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Plugging the words “Rugged” and “Intellect” into the Rap Name Database would probably bring up a collection of grimy, tri-state area, camouflage and Timbaland boot wearing rappers that had their heyday in the 1990′s by making hardcore hip-hop. Well, Rugged Intellect is white and is from Montreal, Canada so he doesn’t exactly fit the mold of what you would expect from a name like that – at least on paper. His album is brings back that ol’ New York rap just fine – even if it is from the land of maple leaves and free health care.

There’s more validity to this project than one would expect, however. On paper, the idea of a white guy from Canada trying to resurrect the Bronx D.I.T.C. sounds like it would be a disaster on wax, but Rugged Intellect actually delivers. First, and most importantly, this cat can rhyme. He’s good. In this day and age, it seems like cats get over simply by buying production from hot producers, but take their beats away and their acapellas are garbage. Not so for Rugged Intelllect. Never does he hold his tongue – not literally, as his Pun-inspired flow slithers over every inch of the track; and figuratively, as he isn’t afraid to call out whoever he feels is a wack artist.

Production on the album is handled by a team of legendary producers, who help Rugged achieve that classic 90′s sound, with guys like Domingo, Buckwild, Memo of the Molemen, and others lending beats. “What It Is” starts things off, as R.I. introduces himself to the public for the first time, attacking the microphone with his relentless flow, immediately clueing the listener in that this is not your average emcee. “Say Goodbye” follows, with a Domingo produced track, as Rugged Intellect reminisces about coming up in the rap game. Again on “Gonna Move”, Domingo provides another beat tailor-made for Rugged’s flow, proving a solid chemistry for the two artists. “Biter’s Block” is the first real topical song on the album, where Rugged touches upon a topic that needs to be addressed in hip-hop: just how much blatant copying and stealing there is these days. Not afraid to name names, the hook says it all “This is the biter’s block / a place where amateur rappers start to mimic their favorites, just to get a slice of props / in ’86 these cats would probably die / but everybody want to bite since 50 trying to be Ja.”

Rugged taps a series of seasoned vets to share mic time with, and holding his own next to a handful of rap legends. “Guaranteed” featuring Rock of Heltah Skeltah plays like a classic BCC track, while “DBA” is a nasty sex track tapping another Rugged Man – R.A. - as they sink to new levels of perversity. Arguably the album’s best track is the Kool G. Rap featured “All Fair”, as the two trade breathless flows over a ridiculous beat, sure to make Kanye West jealous.

One fault with this album is its length. 17 tracks, there’s plenty of room for error, and it does have a few low points. Regardless, these days the rap industry is stale, and we’re lucky to find an album with 10 good songs, so something like this is a refreshing change. Another thing that Rugged could stand to work on are his hooks. They aren’t as strong as his rhymes, and at times they feel forced. Such is the case in “Say Goodbye”, which seems to shoe-horn a dis to the Violator camp, which is repeated over and over again, losing its shock value pretty quickly. So, if this is only The Introduction for Rugged Intellect, he’s got plenty of room for improvement and perhaps a long career ahead of him. - Pizzo

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