Hip-Hop always had an underground, a minor league, if you will. It was a place that artists kicked around, cutting their teeth, sharpening their lyrical swords while they awaited their chance to shine. But in the mid-'90s, as mainstream Hip-Hop embraced its pop potential, the nature of the underground changed. Rather than serve as a batters box, it became a movement unto itself. Subterranean rappers no longer pleaded for love from the majors, instead, stridently moving against the grain in a form of non-violent protest to what they saw as the exploitation of their art. As a result, mainstream Hip-Hop had become refined and slick, the underground became abrasive and militant.

Thankfully, while the rest of the industry looked on in disgust at this new development, Jarret Myer and Brian Brater, the minds behind Rawkus Records had the vision to see the rebellious brilliance of the counter-culture. Born in 1996, just before Hip-Hop reached its crossover crest, Rawkus harnessed the underground's unbridled enthusiasm and angst and offered a 12" megaphone for artists otherwise overlooked by the industry, like Company Flow, Mos Def and Talib Kweli. Starting strictly on vinyl the company was able to foster a true community, forcing kids to return to Hip-Hop's roots and collect records rather than CDs. In doing so, Rawkus fans became more than just passive listeners, but active participants, not unlike what indie label Sub-Pop had been able to do in Seattle during the late '80s.

Building off their success with singles the label worked its way up to full-lengths and scored off the bat with Company Flow's Funcrusher Plus LP. But its true coup was its second LP release, Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star (click for 5-star review), which would set the tone for everything that followed. Replete with brilliant production from soon-to-be Dr. Dre collaborator Hi-Tek, the LP captured the spirit of the early '90s Native Tongue movement and subtly blended it with a sound more appropriate for then-contemporary Hip-Hop and yielded massive hits like "Definition" and "Brown Skin Lady."

Over the course of the next couple of years the label would go on to score back-to-back gold plaques with a slew of now classic releases. By fighting the formula, they were able to create an entirely new market, and break artists like Mos Def and Talib, along with Big L and a slew of other once fringe MCs, like Eminem. Album's like Black On Both Sides, Reflection Eternal, Quality and the Soundbombing mixtape series broke all expectations for the label and it's artists and positioned both as major players in hip hop's scene.

Now nearly 10 years after the labels inception is Rawkus's Greatest Hits, a bold repackaging of the rebel franchise's peaks, finds it way to shelves as its stars truly have become the brightest in the industry. Mos Def has become a star of screen and stage, as well as a musical pioneer whose pinnacle is yet to even be reached. Talib Kweli is widely recognized by everyone from Jay-Z to 50 Cent as one of Hip-Hop's most passionate and most articulate voice. So enjoy this collection of hits from Hip-Hop's last moment of genuine innocence, and look at where the stars of tomorrow came from.

Rawkus Best of Decade I (1995-2005)
Track Listing:

1- "Get By" -- Talib Kweli
2- "Ms. Fat Booty" -- Mos Def
3- "Respiration" -- Black Star featuring Common
4- "The Life" -- Styles P & Pharoahe Monch
5- "Oh No" -- Mos Def & Pharoahe Monch
6- "The Blast" -- Talib Kweli featuring Vinia Mojica
7- "Definition" -- Black Star
8- "Beef" -- Mos Def
9- "Flamboyant" -- Big L
10- "Universal Magnetic" -- Mos Def
11- "Umi Says" -- Mos Def
12- "1999" -- Common featuring Sadat X
13- "The Sun God" -- Hi-Tek featuring Common & Vinia Mojica
14- "Body Rock" -- Mos Def featuring Q-Tip & Tash
15- "B-Boy Document '99" -- The High & Mighty featuring Mos Def & Skillz