It’s been nearly a decade since his official studio debut Die, Rugged Man, Die in 2004, but through a series of impressive guest features alongside the likes of Jedi Mind Tricks and Blu, R.A. the Rugged Man has remained a ferocious MC to be reckoned with. Now, the Suffolk County veteran has returned to the fold with his latest album, Legends Never Die, a bruiser of an effort replete with hard-hitting boom-bap beats and dense lyricism.

From the opening Buckwild-produced “Still Diggin Wit Buck,” Legends Never Die finds the Rugged Man in top-tier lyrical form. Songs like the Apathy-produced “The Peoples Champ” sees him packing layers of multisyllabic tongue-twister rhymes into every verse. Similarly, R.A. channels his inner Kool G. Rap on the Cold Chillin’-inspired “Definition of a Rap Flow (Albee 300),” spitting technical gems like “Who would’ve figured me to be deadly/They never be ready to bury me/Better be ready/Nobody better than me” with pin-point precision.

Yet amidst the tight-knit flow and staccato internal rhymes, R.A. still maintains an understanding of the conceptual underpinnings of his craft. Rather than allow his technical prowess to take control of the album’s direction, R.A. crafts a comprehensive LP that covers the whole gamut of his eccentric personality. His Talib Kweli-assisted single “Learn Truth” finds R.A. toning down the manic persona to deliver a sober analysis of world politics. Similarly, “Still Get Through the Day” is an emotionally triumphant track in which R.A. details the tragic nature of his family’s medical history with unflinching honesty.

Of course, these moments of conceptual maturity don’t preclude R.A. from delving into his unbridled id on the record. Cuts like Marco Polo’s “Shoot Me In the Head” and “Luv to Fuk” are works of brilliant ignorance. Similarly, crew cuts like “Sam Peckinpah,” “The Dangerous Three” and “Holla-Loo-Yuh” offer him an opportunity to exercise his battle-hardened bars against an ensemble cast of lyricists from the likes of Tech N9ne, Masta Ace and frequent collaborator Vinnie Paz. The album’s finest moment comes with the song “Legends Never Die (Daddy’s Halo).” Anchored by Mr. Green’s raw live-sampling production, the song is a touching eulogy to R.A.’s late father. It’s an emotional knockout of a record that where even a hardened MC like R.A. chokes up as he ends his verse.

Legends Never Die has many successes, but there are a few missteps amidst the 18 tracks. Despite a fantastic beat from Buckwild, the track “Media Midgets” is an underwhelming anti-media concept. “Underground Hitz”’s cliché production is another miss, where R.A. gets outmatched by Hopsin’s guest appearance.

With the exception of a few fillers, Legends Never Die is a truly compelling entry in the two-decade discography of R.A. the Rugged Man. It’s an album armed with exceptionally mastered production, stunning guest features and raw, emotional delivery from R.A.. —Sean Ryon (@WallySean)