With so much talk of what and who’s “real” in hip hop, we as a collective audience are left vulnerable to be bulldozed by something that is indisputably as real as can be. That’s the case with R.A. The Rugged Man’s video for “Still Get Through the Day,” an Eamon-assisted song that hits you right in the chest. R.A. details his family’s history with disability, specifically referencing his sister Dee Dee and brother Maxx, both of whom were born severely disabled and eventually passed away. “This is the most personal music video I’ve ever released,” says R.A. “I’m putting everything on the table.” The story is 100% real, with ties to previous R.A. verses. “My father came home from the war and his children were born infected, probably by Agent Orange. My brother Maxx, as I say in the song, we found him all purple. When he was born, he couldn’t walk or talk or see; he was blind.
“My family’s story is only one of countless tragedies throughout history,” he explains. “I wrote this song for everybody who’s ever been through loss or struggle. I’m hoping everyone who feels the video helps spread the word to keep the message alive.” We spoke with R.A. about the song and video, how his career is full of personal verses, and how the video’s final scene came to be.
Mass Appeal: What prompted you to write the song?
R.A. The Rugged Man: Just life man, life. Just live life and you write about it. When things are real crazy and out of control and you’re making trouble, you write about that kind of stuff. Smacking people, doing this, that, all the wild stuff. There are a couple of [tracks] on the album where you go, “Okay, let’s rap about this thing.” There’s some real serious heartfelt content on there that’s real serious knowledge being dropped and then you flip to other songs on the album. I just rap about life in different ways.
MA: Was it difficult to write?
RA: Nah, it was easy. Those are the easiest ones, all you gotta do is write what the hell actually happened, you don’t have to invent no clever punchline, you go, “Hey, this is my life,” and you write it. It’s very easy.
MA: How does it compare to some of the other more personal verses you’ve written?
RA: Well, the reaction to this one has been unbelievable. Everybody swears it’s this huge record, “Oh it’s a hit, it’s a smash. The whole world will relate.” I spent a lot of my career writing personal records. I was close to fighting words going to the label, talking about “Every Record Label Sucks Dick,” putting my foot down. So that was a very personal record at that time. And then I got the “Uncommon Valor” joint about my pop and the Vietnam War, that was personal.
The most personal song on the entire album is a song called “Legends Never Die (Daddy’s Halo)” and that one really touches a lot of people, too. I don’t know how the hell I’m going to outdo this video that we got right now, cause this video, everybody is just going crazy. Everyone we send it to, everyone that’s seen it on their own; conservatives to liberals to big Hollywood figures to big stars to big rappers to rock ‘n’ roll acts. Robby Krieger from the Doors posting it up, LL Cool J posting it up, it’s just getting a crazy positive response from everybody.
MA: Has your family given you any response on it?
RA: Yeah, yeah. The family loves it. Eamon’s family loves it. Eamon’s mother called him up crying hysterical when it came out. My mother called me up crying hysterical when it came out. A lot of people call me crying when they see it, it’s weird. Like a lot of people cry, a lot of people call me telling me how beautiful [it is], it touched them. We get a lot of messages saying how, “I was about to commit suicide when I heard that song and it saved my life.” A lot of families with handicapped children contact me and say “I know you can relate to my struggle and God bless.”
MA: How did the treatment for the video come about? Is that something you played a part in?
RA: I play a part in all my videos. It’s not going to get done until I put my little stamp on it, make it perfect. Perfect with the budgets we have. The treatment was a young kid, young 20s, maybe mid 20s. He was a director, this was his first video. He’s done a lot of cinematography and film work. So when he sent the first treatment over, it was good, and then the second treatment, I said, “Let me write some things and rewrite some things and I’ll work on it.” We were slowly making it work for both of us, we both liked it. The vision was more him than me unquestionably, though. A lot of it was his vision. And in fact the whole ending, the climax, the best part of the whole video, where the kids get up and walk in the afterlife and they’re running to me, while we were filming that, I was kind of shook. So that was his vision and it’s the most beautiful part of the video. The kid knocked it out the park with that. He did a great job. Douglass, man. It wouldn’t have been that good if it wasn’t for him. He really did great work.
“Still Get through the Day” is off of R.A.’s Legends Never Die which features appearances from Tech N9ne, Talib Kweli, Brother Ali, Hopsin, Vinnie Paz, Krizz Kaliko, Masta Ace, and more. The album is in stores everywhere now.