Underground Rapper of the Week: Rugged N Raw

Underground Rapper of the Week is a new feature designed to raise awareness of rappers from all over the world who, if that world were a perfect place, would be more famous than they are. It will be updated every Tuesday before the sun goes down. Feel free to email suggestions of slept-on rappers from your city or wherever to: ezra.stead@gmail.com

After writing this column for two months now, it’s about time I finally got around to profiling an artist from the city where I now live, the city where Hip-Hop originated, the city that never sleeps and should never be slept on: New York City. No underground NYC rapper is more deserving than Rugged N Raw, whose name says it all. RNR is an amazingly versatile and accessible emcee and producer whose music exemplifies the gritty edge of his native city, while also retaining a surprising wittiness and sense of humor. His sound punches you in the face, then cracks a joke or two and makes you feel welcome while you’re still reeling.

RNR’s first full-length album, Another Level, set the tone for the hard-hitting but simultaneously laid-back music he’s been making ever since. As he says on that album’s “Let the Ugly Out,” “[I’m] more chill than the average dude you know / But when my music’s dope, I get stupid, though.” He also gets crazy smart; witness the creativity of his “Advice Column,” in which he humorously breaks life down on an urban Dear Abby tip. Another Level also features “Kick You Down,” a banging track with frequent collaborator Hasan Salaam, a New Jersey emcee with whom RNR formed the wonderfully named group Mohammad Dangerfield (Mo Danger for short). Together, the duo released the free download EP $FREE.99 and subsequent self-titled full-length album, which features the excellent party jam “The BBQ Joint” alongside hard-hitting tracks like “Unredeemed” and the Immortal Technique collaboration “Break of a Star,” produced by the excellent New Hampshire producer Remot.

RNR’s second full-length, Truth Serum, continues to showcase his inimitable skill and relatability. Check out the recession rap anthem “Broke and Proud,” featuring Hasan Salaam, in which he outlines his cheap date and vacation plans: “There’s not a lot I can make possible / Only cheap ideas in the arsenal / I take a chick to the museum / Looks nice and admission fee’s optional / When stress starts to weigh down heavy / Vacation is necessary / What do I do? I pack my bags / Weekend cruise on the Staten Island Ferry.” For those of you who don’t live in New York – yes, the S.I. Ferry is free. Be on the lookout for Rugged N Raw’s new album, Anomaly Book 1, dropping September 4th. Homeboy is the ultimate.


Wild Light: Adult Nights

Not many rock bands come out of New Hampshire – and even fewer manage to score deals with labels as major as Sony – so it’s hard not to root for Wild Light on principle alone; unfortunately, principle may be all that gets you through chunks of Adult Nights, the quartet’s full-length debut. The band has an interesting sound that wobbles between Semisonic and Arcade Fire – and the latter comparison is one you’re likely to hear more than once, given that keyboard player Tim Kile was in an early version of that band – but they need better material. Nights lets you know they’ve got the chops – opener “California on My Mind” kicks things off right, with its harmonica, stomping beat, and repeated refrain of “fuck California,” and “Call Home” is a lovely piano-led ballad that recalls Dan Wilson before he gave in to his Carole King fetish – but those high points only serve to underscore just how ordinary the rest of the disc can be. There aren’t any bad songs here, but there are a lot of well-meaning musical exercises in search of hooks, not to mention varying tempos – much of Adult Nights glides by at the same middling pace. If we were living in a different era, it wouldn’t be out of the question to hope Wild Light’s A&R rep stuck with the label long enough to shepherd the band through a few more albums until they were ready for their big break. Those days are long gone, unfortunately, but if they get lucky enough to reach a broad audience with Adult Nights, it also isn’t out of the question to imagine that this band could develop into something really special. (Columbia/StarTime International 2009)

Wild Light MySpace page