Rawkus and Loud were the 20th and 19th most important hip-hop record labels, respectively. Numbers 18 and 17 are…

Select Records and Fresh Records

How can Select Records and Fresh Records be ahead of Rawkus AND Loud??? 2 words: historical context. Without a doubt, both Rawkus and Loud released records by some of the greatest MCs to ever bless the mic, but each of those record labels was building on a hip-hop foundation that had already been firmly solidified. Select and Fresh made history before hip-hop was HIP-HOP and helped lay the foundation for the Louds and Rawkuses of the world. The many FIRSTS in hip-hop history contributed by Select and Fresh give them the nod over some of their predecessors that, no doubt, ultimately had a stronger catalog of music.

#18 Select Records

In 1985, Select dropped UTFO’s seminal Roxanne, Roxanne. The song became a nation-wide phenomenon in the hip-hop community and launched a litany of comeback records (among the first ever on wax). One of those records was one of the first to be a hit by a female MC, Roxanne Shante (though she wasn’t on Select). As UTFO faded, Select continued to release hits from several other influential artists, including Kid N Play (whose roles in the classic House Party movies helped take hip-hop to the mainstream) and Chubb Rock who differentiated himself by wearing his college pedigree on his sleeve.  Here is a playlist of some of the most memorable releases from Select:

#17 Fresh Records

Fresh Records may be the least known label on this list, but its artists had tremendous breadth and impact. One of those artists, Erick Sermon from EPMD, would go on to be one of the most acclaimed producers in hip-hop. His funk-laden sound would influence some of the greatest producers in the genre, including Dr. Dre (whose impact continues to be felt). Even before EPMD, Fresh signed artists like Mantronix who were pioneers in some of the early “electro funk” hip-hop that was a staple in break dancing. Additionally, the label’s MC, Just Ice, was one of the first purveyors of hardcore rap which (hate it or love it) would go on to become the dominant form of rap music. Here’s a playlist of some of Fresh’s key artists, including EPMD, Mantronix, Just-Ice and Nice & Smooth.

Previously: #20 Rawkus Records, #19 Loud Records