- Originally, Rhino was in the 1970s and 1980s a reissue label, releasing compilation albums of Pop Music, Rock & Roll, and R&B hits from the 1950s through the 1980s. They were also known for releasing retrospectives of famous comedy performers, including Richard Pryor, Stan Freberg, Tom Lehrer, and Spike Jones. Starting in the early 1990s, Rhino transititioned into a full-fledged entertainment unit specializing in home video/DVD re-issues of television shows such as The Transformers, G.I. Joe, Jem, The Lone Ranger, My Favorite Martian, and Mystery Science Theater 3000, and compact disc releases of select artists and movie soundtracks.
- Rhino started as a record shop in 1973 by Richard Foos. It became a record label five years later thanks to the effort of then-store manager Harold Bronson. Their early releases were mostly novelty records and some punk rock singles; the difficulties involved in getting airplay and distribution for such material eventually caused Foos and Bronson to take the label in other directions. By the mid-1980s most of their releases were reissues of previously released recordings licensed from other companies. Superior sound quality (remastering of the original tapes was done under the direction of Bill Inglot) and creative packaging made Rhino one of the most respected reissue labels, getting rave reviews from music collectors, fans, and historians. Rhino was quick to get into the Compact Disc market, releasing dozens of oldies CDs at the dawn of the CD age in 1984. Their retrospective compact disc releases are often remastered to restore or improve upon the original analog release’s audio quality.
- They also continued to produce new music, with releases on subsidiary labels such as RNA (Rhino New Artists) and Forward, as well as the main Rhino label. However, the labels' artists tended to generate more critical acclaim than public interest; sales totals in the low five figures or less were routine for Rhino-produced albums, and the less costly, less risky reissue business remained the company’s primary revenue stream. One exception was the late-1986 hit "At This Moment" by Billy Vera & The Beaters, a 1981 song that unexpectedly made it to the top of the U.S. Billboard charts after being featured in a 1986 episode of the hit NBC-TV series Family Ties.
- In 1986, Rhino signed a six-year distribution agreement with Capitol Records. In 1989 Rhino and Capitol’s parent EMI made a deal to jointly acquire Roulette Records; Rhino received the US rights to Roulette's catalog, excluding jazz. When the distribution deal with Capitol ended in 1992, Rhino signed a new distribution deal with Warner Strategic Marketing, and in turn Time Warner bought a 50% stake in the record company. In 1998, Time Warner bought the other half of Rhino; thus the company became a wholly owned unit of Time Warner and, in 1999, they formed the “Rhino Handmade” imprint of limited edition reissues.
- It is through this merger that the label has released remastered editions of collections from such bands as Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Yes, The Doobie Brothers, Chicago, The Doors and most recently The Bee Gees, as well as soundtracks spanning the Turner-owned pre-1986 MGM and pre-1948 Warner Bros. periods, as well as WB’s own post-1948 period. Rhino’s soundtrack releases include Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Easter Parade, North by Northwest, Casablanca, King Kong, Doctor Zhivago, Superman: The Movie, and Finian's Rainbow.
- Rhino also owns the rights to The Monkees’ master tapes and film footage (which they acquired from Raybert Productions in the late 1980s), and thus has released home videos and CDs from the group.
- In 2003, longtime Rhino executives Richard Foos and Harold Bronson left Rhino, reportedly due to frustration at being unable to release compilation albums in an increasingly-competitive market. Soon after, Foos inaugurated a new label, Shout! Factory , which began releasing dozens of CDs and videos mirroring the original early Rhino philosophy.
- In 2004, Time Warner spun off its music divisions and today Rhino is part of the newly organized Warner Music Group.
- In addition to dealing with archive material, the label also manages the US distribution or worldwide production of compilations for more recent Warner acts, including still-active artists such as Enya, New Order, and Chicago.
- In November 2012, Rhino stopped selling LPs and CDs. The Rhino website links to online store Pop Market, as well as Amazon and iTunes. The Rhino site also streams music by way of Spotify.
- Rhino UK sells some physical media.
- Similar music companies include Hip-O Records, Varese Sarabande, and Sony Music's Legacy Recordings, as well as Ace Records of Britain and Bear Family of Germany.