Rhymesayers Turns 20: The Best Songs of Each Year



Now that Rhymesayers is 20 years old, the Minneapolis rap label's output has piled up into something monumental. This becomes even more impressive when you break down what the label has done each year.

While few rap labels even hit the single decade mark, what makes what Rhymesayers' done even more impressive is that they've never taken even a year off between releases. Here's a look back at the definitive songs year-by-year.

Atmosphere - "God's Bathroom Floor" (1995) Before Rhymesayers Entertainment was even a name, 1995 saw what's considered the label's first release via the Headshots tape The WBBOY Sessions. That same year is when Slug began performing "God's Bathroom Floor." Considered the crew's local breakout song, the track's introspective nature is the first seed planted in the forest of what became the Rhymesayers sound. While a live version appeared the next year on a Headshots tape, the proper recorded version wouldn't surface until a bonus two years later for the Overcast EP.

Beyond (Musab) - "B.L.A.K. Culture" (1996) Another track that first appeared as a live version on a Headshots tape Beyond's "B.L.A.K. Culture" was an important moment for both Rhymesayers and Twin Cities hip-hop as a whole. Off Comparison, the scene's first release on an actual CD, it's become a hallmark for the beginning of the Rhymesayers era, including being the first track performed at the label's 10th anniversary celebration back in 2005.

Atmosphere - "Scapegoat" (1997) The first national underground hit for the label, "Scapegoat" became not just a classic for the label, but for the late-'90s underground rap scene in general. Having that dirty underground feel with a theme that connected with a lot of audiences, its legacy is even more striking when compared to the shiny-suit era going on in mainstream hip-hop at the time.

The Dynospectrum - "Anything is Everything" (1998) Rhymesayers' supergroup the Dynospectrum dropped their sole album with no tour, promotion, or fanfare in 1998. With one of the most attention-grabbing cover arts in the catalog, its brooding imagery adds to the mysterious nature of the project. Consisting of Slug, Beyond/Musab, I Self Devine, and Mr. Gene Poole with Ant on production, it's really a dream-team affair, allowing tracks like "Anything Is Everything" to be both a time capsule of what was so dope about where the artists involved were in 1998, as well as truly timeless thanks to the sheer talent involved.

Atmosphere - "Abusing of the Rib" (1999) While some fans may be more familiar with the version heard on 2000's Insideout Vol. 1 - A Foolblown Compilation Atmosphere's "Abusing of the Rib" was one of the standout moments of the final Headshots tape. Whether heard as an allegory, a metaphor or face value, the openness to interpretation of the track is the type of songwriting that's kept the label's music so discussed and loved. [page]
Atmosphere - "Woman With the Tattooed Hands" (2000) Off the Ford 2 EP, "Woman With the Tattooed Hands" quickly became one of Atmosphere's signature songs. Slug's writing and performance of the supernatural tales here is so convincing, some fans still speculate as to whether the events in the song may have really happened.

Eyedea & Abilities - "Big Shots" (2001) With both Eyedea and Abilities being the respective dominant presences in the competitive MC/DJ battle worlds, their debut First Born was a far more introspective and philosophical affair than most battle fans were anticipating. However, one track all could agree on was the straight-forward rap clinic "Big Shots," as the duo's lovable playful arrogance is backed with an incredibly strong foundation.

Atmosphere - "Modern Man's Hustle" (2002) With god loves ugly being one of the fastest spreading cult phenomenons in rap, "Modern Man's Hustle" featured Slug and Ant at one of their strongest moments with a song that broadened their audience like never before. A frequent first entry point to their work, and a staple of their live shows ever since.

Brother Ali - "Forest Whitiker" (2003) The year 2003 was one of the most heavily stacked in the label's history, with the finest moment being Brother Ali's Shadows on the Sun. While he'd previous released the Rites of Passage tape a few years prior, the entirely Ant produced Shadows on the Sun featured Ali really coming into his own as an undeniable presence. Most notably, "Forest Whitiker," a track originally made just to make Ant laugh, has become one of Ali's signature songs.

Eyedea & Abilities - "Now" (2004) Another back-to-back, absolutely stacked year for the label, 2004 is also the year when Rhymesayers' roster became a touring force. That's why 2004's best captured in "Now," the closest Eyedea and Abilities ever got to capturing their live performances on record. An innovative track that still sounds years ahead of its time even today, it's the ultimate realization of their manifesto of lyricism, turntablism, and imperialism. [page]
I Self Devine - "Ice Cold" (2005) Self Destruction, the solo debut of Minneapolis hip-hop pioneer and cornerstone I Self Devine, was the crown jewel in the label's 10th anniversary celebration. Coming off Devine's excellent run of other RSE projects with groups The Micranots and Semi.Official, his solo outing did not disappoint in the slightest. The album's first single "Ice Cold," was the perfect storm of capturing a decade of history in the Rhymesayers sound as the label continued to grow. Also notable is the track's production by Jake One, a Seattle native, during a year when RSE put out several Seattle projects, including memorable releases from Grayskul and Boom Bap Project, strengthening the bond between the two scenes.

P.O.S. - "Half-Cocked Concepts" (2006) As the rise of Rhymesayers was happening nationally, rap collective Doomtree was gaining more ground locally as well. After re-releasing his debut Ipecac Neat on the label, P.O.S.' first project with Rhymesayers became Audition. A blistering bulldozer of Bush-Era punk-rap aggression, the album's early track "Half-Cocked Concepts" remains one of the most adrenaline pumping excerpts in the label's history. As must-see live song, it's as raw as underground rap gets.

MF DOOM - "Kookies (2007 Version)" (2007) While MF DOOM's MM...Food originally had to quickly go out of print due to a sample on the closing track "Kookies," Rhymesayers proved its loyalty to its fans by eventually bringing it back. The same year we got the year-long excellent EP-laden build to the following year's Atmosphere When Life Gives You Lemons project, RSE still managed to drop a re-release special edition of MM...Food that not only remixed the controversial track in question, but also came with a live tour DVD and a special chocolate-scented foil packaging.

Jake One featuring Freeway and Brother Ali - "The Truth" (2008) Before he became hip-hop's *it* producer, Jake One was a Rhymesayers regular since producing on Musab's Respect the Life way back in 2002. As his stock continued to grow, he's always been key in connecting the Minneapolis-Seattle scenes, and his compilation album White Van Music made strides in connection Rhymesayers to every corner of the hip-hop map, including the landmark first dream collaboration between Freeway and Brother Ali.

Abstract Rude featuring Aceyalone and Myka 9 - "Thynk Eye Can" (2009) 
So, 2009 was another year you could make a case for being Rhymesayers' absolute best. Along with albums from label cornerstones Eyedea and Abilities, P.O.S. and Brother Ali, you had Twin Cities hip-hop icon Toki Wright's debut on the label as well as the final Felt record. But 2009's place in Rhymesayers' legacy is one of great branching out, both with the exotic sounds of the BK One & Benzilla project as well as Rejuvenation from frequent RSE tourmate Abstract Rude. "Thynk Eye Can" and its hidden track remix is an important record that connects Rhymesayers to the innovative experimental Los Angeles Good Life scene that influenced some of the roster (especially Eyedea) as well as the next generation of that scene on the way up. [page]
Freeway and Jake One featuring Raekwon - "One Thing" (2010) The Rhymersayers-Wu Tang connection became a direct link when Raekwon joined Freeway and Jake One for 2010's "One Thing." Along with the track's sheer historical importance, as well as its perfect timing immediately after the release of Raekwon career-resurgence record Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II, it also happens to absolutely knock.

Blueprint - "So Alive" (2011) Columbus MC/Producer Blueprint's contributions to Rhymesayers have been so wildly diverse, one could take his discography both solo and as one-half of Soul Position with RJD2 as a microcosm of the label's range in itself. His most recent release on the label, 2011's Adventures in Counter-Culture featured "So Alive," a boundary pushing earworm. Like the bulk of Print's work on the label, it's as powerful live as it is on record.

Aesop Rock - "Zero Dark Thirty" (2012) Rhymesayers has maintained for years that they don't go out looking to sign someone just because they're hot. After New York underground mothership Definitive Jux folded in 2010, the label's franchise player Aesop Rock was a free agent. Fortunately, he landed at Rhymesayers creating an indie-rap juggernaut with both supergroup Hail Mary Mallon as well as his critically lauded and fan favorite RSE debut Skelethon. "Zero Dark Thirty" is Aes just how we like him, obsessively complex and infectiously quotable.

Prof - "The Reply" (2013) While Rhymesayers has expanded over the years into including releases from longtime friends of the label all over the hip-hop map, they've always kept an eye over what's happening at home. With Prof's incredible momentum during the late aughts thanks to his outrageous live show and galvanizing charisma, his signing to RSE in 2013 seemed like a perfect fit. How did he respond? By releasing "The Reply," the equivalent of an audio press conference to entertain longtime fans and bring those new to the King of all things Gampo up to speed.

Dem Atlas - "All We Got" (2014) 
At 23 years old, the latest Rhymesayers signee Dem Atlas is almost younger than the label himself, and thus he's the first who has grown up with RSE and its influence as a constant presence in his musical surroundings. This is evident in standout tracks like "All We Got," capturing the personability and creativity that's made the label so consistently fresh for two decades.

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