Ruggedman :: Ruggedy Baba :: Rugged Records
as reviewed by Matt Tomer

America has had something of an influence on all things rap, as it was the birthplace of the phenomenon. What has been interesting, throughout the years, is watching how different cultures take in the lifestyle, embrace it, twist it, or make it entirely their own. Rarely will the picture of foreign hip hop act as a mirror to the US, and this is a great, great thing. The shift in popularity is allowed to flow at will overseas just as regularly as it does here, and whenever you get truly bored of Yankee hip hop, you can bet there's something refreshing elsewhere.

Ruggedman knows all about the politics of hip hop. He's a versatile emcee who, in just a few short years, has risen to the high ranks of African emceeing. Two skits cap the front and back of "Ruggedy Baba," "Naija Hip Hop 101" parts 1 and 2 ("Niaja" means "Nigeria"). Both briefly explain what it's like making hip hop and representing the art form where he lives, and his commentary covers all bases in five minutes or less.

His knowledge of international hip hop intact, it should be noted that US hip hop fans would probably really dig Ruggedman, a lot. It's clear that the recent club music has influenced his, with songs like "Club Rugged" sharing a similar vibe to 50 Cent hits like "Candy Shop." "Boing Boing," despite a pretty blatant dash of misogyny (use your imagination), is still a banger sure to get the dance floor moving. And as reggaeton has clearly proven, the states will not only accept accents but fully embrace them, so in listening to his club shit I felt right at home.

As well as he can make a club record, he seems to regret the fact. Throughout "Ruggedy Baba," he keeps warning the haters to take him seriously, citing his dance tracks as their potential ammo, but he shouldn't be insecure. As he says on "My Life," it shouldn't be anyone's business, because at the end of the day artists will do what they want. Although dance tracks are indeed prevalent, don' get it confused: "don't let my dance tracks misguide you, I'm a double-edged sword I won't hesitate to slice you." Wicked.

As a lyricist he defends his claims time and time again, from nasty one liners like the one above or stirring narratives like "Flesh 2 Flesh 2 Death," which is an explicitly detailed, haunting tale of a careless man who acquires HIV. The moving track stands as the high point of the album, although it is easily the most depressing. Elsewhere, it becomes a particularly interesting issue whenever he briefly brings up his bling, seeing he is close to where the controversial conflict diamond crisis has occurred. The production is decent throughout, rarely using samples and instead relying on keyboard synths and particularly commercial-sounding beats. "Touched By an Angel," however, is an appropriately titled, heavenly composition.

It's understandable why Ruggedman has become one of the most recognizable figures in African hip hop. Simply put, his presence is outstanding. He glides over a track like he owns the damn thing, even if it always sounds completely effortless. In the outro he defends himself once again, saying whatever kind of record he decides to make, it is his own, regardless. "It doesn't mean I'm wack, it doesn't mean I sell out. Show the world where you come from." He does.

Music Vibes: 6.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7 of 10

Originally posted: May 22, 2007