R.A. the Rugged Man Abides

An uncouth Long Island rapper battles labels, homelessness, and (maybe) STDs

"All the rappers and producers were like, 'This kid is incredible!' " he remembers, perhaps a bit incredibly, adding that labels quickly began courting him. "They were flying me all over the world. I was a broke-ass, trashy white kid, and they were licking and kissing my balls."

Signed to Jive for a six-figure advance in 1992, he began doing what any 18-year-old kid from Long Island would do: riding around in limos, eating fancy softshell-crab dinners, and taking photos of his balls and placing them around the office. Before long, female employees were complaining about him, and he was forced to take meetings with studio executives at local eateries. Along the way, he befriended another up-and-coming MC, Notorious B.I.G., and they took to playing demos for each other.

"Let's make something to offend motherfuckers," R.A. recalls proposing, whereupon Big smoked a blunt and spent an hour writing his verse for "Cunt Renaissance." If you're a fan of grimy, depraved rap, you can't do much better than that track—the chorus involves vaginas and spoons—and R.A. more than holds his own, his affected, lispy flow in contrast to the assured, methodical one he would later perfect.

More dirty laundry than you can imagine
Calvin Godfrey
More dirty laundry than you can imagine

After his stillborn debut, Night of the Bloody Apes was shelved (at his own request, he says) and he was finally let go from Jive, he again began sleeping in the streets, occasionally pressing up 12-inch bootlegs of his Jive songs and selling them for cash. He was signed to Priority in 1998, but after the label was bought out by Capitol and his new benefactors demanded "radio songs," R.A. again split. After interviewing him for Vice magazine, Devin Horwitz eventually signed him to his fledgling Nature Sounds label. And so it went that the man behind the song "Every Record Label Sucks Dick" was once again hitched to one; R.A. was given ownership of his masters and complete creative control. "If I want to smack my cock against the speaker for 13 songs, I could do that," he says.

"I certainly wouldn't tell him how to make music," puts in Horwitz, purporting not to understand why so many studio executives were turned off by him. "R.A. is one of the most forthcoming and straight-up guys I've ever met. I think he has come to realize that he can control his own destiny, be successful, and make money."

R.A. says that independent recording and Internet promotion have helped him find his place in the rap universe, and that he has found happiness as a result. Legendary Classics, Vol. 1 will be followed by a studio album next spring; in the meantime, he's working on a collaboration with Prince Paul and a book on boxing for Testify Books. He has finally secured distribution for Bad Biology, a horror comedy about a boy with a giant dick and a girl with seven clitorises that he made with Basket Case director Frank Henenlotter. Finally, there's a biopic about his father, which, in part, humorously details his escape from a mental hospital 30 years ago—a scheme that apparently required him to beat down the doctors who stood in his way.

The rapper concludes that he can't account for the veracity of all of his father's stories, but nonetheless insists that absolutely everything he himself raps about is true. Which makes one wonder just exactly how many sexually transmitted diseases he is walking around with these days. "Everything's real but those parts, ladies," he retorts, before pausing for a beat. "Fellas, it's real." In reality, he confesses that he is sometimes not sure himself, which is just as well. Not knowing has often worked as a coping mechanism in R.A.'s life, which itself is panning out as something of a horror comedy with a happy ending.

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