Do Remember: Rawkus Records’ Soundbombing 2 Album (Audio)

May 18, 1999, Rawkus Records would enter their most definitive year with their fifth full-length release in Soundbombing II. Distributed by the same Priority Records that had been so integral to the successes of Ruthless, Rap-A-Lot, and Roc-A-Fella, Brian Brater and Jarret Myer’s imprint was truly stepping out.

1998 had afforded Rawkus an impactful, grassroots album in Black Star’s self-titled LP. Before Mos Def and Talib Kweli were international stars, they were hungry Brooklyn, New Yorkers getting their foot in the door with a subversive album made at just the right time. Lovers of the compilation (and unifying the Hip-Hop movement), they aimed to follow-up 1997’s Soundbombing in style. Whereas the first LP was hosted by Black Moon/Da Beatminerz’ DJ Evil Dee, the sophomore effort’s rights would notably go to DJ Babu and DJ J-Rocc of the Beat Junkies. The Los Angeles, California turntablist collective was getting shine from a label associated so closely with Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan.

Some of the Rawkus cast from ’97 was called back, all hopefuls on the label. The first acts to go full-length, El-P’s Company Flow, were there. Black Star’s Mos Def and Talib Kweli were there.  Shabaam Sahdeeq and Sir Menelik were recurring MCs, along with Priority’s own R.A. The Rugged Man. Additionally, Rawkus’ latest acquisitions, including former Big Beat Records MC Mad Skillz and Organized Konfusion’s Pharoahe Monch were showcased. With a plethora of acclaimed producers (Da Beatminerz, Diamond D, Hi-Tek), Soundbombing 2 would prove to be a powder keg in audio. Almost 16 years to the date, it’s imperative to remember this benchmark moment for Underground Hip-Hop (with plenty of artists now that could laugh at such a term).

Here are four fast reminders:

“B-Boy Document ’99” is one of Rawkus Records’ most unified fronts. The moment included The High & Mighty (on a DJ Mighty Mi-produced scorcher), along with Mos Def, and Mad Skillz. Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and Richmond, Virginia came together on a song (and video) that honored the early 1980s Hip-Hop, as well as the future. The song, with its elemental representation of Hip-Hop would become part of the intro and bumpers to “Rap City” for many of the Big Tigger years. Sadly, the song’s hosts (who also included it on their Home Field Advantage debut later that year) would disband in the mid-2000s.

The title track, was a last minute inclusion. DJ Babu, one of the album’s hosts, would add the song. In the years before Dilated Peoples would be Capitol Records breakouts, Babu tapped his band-mate Evidence on the shoulders to lace a boom-bap track. Tha Alkaholiks’ Tash would join Rakaa Iriscience and Ev’ on the sparse-yet-soulful beat. Whereas 1997’s first Soundbombing was almost entirely New York City-based in its talent, the DJs and the MCs opened the world up to the talent of Southern California. After two previous singles, it would only be months now until Dilated would push through, and Tash would get even more fanfare through X.O. Experience.

Along with Tash, several other 1990s breakouts would enjoy some re-pointed success through Soundbombing II. Common and Sadat X had worked together on Brand Nubian’s Foundation album the year prior. However, an album cut would receive a tremendous upgrade in “1-9-9-9.” The moment looked at the year that was (and was about to be), and led Common to use the voice he did on “Respiration” that would help redefine his career. “1-9-9-9” would add to DJ Hi-Tek’s growing profile for soothing, sample-based works. This song alone used scratches from nearly a dozen Hip-Hop classics. The video included late NYC skate icon Harold Hunter, as well as Jeru The Damaja and young Talib Kweli. Meanwhile, the moment would be among Derek X’s greatest beyond Brand Nu. Without this record, would there have been a “6th Sense” in the cannon for one year later?

While The Slim Shady LP was already well on its way to a platinum-plated meteoric rise, Eminem was an MC that Heads were still learning about. Da Beatminerz-produced “Any Man” was a carry-over from Em’s New York City/Newark, New Jersey years. Reportedly once a prospective signee at Duck Down Records, Marshall Mathers linked with DJ Evil Dee and Mr. Walt in the late 1990s. The blood-brothers from Bushwick reportedly were stunned by the MC with the standout voice, shape-shifting flow, and punchlines drenched in macabre humor. Besides his extensive work with DJ Spinna, “Any Man” was a moment of what-if? What if Em’ stayed in New York City? What if Em’ had inked a deal with Buckshot instead of Dr. Dre? If “Any Man” was his vehicle, would he still be an Everyman with Stan’s?

Three years later, Rawkus would deliver Soundbombing III. While the third installment would chart higher and arguably include greater stars, Rawkus’ really found their spot in the middle of the trio. Soundbombing II took huge chances, both on would-be superstars, as well as MCs that are still kicking around the underground in a similar capacity. The opportunity expanded the Underground Hip-Hop scene to the East and West Coast. Who could have possibly known that a would-be diamond-selling artist and a future Oscar Award-winning MC were in the lineup of this one?

After Rawkus’ changes and eventual demise, has there been any compilation series to fill the void the Soundbombing series left? As you ponder that, dig in the crates and reflect on one of Hip-Hop’s all-time great albums.

Check out other Ambrosia For Heads’ “Do Remember” pieces.

Related: Here’s a Mind-Blowingly Comprehensive Oral History of Rawkus Records