Review Summary: Rugged Man needs to decide whether he wants to be a revered MC or Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino.
R.A. The Rugged Man is an easy rap-package to digest in 2020. As the genre delves into fresh, alternative and noisy dimensions, hip-hop like this can either be a reprieve from experimentation or an annoying reminder that some people cannot stop listening to 36 Chambers. But the guy loves his fans, chooses great beats, and is a highly versatile, so we shouldn't hate a beloved comeback story in a world of industry plants and overnight yet short-lived sensations. However, Rugged Man is acutely fond of this idea, and plants this sentiment as the focus of All My Heroes Are Dead. Mostly endearing, sometimes sharp, but always overdone: the unfortunate shtick of having nothing to lose, repeated ad nauseam.
All My Heroes Are Dead is an "old head" album. It's flashy, comedic yet erratic with its topics, failing to make any real statements despite its need for your constant attention. Both funny and tear-jerking in the many recollections of loss, defeat and self-realization, this album is a massive collection of smooth, boom-bap hits that could end any episode of House M.D. Joining the many staples of meat-and-potatoes 90s rap, Rugged Man uses memorable choruses and truckloads of funny or heavy one-liners to craft a bloated rap experience. Much like how you'd expect to experience the best moments of any 90s rapper who prioritizes lyrics and soul over the visual shock-therapy we endure nowadays, each song on this album carefully narrates, stages and explains journeys in Rugged Man's life, or simply oozes his opinions on everything from women to political issues. And when he isn't mouthing off about being the badass that nobody wanted in the industry, his personal reflections on family, death and politics can create fantastic stories and experiences. "Wondering (How to Believe)" and "Who do we Trust?" are captivating, with the latter complimenting Immortal Technique's feature so well, it could have been on Revolutionary Vol. 1. "All Systems Go" has an Aesop Rock vibe with its wavy atmosphere, bass clef droning and rolling beats. And "Legendary Loser" and "Malice of Mammon" see R.A. spit slapstick insults to contrast nicely with the sombre bellows of Chuck D on "Malice". Yet, these powerful moments unfortunately are overshadowed by the volume of All My Heroes Are Dead. While there is so much to listen to, the reliance on his self-deprecating, macho-man humour lead Rugged Man into uncomfortable lyric and stylistic territories.
Despite the sheer amount of effort that clearly went into the production and rhyming on this album, R.A. nullifies some of these efforts through a clear lack of self-control. Songs rely on the tired formula of what 'real hip hop artists' outta do in the modern age, failing to land jabs at a generation that apparently lacks creativity, ironically resorting to unoriginal means to punch downwards. Maybe it is an artistic move to be the counter-culture to minute long tracks and single-verse songs in the current rap climate, but it could be argued that this trend came about as a rejection to the very thing R.A. is doing on this album. And this isn't the Blu & Exile use of lengthy captivity. You see, All My Heroes Are Dead could be a solid interpretation of boom-bap in 2020, as long as it remained focused on core concepts and a refined its length to core themes. But despite its sometimes unbeatable narration, stories are recycled and the frustrated musings of a mid-life crisis drone on. This album constantly deflates itself, where power disappears under the awkward weight of school yard insults and surface-level observations of hip-hop's subgenres. Tracks like "Contra-dictionary", "Gotta Be Dope" and "Golden Oldies" show us that when R.A. loses focus, his blatancy erases any depth to his universe, leaving only certified organic corn for his listeners.
This would definitely be worth your time and money, as long as you're brave enough to pinch your favourite 10 tracks and make your own Rugged Man playlist. It is easy to ignore the ageism, sexual lameness and hip-hop elitism as the stubborn, undying tropes of some instances of classic hip-hop, but the song avalanche doesn't help anyone ignore some glaring weaknesses on All My Heroes Are Dead. While there are many triumphs on this album, the Rugged Man needs to decide whether he wants to be a revered MC or Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino.