A Beginner’s Guide to Rawkus Records

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By Dee Lockett

While Bad Boy, Death Row, and Def Jam stole the shine of '90s hip-hop, one independent rap label quietly and triumphantly became the mecca for New York City's underground emcees. Founded in 1996, Rawkus Records was the brainchild of Brown University alumni Brian Brater and Jarret Myer who enlisted Rupert Murdoch's son James to front the cash via News Corp. With industry connections, know-how, and a high profile investment to offer, Rawkus attracted the likes of hip-hop's most respected lyricists Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Company Flow, and Pharoahe Monch. In the label's golden era, it birthed Blackstar, Mos Def's iconic Black On Both Sides and Reflection Eternal. But a missed opportunity in signing Kanye West, a failed digital relaunch dubbed "The Rawkus 50," and a tense relationship with Company Flow's El-P ultimately led to the label's demise in the early 2000's and inspired El-P to create Definitive Jux—a move which all but laid Rawkus to rest. In memory of what Rawkus Records accomplished in its short-lived history, we reminisce with photos that celebrate the label's glory days.

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