Just finished reading a fantastic article over at hip hop site Smoking Gun about R.A the Rugged Man’s infamous verse on Uncommon Valor: A Vietnam War Story. The song appeared on Jedi Mind Tricks’ last album (Servants in Heaven, Kings in Hell) and was immediately noted for its subject matter and fantastic delivery by the legendary rapper.
If you’ve never heard the track before, you can check it out at R.A.’s Myspace page. Make sure you do. It’s one of the most haunting songs around, and is guaranteed to stick with you. It’s everything that’s right about hip hop nowadays… forget all the mainstream garbage.

The thing that got most people hooked on the song is that R.A. is retelling his father’s
story about his time in Vietnam, and everything he describes
really happened. In a genre known for people bragging about things they’ve never done and will never do in order to get cred, it was a refreshing change of pace. His delivery isn’t bragging, either, it’s simple, monotone, stating the facts. He saw true horror and pain in his life, and that’s just the way it is. Stoupe’s beautiful but haunting production melds with it perfectly and combined with JMT frontman Vinny Paz’s tight opening verse (that was unfortunately overlooked) you’ve got one of the best tracks of recent years. 

It’s also a demonstration of one of the biggest reasons I love hip hop, and that’s the storytelling aspect. Sure, you can tell stories with other genres of music, but not nearly as well. It’s obviously all about the lyrics here, and the best MCs will bring you along with them and show you a little about their world. The clever way they’re organized and laid out, the way the best rappers can make you sit back and rewind the track because you just can’t believe the way they just strung words together- it’s something I’ve always loved and wished I could do myself.

It also reminds me that I always thought about sitting down with my grandfather and getting his story out on paper, and makes me sorry that I never did.

One of my best friends’ godfather reminds me a lot of my grandfather, and has lived a really long and interesting life. When we hung out with him he’d always have a story for us, some aspect of his life that no one could have imagined he lived through. How he was a jazz drummer, a dancer that won contests. But he’s a gentleman, and it’s only when there were no girls around that the real stories would come out. The storming of the beaches in WWII. Being captured and put in a POW camp. The hookers in every country.

What it’s like to kill a man.

Years and years and years later, you can still see all of it in his eyes. Just serves to remind you that sometimes real life makes the best stories, and the most compelling art.