Soundbombing Was Released 20 Years Ago & Launched A Generation Of Underground Hip-Hop

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Twenty years ago this week (October 14, 1997) New York-based independent Hip-Hop label Rawkus Records released Soundbombing Vol. 1. Rawkus’ second full-length project boasted Black Moon/Da Beatminerz producer DJ Evil Dee on the mix, and atop its cover touted, “The Ultimate Guide To Underground Hip-Hop.” Time would prove it most certainly was.

The LP’s cover portrayed a DJ scratching vinyl, not its artists or DJ host. Its title was a graffiti metaphor of “bombing” to mean covering up as well as combating the old guard. Rawkus pulled from pockets such as the renowned Lyricist Lounge, Manhattan’s Nuyorican Poets Cafe in the Lower East Side, and ciphers located at Washington Park in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.

Soundboming 1 appeared set on breaking new acts through their music, and a few respected cosigns. The mixtape heavily introduced Talib Kweli and Reflection Eternal partner DJ Hi-Tek. Additionally, Black Star makes an appearance, pairing Kweli with Medina Green member Mos Def (nka Yasiin Bey). Trio Company Flow, who had just released Funcrusher Plus, was a focal point. Plenty of veterans including R.A The Rugged Man, B-One, and 8-Off Agallah made critical advances in patient careers. Underground forefather Kool Keith was the most-known MC on the compilation, alongside protege Sir Menelik (aka Scaramanga).

The first song Heads heard upon playing the mixtape, “Flipside” by Jive Records outcast R.A. The Rugged Man, sets the tone. R.A.’s profane diatribe attacks record labels looking for rappers to compromise their artistic integrity. The second song “The Fire In Which You Burn” by Company Flow, featuring The Juggaknots and J-Treds, had an unconventional rhythm with didactic MCs firing off lyrics like auctioneers. A fan favorite, “Fortified Live” by Reflection Eternal, involves Mos Def and Bush Babees rapper Mr. Mann. The Blues guitar loop coupled with the Jazz piano key is as raw as the lyrics. The collabo’ increased the artistic profile of Mos Def, a cast member of short-lived 1994 NBC series Cosby Mysteries, and Stakes Is High guest. Mighty Mos’ biggest platform to showcase his mass appeal potential was on “Universal Magnetic.”

As Evil Dee declared Side 2, playing to a cassette tape culture, Black Star’s freestyle immediately grabbed. It proved Mos Def and Talib Kweli possessed undeniable chemistry, combining playful energy with intellectual bars. It portended their debut that would follow a year later. The mixtape ended with Reflection Eternal’s “2000 Seasons” as Kweli expressed his disdain for MCs who couldn’t handle themselves in a Rap battle. He described himself as not to be seen as a stuffy philosopher, but rather as an artist who knows his self-worth.

During this week’s anniversary, 9th Wonder (whose Little Brother group would follow in the path of several Rawkus artists) expressed strong gratitude to Soundbombing Vol. 1. “At a time where some of us felt in the mid-’90s that Hip-Hop taking another direction…….after ‘The Big-Bang’ in the summer of 1996 that made you choose a side between Stakes is High and [Nas’] It Was Written……When a lot of us sought refuge on Internet websites for music to escape the redundancy of the radio…..it was SoundBombing. Unlike a lot of my peers in the music community, I’ve been a fan and spectator longer than an active participant. I’ve had a chance to be fans of people long enough to end up working with them: Talib Kweli,” referring to his Indie 500 counterpart. “Rawkus Records was the house I sought refuge in after the disaster of commercial success, and the beginnings of people being programmed like zombies. If it wasn’t for this album…the idea of making it in a commercialized business was a lost cause.”

The mixtape-compilation was Hip-Hop seeking refuge to return to the culture’s days of innocence. It worked, signaling a rebirth that spawned a new breed of MC legends—and a subsequent series that Heads could trust.

Additional Reporting by Jake Paine.