R.A. Thorburn occupies an interesting space as a rapper in this day and age. Universally lauded as a legend in the underground, R.A. The Rugged Man has been working the game since the genesis of east cost rap popularization in the early 90s. Collaborating alongside everyone from the Wu-Tang Clan to Erick Sermon; Thorburn was poised for superstardom when he signed to Jive Records in 93’. A year later, a sexual-harassment lawsuit and an infamous CMJ magazine showcase (involving no less than one brawl, urination, rumors of cat blood lubricant, and tied-up prostitutes) brought his bright future to a stall. Spending the next decade sparsely appearing on records with a group of contemporaries that would eventually become figureheads for conscious rap, he would eventually earn his niche as the uncompromising no-bullshit self-deprecating king of the underground. For old school hiphop heads and rap traditionalists, R.A. The Rugged Man’s one night Auckland show can only be described as a long-awaited treat.
Photo by Andre Kong
Donning the stage with shade clad eyes, a battle ready attitude, and a black fur coat with a John Rambo t-shirt, Thorburn was clearly in no mood to fuck around. Running the gamut on his twenty discography, he came armed with his signature rapid-fire flow and muddied Long Island delivery. Stringing together verse after verse of dense rhyme schemes and complex lyrical arrangements proved that he could still ride a beat like no other. His skill on the mic was equally matched by his skill as a performer. For the entirety of his seventy-minute set the crowd wouldn’t relent, and neither would he. At one point, legitimate concern was shown for the potential collapsing of a hanging vent from gratuitous unchecked moshing.
Photo by Ryan Lindborg
Playing everything from a beatboxed version of ‘Stanley Kubrick’ to a ‘Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthin Ta Fuck Wit’ soundtracked freestyle, R.A. was adamant on covering all the bases. A particular gem of the night was seeing Thorburn perform none other than his mythic verse on Jedi Mind Trick’s ‘Uncommon Valor’, which had the crowd attempting to recite the song word for word, which ended in a futile attempt to keep up with his whirlwind recital. He surprisingly delivered on performing the unapologetically filthy Notorious B.I.G. collaboration, ‘Cunt Renaissance’. The night was capped off with not one, but two encores; culminating in a fervent back and forth chanting of ‘Holla-Loo-Yuh’.
Photo by Ryan Lindborg
Finally placing the mic back in its stand, Thorburn told the crowd that everyone was free to come take pictures and sign autographs. Despite his somewhat intimidating nature, R.A. The Rugged Man has always been first and foremost about the music. His impassioned stance on hiphop authenticity may seem like a somewhat archaic notion, but it’s his genuineness that sells it. You can glean from the get go that hiphop means everything to him, it’s his defining quality. The entire atmosphere of the evening was embodied by nothing but mutual appreciation by the performer and the audience for the art form they were participating in. The ghosts of his legendary agent-orange affected father, his baby sister, and his bitterness about what could have been, loomed over the crowd with an oddly sympathetic air. It was a fun and simultaneously emotional, sweat-drenched journey through the ups and downs of where R.A. The Rugged Man has been and where he is now; a harkening back to the glory of what once was and what now is. It was paying witness to a slice of hiphop history, that in it’s most real form, in 2015, seems all too fleeting.