Hip-hop was at a crossroads in the late '90s. The genre was dealing with the aftermath of a senseless war that took the lives of two of its greats. The success of the "jiggy" era was was moving rap away from the street to the mainstream, and times didn't look any better with Big L's murder in 1999. The purists needed stability and a voice that proved credibility and quality weren't a thing of the past. That voice was Rawkus Records.
At its best, Rawkus represented a style of hip-hop that was both self and street-aware at the same time. Its first classic, Company Flow's Funcrusher Plus, foretold a desolate, abrasive form of rap that seemed too masterful to not be the future of the underground. But as much of a classic as that was, there was so much more to offer. By the end of the decade they had a roster of MCs that came to be revered as some of the greatest of all-time: Pharoahe Monch, Mos Def, and Talib Kweli, to name a few. At its peak, the label released iconic records like Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star, Monch's Internal Affairs, and Mos Def's Black on Both Sides.
However, Rawkus' dominance eventually took a turn for the worst when Company Flow and the label had a falling out do to its increasingly mainstream focus (a move that'd lead EL-P to create the Def Jux label). Then, a little known producer by the name of Kanye West expressed interest in joining Rawkus. It seemed like a match made in heaven, given 'Ye's epic beat for Kweli's "Get By." Unfortunately, the label passed up on the opportunity. As West blew up into superstardom, the once legendary label faded to irrelevance.
Still, the classics produced during Rawkus' run are too good to be forgotten. In honor of the anniversary of Black Star's legendary album, originally released on August 26, 1998, Complex has compiled a list of The 50 Best Rawkus Records Songs. Get enlightened.
Written by Brian Josephs (@Bklyn_Rock)