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DAR Hip Hop: The 8 Greatest Albums From Rawkus Records

By @TrueGodImmortal

Rawkus Records was like heaven for the independent minded and underground artist. After the label came to fruition, we began to see legendary artists come through the label, staking their claim in the game with an ease that was unseen prior. Artists like Pharoahe Monch (going solo after his Organized Konfusion run), Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and more would use the Rawkus platform to become elite lyricists in the game and cement themselves. Today, I wanted to take a look back at the albums that shaped Rawkus and made the label the legend it became. Let's take a look at the 8 greatest albums from Rawkus Records.

8. Lyricist Lounge Volume One (1998)

-While the second edition of this series took a lot of flack for a more commercial sound, the first edition was true to the Rawkus mantra of hip hop at its core and the result was a great listen. With a wide variety of artists featured like De La Soul, O.C., Ras Kass, Mos Def, Q-Tip, Black Thought, and many more, this would be an eclectic double disc listen. The first disc features production from 88 Keys and Shawn J. Period on songs like "Action Guaranteed", "Body Rock", and "Bathroom Cipher", and the second disc features artists like Jurassic 5, Rah Digga, Bahamadia, KRS-One, and more. There are different styles and sounds all compiled here and it's honestly my favorite Rawkus compilation (over Soundbombing).

7. Big L- The Big Picture (2000)

-Posthumous albums are interesting. While I wasn't the biggest fan of the idea personally, it was great to hear some final words and verses from the Harlem legend. My only wish was that the rollout would have been better for an album of this magnitude. Despite that, overall, there is a surprising cohesion in the album that's rarely heard in posthumous releases. Perhaps that is due to the fact that Big L recorded this album almost in full before his tragic passing. Aside from the track "Deadly Combination", which features 2Pac, this album feels 100% new and fresh with production from DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Ron Browz, Lord Finesse and more, while Kool G Rap, Fat Joe, Big Daddy Kane, Guru, and more making guest appearances. For me, tracks like "Platinum Plus", "Size Em Up", and "The Enemy" are what make this album so special. Big L was such a talented artist that it was beyond unfortunate that he didn't get to live out his full potential, but this album is a great last memory of his skill and ability.

6. Hi-Tek- Hi-Teknology (2001)

-When I first heard about this album, I was admittedly confused. I had no idea that Hi-Tek was working on his own album, but it made much more sense when it dropped. This was more like his own compilation with plenty of other artists singing and rapping over his beats, and surprisingly, it is a near classic. For one, Hi-Tek is one of the greatest rappers from the underground, and his production was amazing through this album. Artists such as Common, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Slum Village, and more contribute to this project, but the most infamous song here remains the long lost vocalist Jonell on the first single "Round And Round", which became a moderate hit. All in all, Hi-Tek delivers a really good album, with a variety of sounds and artists.

5. Talib Kweli- Quality (2002)

-When I think about his career as a solo artist, I don't have many fond memories of Kweli. I enjoyed his run with Hi-Tek and Mos Def, but his catalog isn't as strong solo wise (IMO), but Quality is an absolute classic. The execution, his flow, and the way it was put together all worked to perfection. The biggest reason for that has to be the production, as Kanye West, DJ Scratch, DJ Quik, The Soulquarians, and J Dilla give him some of their best work. The features are solid here as well, as Bilal, Black Thought, Pharoahe Monch, Xzibit, Mos Def, and more help assist Kweli in his execution. Tracks like "Talk To You", "Stand To The Side", "Guerrilla Monsoon Rap", "Good To You", and "Get By" are absolutely flawless tracks and show that Kweli is at his best when focused and surrounded by legendary talent. Quality is the first time we really see Kweli hold his own (away from Hi-Tek) and it is a great listen from start to finish.

4. Pharoahe Monch- Internal Affairs (1999)

-This album is out of print and often forgotten, but it is a classic that really opened the eyes of people who only saw Pharoahe Monch as a member of Organized Konfusion. It's never easy to step out and record a solo album, but this was a wonderful debut for Monch. The production was cohesive and booming, with Monch showing a harder edge than his previous work. The sounds from Diamond D, Alchemist, and DJ Scratch are perfect for Monch to spit his lyrical aggressive verses over and he annihilated every beat on this album. The features here are even better, as Monch shares the mic with Busta Rhymes, Talib Kweli, Common, M.O.P., and more. The best tracks on this album IMO are "The Light", "Queens", "No Mercy", and "The Truth", but the song that really made this album popular is the hard hitting "Simon Says". Overall, Pharaohe Monch delivers a classic and it's a shame the album is out of print because it needs to be revisited by many hip hop fans (though you can find this album over the internet so it's not really "out of print").

3. Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek/Reflection Eternal- Train Of Thought (2000)

-An album that I once felt was slept on by many, this is an actual classic. I was never the biggest fan of Kweli, and his style is an acquired taste, but there was something special about this album and Hi-Tek even got in on the rhyming action. His production however is the real star of this project. The sound ranges from soulful boom bap to high tempo to Neo-Soul, and it all flows together beautifully. Kweli was very good on the album, as his work on tracks like "Memories Live", "The Blast", "Love Language", and others can't be denied. The features here are solid as well, as Kool G Rap, Les Nubians, De La Soul, Mos Def, Xzibit, and of course, Dave Chappelle fill their roles on the album well. I still enjoy this album today and I think it aged incredibly well, which could be said for most of the Rawkus releases.

2. Mos Def- Black On Both Sides (1999)

-In a way, this should be no. 1 honestly. There isn't an album from Rawkus that I play more than this one and it's a truly amazing listen. I have discussed this album quite often recently due to the articles I've written so I'll keep this one brief of course, but Mos went into another zone with this project. Lyrically, this was the second greatest performance in his career (behind his work on Blackstar), but he held down this album by himself and it is a truly flawless listen. The instrumentation and production were amazing, with DJ Premier, 88 Keys, and more providing the soundscape for Mos to rhyme his musings over. Tracks like the genius "Mr. Nigga", the storytelling classic "Ms. Fat Booty", "Mathematics", and "Umi Says" are just a few reasons why this album is one of the greatest releases of the late 90's and easily top two in the Rawkus discography.
1. Blackstar- Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are Blackstar (1998)

-Of all the albums from Rawkus that made impact, perhaps there is no album in the genre that has provided more inspiration for the underground MC. Blackstar would take two top tier MCs and combine them and the result ends up in an album that is quite possibly better than anything we've seen released for quite some time. With the production mostly handled by Hi-Tek, the album has an extremely consistent sound, but the most important piece of this album rests with one of the members of the duo. Mos Def is at his best here and I don't think there are many artists who have put on such a legendary performance on an album. Some of the greatest hip hop verses ever are included on this album. Kweli is great as well, but Mos steals the show on songs like "Brown Skin Lady", "Hater Players", "Respiration", and most of all, on "Thieves In The Night". Simply put, this album is a true classic, and without a doubt, this is the greatest album from Rawkus. It might be one of the greatest hip hop albums EVER, so this is easily no. 1 on the list. No debate.


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