on and on and on… The more money and bigger Hip-Hop became, the more it became a corporate pet and the further it got away from the roots of what it was all about. Rocking the mic. And MC’ing better than everyone else, having the best routines, having the best stage presence, having the dopest DJ. The only advantage the 90’s had over the golden era of 88 is that there was way more money to get these artists exposure. And there was also way more white folks being exposed to Hip-Hop and accepting it as « real music », since when it was still street music and it wasn’t marketed to them properly, they hated it.

A : Besides, you make a lot of references in your songs to legendary lines or records, even to events involving rappers like the ones we just talked about. I’ve noticed this was frequently those references you take the time to explain on genius.com. Rapreviews.com said about this references : « the relentless namedropping of legendary artists from the 1980s does wear thin and come across dismissive of the talent that’s around in 2020. » What’s your opinion about this perception ?

R.A : So they say I’m dismissing rappers from 2020, but meanwhile I do music and record with countless new school artists that are making music today ? I put Chris Rivers on the track with all the legends, and put A-F-R-O on my album going back to back with me and Jazzy Jeff on the cut. If thats dismissive to 2020 rappers, than I’ll be that. The thing is I like to educate my fans on music’s history, and not just music history, history period. Most music opinions you read online from journalists are just cut and pasted, and a lot of information is inaccurate. I was there for a lot of history and I studied the culture. When i was young, I educated myself on music especially the music I love. I knew everything coming out, I’d work 60 hours a week and buy rap records and tapes and study them all. I like to preserve the culture. That may wear thin to someone who is intimidated by a culture they aren’t informed about, but Hip-Hop heads love to hear about the culture.

A : Your record contains a lot of scratches, several DJs play on it. Scratching, and even seeing a rapper accompanied by a DJ as you mentioned earlier, are things that have unfortunately completely disappeared from the vast majority of rap albums today. How do you see it, and why did you give such a significant place to DJs on All My Heroes Are Dead ?

R.A : I think culture today is more about personalities, wether its social media personalities or politicians,  I think the world is less interested in craft and skill. That’s why you can have a celebrity pressing buttons fake DJ’ing and pack a club of 20.000, while a skilled real life DJ barely eats a lot of the time. So I made sure to get some of the best DJ’s on the planet for this album. The scratches had to be really on point. I love scratching, I love beatboxing, I love hard beats and hard drums, I love hard rhymes, I love storytelling. I tried to create the full package on this album.

« I like to educate my fans on music’s history. »

A : When you lived in the United States, you were first based in Long Island, Suffolk County. Long Island rap has played a big part in the history of American rap, and one of its characteristics is that it is far away from the mythical neighbourhoods like the Bronx or the Queens [the Queens is a part of the island, but it’s a boroughs of New York, wich Long Island is not, editor’s note], which were the center of gravity for hip-hop in New York. How would you describe the Long Island state of mind ?

R.A : The Long Island sound changed all of music. If there was no EPMD and No Bomb Squad doing Public Enemy production, there is no Doctor Dre or any of these heavily hyped produced that came after that. The funk, the noise, the energy, that’s Long Island ! When I was a kid, so many of the best rappers were coming out of the boondox, as EPMD would call it. We had EPMD, Rakim, De La Soul, Public Enemy, Busta Rhymes, Prince Paul, Biz Markie was out there with us. So many MC’s were dropping shit from out there. It was like so many of the most classic albums of all time were coming out of there, so it was inspirational seeing the older kids around the way making the biggest Hip-Hop albums in the world. I was young up and coming little kid and I used to see so many legends at Charlie Marotta’s studio. It was a great place to come up if you wanted to do Hip-Hop.

A : You just mentioned Charlie Marotta. He worked on the EPMD’s albums as a sound engineer. But his history and the history of his studio are very poorly documented. Can you take five minutes to tell us who Charlie Marotta is, and why his studio was such an important place for Long Island’s MCs ?

R.A : Charlie was an older long haired white boy who did rock music and was super gifted with the mixing boards and technology at the time. The young black kids from the area would book time, and he’d teach them how to loop their beats on tape and record and taught them tricks until they learned how to do it themselves. Charlie helped a lot with that, on some of the really classic EPMD joints. That was a lot of Charlie. Biz Markie and Diamond Shell and JVC Force would all be up in Charlies spot. Charles’s cousin, Anthony and better known as Cap, was dope on the beats and even doper on the rhymes. He later produced my song « Stanley Kubrick » with me and also helped produce « E.K.N.Y » and « The After Life » on my new album.

A : Since we’re talking about the old years and you’re quoting « E.K.N.Y », let’s talk about this track. The title, inspired by the name of the former mayor of New York [Ed Koch], evokes the city during the eighties. It was violent, harsh, ruthless to anyone. But you seem to miss old New York. Do you think that today New York is just a shadow of what it was and could be, a city victim of gentrification like so many other cities, as you summed it up in one sentence in « E.K.N.Y »: « Before Giuliani turned Times Square to Walt Disney »

R.A : I love the old NYC. It was grimy and poetic, artsie and creative, and originating and pioneering. But there was a lot of crime and drugs in the streets, also disease. So myself, and others who came out in that era, miss the soul of that city, the way it was, but it’s now some cleaner, healthier and safer place. There’s less crime, so maybe that is good, but the soul and the life has changed and older folks who have experienced it definitely miss some of that energy. But I guess Walt Disneyland is better than the crack epidemic in the streets. That was a nightmare for so many lives.

« The funk, the noise, the energy, that’s Long Island ! »

A : In All My Heroes Are Dead, there’s a very touching song : « Wondering (How to believe) »,  that deals with the drug problem, but also with the problems of violence, especially against women, through the destiny of two teenagers who fall over. On the album, there’s other tracks where you take point of view of others people. Is it having kids that provides you this more empathic approach in your storytelling ?

R.A : Well, I saw a lot of close friends and family die from drug addiction, and a lot of family going through addiction so that helped write that. About the Jenny’s story, I knew someone personally who went through that. All the song is based on a few different people I know. A rape victim, suicide victims, everything was based on things I heard about, i have that with me.

A : The clip is hyper-scripted. Many of your video clips have been distinguished by their audacity, their madness, their atmosphere, but this one stands out in particular. It’s made with the codes of cinema, and something very powerful comes out of it, something that takes your guts, almost with the codes of social film. Was it important for you to work on all this staging around the piece, to render it in images? 

R.A : That’s a video I feel if people actually got to saw, it would touch a lot of people. We just haven’t had the resources to get it out there for the world to see it. Hopefully, that changes. Hopefully the right person sees it and shows it to a broader audience. We had a lot of talent and passionate people. The director Doug, the actors James Paxton, Jessie Jayne, Robert Burke… All the people involved were really there to make it work.

A : Always about empathy, the album has a lot of thematic tracks. And you have this line, very funny: « You want positivity ? Now I’m doing conscious records with Talib Kweli. » It’s a counterpoint to another one of your lines, in 2004 on Die Rugged Man, Die : « You want positivity, buy a Mos Def and Talib Kweli CD. » This change of mindset, is it a personal need to go back to more conscious rap, or even a feeling that society needs to hear more conscious rap right now ?

R.A : I dont like to be all conscious at all times. Like as good as an MC as Common was in his prime, I couldn’t deal with a whole album of him. I’d rather fuck with Screwball or Mobb Deep, painting pictures of street life than to listen to Common. I love the whole era of Brand Nubian, Public Enemy, Paris from the West coast, or Poor Righteous Teachers that hit way harder to me than a skilled MC like Common.

A : So be it. But you told Soren Baker that rap was like a diary of your moods. Now in 2020 you’re releasing an album with a lot of theme songs. You talk about politicaly correct on « Hate Speech », mass killings and the inability of American society to look at itself on « Angelic Boy », harassment in « Wondering » as we talked about, and even class struggle with Chuck D on « Malice of Mammon », etc. It’s revelant of a need to make songs about matters of the current world, isn’t it? 

R.A : When I was young my stance against society was : « I am against society. » So I wanted to say whatever I could to piss people off, and say fuck you to the censorship boards and record labels. As I grew up, I learned when I dropped knowledge like on « Every Record Label Sucks Dick », that was a song that people were able to relate to. You can be anti establishment and beat them over the head with critical thinking, not just ignorant in your face disrespect. But don’t get me wrong : I LOVE that kind of stomp kick smack and shoot a mother fucker type music ! Sometimes you’re in the mood to party and fuck shit up and be ignorant, kind of like watching a slasher movie you dont care about the plot, but you like seeing a man on the loose murdering shit. But more often, even when I’m spitting ignorance, I like to do it with a message underneath or a social commentary. I think that type of song writing is more powerful to scare people and go against the system. Punch them in the face with truth bombs.

« Dont get me wrong : I still LOVE that kind of stomp kick smack and shoot a mother fucker type music ! »

A : I’d like to talk with you about the intro of the album. If i want to do so, it’s because i think you’ve made the perfect exercise to saying what the listeners will hear along the LP. But it’s also because your new album is huge. It is huge because you bring all your skills, you put all your personality, and there’s a lot versatility in the tracklist, with a lot of different exercises in style, topics and approaches. But the other side of the coin is that the album is a fat piece to digest, and some listeners have the temptation to shorten it by exclude 5 or 8 tracks they like less. It’s a way for them to build their perfect tracklist. Personally, i don’t think we have to exclude some tracks and shorten the album, because the introduction let understand all your motivation, and the “panorama side” of the album is one of its great interest. But do you understand this listener’s point of view, who consists to shorten manually your record. Do you understand listeners who will be more attracted by a condensed album, with only one direction ?

R.A : First of all, the introduction is also an updated version of « Still Diggin Wit Buck », from Legends Never Die. Its an explanation of what people should expect on the album. Except its a much deeper and more intricate version, but it’s a warm up for them to get a dose of what about to hit them with for the next 75 minutes. And financially, I would make three times the money if I cut the album into three and gave them three albums instead of one. But its not about the money, it’s about the art. I won’t conform my art for the short attention span era we live in. Also they believe songs should only have two verses and those verse should only be 12 bars… Fuck all that. I make Hip-Hop the way I feel it. Some songs on my album have 12 verses, some have 4 verses, some have 2 verses. There is no rules to this, but I’m not a new school artists where you do 12 bars and repeat the same bullshit saying over and over and there’s a song. Someone might watch a Sergio Leone Western and say : « Well this could be trimmed by 45 minutes. » Ok, so the film isn’t for you, because the film works beautifully as it is.

A: You’ve always been obsessed to have fire flows and sending monsters bars. Notion of performance seems now oftenly obsolete in rap music, but you, you challenge your own skills at each of your solo projects or at every featuring. I know some people who loves R.A the artist, but who say me : « I can’t listen him a lot, because this rap is to demonstrative for me, I hear too much a will of performing. » Before this album, did you think your skills and technical abilities have sometimes took the power on the musical possibilities in your music ?

R.A : No, a real life Hip-Hop fan will never say that, only fake fronting ass posers of the culture. « I can’t listen to him because he has too many skill ? » [Laughs] That’s not Hip-Hop. I understand if some one has technical skills and doesnt say shit, but I’m from the school of Kool G Rap every syllable, no matter how technical is saying something and painting a picture. If anyone says : « Oh, G-Rap is just too technical for me », they are not Hip-Hop.

A : After the introduction of All My Heroes Are Dead, which is very technical and demonstrative, you put the title « Legendary Loser ». In this song, which I see a bit like a humorous update of « A Star is Born » on your previous album, you make a lot of fun of yourself. Was it necessary to upgrade the traditional « let me introduce myself » exercise with humour and self-derision ?

R.A : « Legendary Loser » is some what of a sequel to « Star is Born », but only half way through. I purposely go over the top sex, violence and ignorance. And just when you think you know what the song is : BANG ! And then we turn it into an uplifting positive message : if I’ve been this much of a loser my entire life and I’m able to sell out shows all over the world, than you all can do it too.

A : Still about that intro, you include at the end a sample of an interview you had with your late friend Reggie « Combat Jack » Ossé. [Reggie « Combat Jack » Ossé was a lawyer who had a lot of rap clients, he then hosted his own radio show from which the sample in question was taken, editor’s note] In this sample, you go back to your difficulties in the 90’s and you tell Combat Jack clearly : « You know Reggie, I was really mentally ill in the 90’s. » Was it important to say clearly to your listeners that you suffered from psychological illnesses at that time?

R.A : Mental illness is a theme through my entire career, even my horrorcore demos when I was a kid was about : « Look I’m crazy, I’m messed up ! » I think addressing mental illness is very important, but I also think the way I said it was funny, and a good way to lead into « Legendary Loser », where the girl says about me : « You’re a Scumbag »

A : Mental illness is oftenly a taboo. The paradox is that about art, a lot of listeners (or viewers for cinema, readers for book, etc.), are fascinated by trash and borderline personalities. When the artist get better in his life, oftenly, a part of his audience says : « oh, the man has talent, but his stuffs were more cool when he was trash and totally mad. » You seems to be really better in your life since many years, so what’s your point of view about that ?

R.A : I dont think you have to be on drugs to write good, I dont think you have to be going through mental sickness to write good. Let your experiences in life and your wisdom of life dictate where your pen goes. If it’s authentic and real, fans will appreciate it.

A : Aren’t you bored to be always describe like the crazy dude ever of the game ?

R.A : Nah, Actually I kind of lost that stigma a bit. I’m kind of bored with the « oh he used to be crazy but now he’s a dad » narrative of today. I almost feel like I should do something grotesque or horrible to get that reputation back, I’m tired of being a pussy. [Laughs]

A : You told to Soren Baker that in your early years, your label invited you to see a therapist. You’re in this therapist’s office, she’s a little quiet lady, and you start to cry although you didn’t cry during 10 years, even at funerals, etc. You describe you crying and laughing in front of her like if you were the Joker in Batman. You said about this : « it opens some shit up », and explained you’re now cryin’ naturally, like anyone else, in front of a movie for example. Seeing a therapist is, at least in France, a taboo, especially for an artist. Except to have learn to cry again, was it benefit for you ? And do you feel free to speak openly about it ?

R.A : Life is short, what do I care if someone judges me over talking to a therapist ? People wanna judge any action, even when it’s good. I’m still in touch with Dr. Buzel today. Sometimes when I feel like putting a bullet in my skull and taking a permanent nap I call her.

A : My question about mental illness and your relation with Dr Buzel was also because it seems there’s actually a real problem of drugs and mental illness in the young generation of rappers. Mac Miller’s death was notably an electro-shock, and we talk more about this problem today than before. Celebrity, major’s deals, and all the music environment (adding the social networks to it) seems to be more dangerous today than before, especially for people who are already concerned by depression. You have encountered this situation 30 years before the new generation, so perhaps you have keys or views for the new generation on why and how to deal with all these problems ?

R.A : Hey, I’m still just as fucked up and unhappy half the time as the rest of the world. Sometimes I might have a proper inspirational quote for others but sometimes I’m not in the right head space, and I’m not sure I’d have the right words for anybody.

« I dont think you have to be on drugs or to be going through mental sickness to write good. »

A : Among all the tracks i’d like to speak with you, there is “Hate Speech”. That’s one of the songs that bring back the uncontrollable R.A, but there’s something else. I totally understand the need to say : « oh, let be honest in life, reality is full of adversity, and people needs adversity to progress. » But like has said one of your listeners in his personal review on rateyourmusic.com : « calling a woman a « cunt » and then hiding behind Muh Free Speech as an excuse for that rhetoric is just lame. I definitely think Cancel Culture is toxic, and political correctness is often really misused even if its on-paper definition is fine, but this doesn’t mean that we should all be hurtful assholes, especially in divisive times such as this. » What’s your point of view ? Him and me are too much serious and first degree in our analysis ?

R.A : The song is an over the top comedy piece played for laughs, it’s a comedy. But today people are offended by the humor of guys like George Carlin and Dave Chapelle. So I can’t expect everyone to find my humor funny if they cant even laugh at those guys who are way funnier than me. [Laughs] I do think the song is purposely immature at times, but I do believe the humor is more intelligent than randomly calling a woman a cunt. I didn’t do that on this song. I come from an era where the Catholic bible thumpers wanted to stifle speech on the right, and then the lunatic lefties like Tipper Gore and Ku Klux Klan ass Al Gore family were trying to censor and hurt art. Film critics were banning horror films. The UK put movies on their Video Nasties list, and you can get arrested for having perfectly fine films that they just decided wasn’t real art and wasn’t good for the public. Fuck that. Who is anybody to decide what the people can call art or not ? That was the era I grew up with so I will fight free speech and freedom of art ’till the day I die. I won’t stop that because we are in a « divisive time », because when does this time that this person calls « divisive » end ? And when can we go back to expressing ourselves freely, without folks trying to suppress our art because it’s « not the right time » for that particular piece of art ? Fuck that.

R.A the Rugged Man - « Hate Speech »

A : Twenty years ago, there was a time when you were much more outrageous, even in your clips that reflected this aspect, but also your love for horror movies and other weird Z-series. One that comes to mind is « Bottom Feeders », with Smut Peddlers for their album Porn Again. I’ve rarely seen a so dirty and completely shocking video clip. In fact, for me, it’s the paroxysm of a certain white trash attitude in rap music. How do you watch this video today, or others as shocking as « I Shoulda Never »?

R.A : I am not a fan of the song « Bottom Feeders » but I liked where I was going with that video. Because we had no real money to compete, and the internet was new and all this insane shit was all over the internet. So they needed a visual to stick out and that would get attention in that new internet age of every horrible thing possible to see at their fingertips… So I wanted to go over the top with filthy horrible imagery to get it noticed. And it worked. It overloaded the server for months. They kept having to take it down and put it back up because their websites were getting too many hits at Rawkus.

A : In « Bottom feeders », the girls who were acting never said or thought : « what the fuck is this synopsis, you really want i do this with you ? »

R.A : Nah, the 90’s was more wild and crazy. As I said before, the 80’s was this whole conservative movement against sex and horror and music and all these asshole bible thumpers trying to ban everything so a lot of what we did was rebellion against that. And people were with it.

A : Is it true you were near to sign on Eastern Conference, Mr Eon’s label ? If yes, why it didn’t happen ?

R.A : Hell fucking no ! Never even close. I hated those guys.

A : And on Rawkus ?

R.A : I never signed to Rawkus, they acted too much like a major.

A : I have read you saying to an other french magazine that you don’t like Rawkus. You were one of the highlights of the two first SoundBombing volumes, but you seem to consider that Rawkus was « a fake independant label » (and i know that money of the son of Rupert Murdoch’s has been provided to the label) because it « acted like any other big label or major. » Can you explain what has really happened between you and Rawkus ? After the problems with Jive, was it a new death in the industry for you ?

R.A : I like Jarret. [Jarret Meyer, one of the founders of Rawkus, editor’s note] We’re still in touch today but yes, Rawkus acted like an indie label. They we’re well funded and treated their artists very similar to the majors, also Rawkus became a subsidiary to majors so it was the same contracts and same game.

A : I don’t know if you will want to speak about that, but the Eminem success seems to have create a sort of fantasm/profil type of the white rapper.

R.A : A lot of white boys never even heard a rap song in their life until they saw 8 mile or heard Eminem, so they ignored the entire history of Hip-Hop. They painted their entire lives and their hip-hop history with Eminem’s one. Em’ is highly respected, but Stans and Stan wannabes are the corniest human beings that ever lived.

A : There’s a lot of guests on the album, but i’d like you talk me about one that is very special : Sarah Smith. Talk me about her please, and about this song, the last of your album, about death and love.

R.A : Rest in Peace to Sarah Smith. She was a beautiful girl who knew how to sing, and her and her brother Greg used to support my movement, coming to the shows and always posting and supporting. Just a sweet family and when their mom passed away, Sarah sung that chorus we used on the song to her mom. Then a couple years later, Greg called me to say Sarah passed away too. So we sampled her vocals and made a song out of it.

A : To finish this interview, the famous quote of Biggie : « I thought I was the illest » speaking about you, was it a poisoned gift ?

R.A : Big called me up when he heard I was wilding about shit, he’d always call me when his people would hit him up and be like : « Man your boy R.A. dumbing out whats up with that ? » So he’d call me to tell me to calm down and dont fuck my career up. But one time when I was wilding out, that’s the first time he said that to me : « Yo! Man you’re the illest, I thought I was the illest, you’re the illest. Dont fuck your life up. » It was all love.

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