Starting in the mid-1990s, Rawkus Records was one of the preeminent independent Rap labels. 

In “The Oral History of Rawkus Records,” which was published on Myspace today (April 17), some of the imprint’s executives, employees and artists who worked with and for it discussed some of the company’s noteworthy milestones and qualities.

“It was the beginning of the independent Hip Hop artists being taken seriously,” says Talib Kweli, whose Black Star album with Mos Def was among the projects the Brooklyn, New York rapper released via Rawkus Records. “Now you have a situation where if you’re signed you’re almost a joke—you have to be independent. Rawkus was the start of that.”

Adds Pharoahe Monch: “They had a great ear for talent: Company Flow, Mos [Def], [Talib Kweli], Shabaam Sahdeeq. The Rawkus legacy has continued with where the careers of those artists have gone.”

Founded by Brian Brater and Jarret Myer, and backed financially by James Murdoch, the company faced early resistance given its status as a independent label.

“I think Rawkus was respected by the artists but it wasn’t necessarily the destination label for the artists ‘cause they still harbored dreams of being appreciated by the bigger labels like Sony, Warner Bros. and Universal,” says John Forte, the company’s first A&R. “I think in the beginning the dream of a major label contract was a lot sexier than an independent label contract.

Talib Kweli Says The Rawkus Records Office “Housed A Hotbed Of Talent”

After releasing early material from Mos Def and Shabaam Shadeeq, among others, as well as the acclaimed Soundbombing albums and albums from Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Pharoahe Monch and others, Rawkus emerged as one of Rap’s major independent labels.

“It was like a hotbed of talent at the Rawkus office,” Talib Kweli says. “It was great that you could go up there and have that relationship with the CEO where you could go and complain and try to get more money out of them and then also have the other artists up there in a very free-flowing type of conversation.”

After expanding, signing a deal with Priority Records and earning its first gold albums, Rawkus entered into a partnership with Geffen Records. By 2004, the company was, in effect, out of business, the article says.

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