BLOG: Remembering Rawkus

Writing about Cash Money Records yesterday and thinking about Def Jam and their silver anniversary got me reminiscing about another storied hip-hop label, Rawkus Records.

Starting out independently in the mid to late ’90s, Rawkus, in many ways, mirrored Def Jam’s early days by capturing the sound of New York’s underground. Through their releases, label heads Brian Brater and Jarret Meyer developed a strong following amongst college kids in and around the city, much like Russell and Rick did in Def Jam’s formative years. Helping to launch the careers of artists like Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Company Flow’s El-P, Rawkus set a new standard of excellence in both beat production and lyricism.

To have a label willing to put out album’s like Black Star’s self-titled debut and Pharaohe Monch’s fan-favorite Internal Affairs in the face of Bad Boy’s commercial dominance was a call for celebration in itself. But not only were the seminal Rawkus releases a big fuck you in the face of hip-hop’s more popular sounds of the time, the records were actually dope.

It was the label’s ability to galvanize an entire underground that made it great. Amongst the Rawkus’ celebrated catalog was its Soundbombing compilation series, which featured memorable performances from artists who weren’t even signed to the label (i.e. Eminem on “Any Man,” Common on “1-9-9-9” and Styles P on “My Life”). More than a boutique label, Rawkus provided a home for talented artists who were better served outside of the major label system. That was until 2002 when the label went into a joint venture with MCA Records. Things pretty much went downhill from there. Of course there was Kweli’s 2002 opus Quality and his 2004 follow-up The Beautiful Struggle, but it just wasn’t the same. In 2006, Rawkus won it’s independence back and released Kidz In The Hall’s debut School Was My Hustle and Marco Polo’s Port Authority a year later, but not much else.

I’m speaking strictly from a fan’s perspective, but it’s hard to say what went wrong with Rawkus. It has long been said that they passed on signing Kanye West—maybe their failure to make a continued impression on hip-hop is karma for not scooping up the Louis Vuitton Don. Who knows? But for now, let’s remember Rawkus. —Rob Markman

Black Star “Definition”

Pharoahe Monch “Simon Says”

Company Flow “End to End Burners”

Common & Sadat X “1-9-9-9” LIVE

Talib Kweli “Get By” LIVE

Recommended for You

Around the Web

Best of XXL


    damn, didnt know they had a chance to sign Kanye. they should have pulled that trigger. i have one memory of Rawkus Records. going thru my older brothers shit & finding that Soundbombing mixtape (shit was actually a cassette tape) & i banged one song hard as fuck, cant remember the name… that Simon Says go hard.

  • $ykotic/Don McCaine

    Them were the days. I almost signed w/Rawkus in ’99. Shouts to DJ Skribble.

    • latino heat

      @ $yk

      why did you pass on the Rawkus deal?

      and cosign that Rawkus was the shit and will never be duplicated.

    • Chilly Willy

      Word ?

      So they passed the chance to make Don McCaine a hiphop template and just left it as a CSI-character mash-up? Shame on ‘em.

      Hope you still grinding and coming close to that deal soon, $yk.

      The adress is btw

      • $ykotic/Don McCaine

        @ latino & CW

        Naw they wanted the project, but the #’s were low so we took it to Arista & Sony. We just liked the Rawkus flow & Skribble supported the signing. Everybody up above heard the project & liked it. Hell we were in the studio 2gether sometimes.

        I already did that industry grind for almost a decade. Been around the world. Know a lot of cats. Did my ghostwriting and beats for fees. Willy open that email there’s a treat.

        And others out there, be aware there are industry dudes who check these drops on the regular. Everyone here is not a nerd or someone with nothing to do.



    Yo Rawkus was the shit for reals. I miss the shit that label used to put out. I member when I copped that Sound Bombing, classic material. Em went crazy on that “Anyman” joint.

    • Federal Ranga

      The shady is really a fake alias to save me with in case I get chased by space aliens…. CRACK.

  • Ron Mexico

    i remember when rawkus was like the… holiest, holiest, holiest tabernacle.

    they consistently fed my CD player, for sure.

  • casey

    Stones Throw is the new Rawkus

  • MindState

    Yeah I agree that Stones Throw is the closest thing to what Rawkus used to be for underground hip-hop.

  • nate

    always preferred Fortified Live to Definition.

  • oskamadison

    Rawkus was the shit. It’s a shame that there will never be another label that will do what they did.

  • El Tico Loco

    They put out Big L’s “The Big picture” too if I’m not mistaken. Novel was on there, but Soundbombing II still in rotation in the whip heavy and the Lyricist Lounge box sets Rawkus was just classic after classic.

  • EmCDL

    Rawkus was the shit when I was in middle school and throughout high school; that “My Life” track is sick. Ahh, when real music was comingout on the regular….sigh….

  • Trenton Watts

    I’m drinking wishing well water imported from pluto, that y my eyes are glasse so you dont have 2 ask me!

  • Chilly Willy

    On an unrelated note, who do y’all think Bol offend this time on the late, great Gucci Mane post ? That mysterious glitch is really selective…


      they stay taking down Bol’s posts. SMH. idk.?

  • stephen

    rawkus was the best they never had one shit artist on there label.

  • caino

    Man that Simon Says was a awesome tune back in the day!!

  • Pingback: - » Duck Down, Home of the Originoo Backpackers

  • Harra$$

    Yeah rawkus was dope. I brought that blackstar Album. and Loud did there thang too. Funny Chit is there is a lot of indie labels doing the same thing now a days. Strange Music & Rock Solid Music online. There’s a lot of venues out. You just gotta look! OOh yeah. Flo Dawgs New Album Block Addicts comin soon! Hood Classic! Real A-town music, none of that radio chit!

  • Pingback: - » Don’t Feed Da Animals, ’Cause They Might Drop 28 Mixtapes in A Month