A Beginner’s Guide to Rawkus Records

Rawkus14

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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  • clarity

    im not a huge common fan, but Com had three albums out by 96, he gave rawkus cred by being on respiration and 1999. same with Monch and his work w/rawkus. those guys already had a following.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/pervertedalchemist1 Perverted Alchemist

    “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.”

    No, that’s not what killed Rawkus- not in the slightest. What really did Rawkus in was leaving Priority Records to take up distribution with MCA Records. That’s what killed Rawkus off!