Top 10 Best 80s Hip-Hop Songs: Iconic Hits

In the vibrant decade of the 1980s, hip-hop experienced explosive growth, evolving from its roots in the Bronx to become a worldwide phenomenon. The era saw the rise of groundbreaking artists and unforgettable tracks that laid the foundation for modern hip-hop. This article explores the top 10 best hip-hop songs from the 1980s, which not only defined the genre but also left an indelible mark on the music industry.

A boombox sits on a graffiti-covered street corner, blaring classic 80s hip-hop. Brightly colored breakdancers spin and pop in the background

What are the iconic tracks that truly encapsulated the spirit of 80s hip-hop? These songs reflect the creativity, cultural significance, and enduring appeal of early hip-hop. Whether you’re a lifelong fan or new to the genre, this list will take you on a journey through the tracks that set the stage for future generations of hip-hop artists.

1. The Message – Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five

“The Message” is a pivotal hip-hop track by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Released in 1982, this song broke ground in the hip-hop genre with its social commentary.

  • Song Name: The Message
  • Album Name: The Message
  • Release Date: July 1, 1982

Why we included this song on the list

The song stands out because it addresses the gritty realities of inner-city life. Unlike the party anthems of early hip-hop, “The Message” brought serious topics like poverty and stress into the spotlight. This made it influential in shaping the genre’s direction.

Interesting or fun facts about the song

  • The track became famous for its refrain, “Don’t push me ’cause I’m close to the edge.”
  • It was one of the first hip-hop songs to be added to the United States National Recording Registry.
  • The song’s impactful message resonates to this day, influencing many artists and activists alike.

For more details, you can read the lyrics on Genius.

2. Rapper’s Delight – The Sugarhill Gang

  • Song Name: Rapper’s Delight
  • Album: The Sugarhill Gang
  • Release Date: 1979

Why we included this song on the list

“Rapper’s Delight” is often credited as the first commercial hip-hop single. It played a major role in bringing hip-hop music to a wider audience. Its infectious groove and catchy lyrics helped it gain popularity quickly. The song reached the Top 40 in the US and became a defining track of the era.

Interesting or fun facts about the song

“Rapper’s Delight” was recorded in a single take, showcasing the group’s impressive lyrical flow. The song samples the bass line from Chic’s hit “Good Times,” which added to its widespread appeal. The track was released as a 12-inch single, which was unusual at the time but helped it stand out in the market.

Listen to the full version of Rapper’s Delight to experience the legendary hip-hop track that started it all. For more details on the song’s impact, visit Wikipedia.

Learn more about the top songs by The Sugarhill Gang to see how this track fits into their discography.

3. Paid in Full – Eric B. & Rakim

Song Name: “Paid in Full”
Album: Paid in Full
Release Date: July 7, 1987

Why we included this song on the list:

“Paid in Full” is a defining track in hip-hop history. Eric B. & Rakim created a sound that was both groundbreaking and influential. Rakim’s lyrical flow set a new standard for rap. Eric B.’s production is timeless, blending funk and soul samples that resonate with listeners even today.

Interesting or fun facts about the song:

“Paid in Full” gained additional fame through a popular remix by English electronic dance music duo Coldcut. The remix helped the song reach audiences beyond just hip-hop fans. The track was also produced at the iconic Marley Marl’s home studio and Power Play Studios in New York City.

For more information, you can visit the Wikipedia page about the song.

4. Fight The Power – Public Enemy

“Fight the Power” by Public Enemy is a powerful hip-hop anthem from the late 80s.

  • Song Name: Fight the Power
  • Album Name: Fear of a Black Planet
  • Release Date: June 1989

Why we included this song on the list:

“Fight the Power” stands out as one of the most impactful songs of the 80s. It was specifically created for Spike Lee’s film, “Do the Right Thing”, and it captures the spirit of protest and resistance against racial injustice. Its bold lyrics and energetic beats have made it a timeless classic in hip-hop history.

Interesting or fun facts about the song:

Chuck D, the lead vocalist of Public Enemy, wrote the song at the request of Spike Lee. The initial version was part of the movie soundtrack, and a different version appeared on the 1990 album Fear of a Black Planet. The song’s chorus, “Fight the power!”, became an iconic call to action and is widely recognized even today.

5. Push It – Salt-N-Pepa

  • Song Name: Push It
  • Album: Hot, Cool & Vicious
  • Release Date: 1987

Why we included this song on the list

“Push It” by Salt-N-Pepa is a standout in 80s hip-hop music. It became a global anthem and brought a unique sound to the genre with its electro beats and catchy lyrics. Reaching number 19 on the US Billboard Hot 100, it established the duo as trailblazers in a male-dominated industry.

Interesting or fun facts about the song

  • “Push It” was first released as a B-side to their single “Tramp” in 1987.
  • The song was certified Platinum by the RIAA.
  • It is ranked number 446 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
  • The song gained extra fame when Salt-N-Pepa performed it at Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday concert.

6. Eric B. is President – Eric B. & Rakim

“Eric B. is President” is a foundational track in 80s hip-hop, released by Eric B. & Rakim as part of their debut album, “Paid in Full,” in 1987. The song remains iconic for both its innovative production and Rakim’s groundbreaking lyricism.

  • Song Name: Eric B. is President
  • Album Name: Paid in Full
  • Release Date: 1987

Why we included this song on the list

Eric B. & Rakim’s debut single, “Eric B. is President,” revolutionized the direction of hip-hop. Rakim’s smooth and complex lyrical style set a new standard for MCs. The song played a key role in establishing the group as a pioneering force.

Rakim’s rhymes were both sophisticated and relatable, raising the bar for lyrical content during that era. His unique flow and intricate wordplay introduced a new level of artistry in hip-hop.

Interesting or fun facts about the song

Eric B. & Rakim’s “Eric B. is President” was initially the B-side to My Melody, which also became a classic hit. The track features a distinctive selection of samples, including James Brown’s “The Boss,” showcasing Eric B.’s innovative approach to production.

The song was included in the 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection: Best of Eric B & Rakim. It set the stage for their subsequent critically acclaimed albums, ensuring their legendary status in hip-hop history.

7. Straight Outta Compton – N.W.A

  • Song name: Straight Outta Compton
  • Album name: Straight Outta Compton
  • Release date: August 8, 1988

Why we included this song on the list

Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A is an iconic track that helped shape the gangsta rap genre. The song reflects the harsh realities of life in Compton, California. Its raw and unfiltered lyrics provided a voice to many who felt unheard and influenced a generation of hip-hop artists.

Interesting or fun facts about the song

The song was produced by Dr. Dre and DJ Yella. Written by Ice Cube and MC Ren, it offers a vivid depiction of the struggles faced by young African Americans in the late 1980s. The music video for Straight Outta Compton was remastered in HD, giving new life to a classic anthem.

8. It’s Like That – Run-D.M.C.

  • Song name: It’s Like That
  • Album name: Run-D.M.C.
  • Release date: 1983

Why we included this song on the list

“It’s Like That” stands as the debut single of Run-D.M.C., marking a significant point in hip-hop history. The song’s powerful lyrics and groundbreaking beats helped shape the direction of the genre. It introduced a stripped-down sound that contrasted sharply with the more elaborate productions of the time.

Interesting or fun facts about the song

The song was remixed by house DJ Jason Nevins in 1997, creating a version that became a massive hit. This remix sold around five million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling singles of all time. The original song was released by Profile Records and played a major role in the early success of Run-D.M.C.

9. Planet Rock – Afrika Bambaataa

“Planet Rock” is a song by the American hip-hop artist Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force. The song was produced by Arthur Baker and released by Tommy Boy Records in 1982.

  • Song Name: Planet Rock
  • Album: Planet Rock: The Album
  • Release Date: 1982

Why we included this song on the list:
“Planet Rock” is widely regarded as a pioneering track that blended hip-hop with electronic music. Its innovative sound helped to shape the hip-hop genre and opened doors for future artists. The song is credited with popularizing the use of the Roland TR-808 drum machine, which became a staple in hip-hop production.

Interesting or fun facts about the song:
Afrika Bambaataa and Arthur Baker drew inspiration from the German band Kraftwerk while creating “Planet Rock.” The song’s use of electronic beats and synthesizers was groundbreaking at the time. “Planet Rock” reached number four on the Billboard Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart and has been sampled by numerous artists in various genres.

For more detailed information, visit the Wikipedia page on Planet Rock.

10. Nuthin’ But a G Thang – Dr. Dre

“Nuthin’ But a G Thang” is a classic hip-hop song by Dr. Dre featuring Snoop Dogg. Released as the lead single from Dre’s debut solo album “The Chronic,” it became a defining track in the G-funk era.

  • Song name: Nuthin’ But a G Thang
  • Album name: The Chronic
  • Release date: 1992

Why we included this song on the list
“Nuthin’ But a G Thang” played a crucial role in popularizing West Coast rap. Its smooth beats and laid-back style stood out. This song encapsulates the essence of the early ’90s hip-hop scene and marked Dr. Dre’s successful transition from N.W.A to solo artist.

Interesting or fun facts about the song

  • The song features a sample from Leon Haywood’s 1975 hit “I Want’a Do Something Freaky to You.”
  • It reached number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1993.
  • The track introduced Snoop Dogg to mainstream audiences, showcasing his laid-back rapping style.

Evolution of 80s Hip-Hop

The 1980s was a transformative decade for hip-hop, marking its transition from a niche genre to a global cultural phenomenon. Key elements included its cultural impact and its influence on future music genres.

Cultural Impact and Roots

In the early 1980s, hip-hop began as a voice for marginalized communities. Artists like Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five used the music to discuss social issues. Their song “The Message” is one of the most important tracks in hip-hop history, highlighting the struggles of urban life.

Before the 80s, hip-hop focused on parties and fun. This changed as the genre became a platform for storytelling and social commentary. Tracks like Run-D.M.C.’s “It’s Like That” highlighted economic issues, making the genre a powerful medium for expressing real-life struggles.

The fresh styles and techniques from artists in the 80s helped redefine what hip-hop could be. MCs and DJs innovated with new beats and rhymes, pushing boundaries. Groups like Public Enemy infused political messages, making hip-hop a tool for activism.

Influence on Future Genres

The 80s hip-hop sound laid the groundwork for many future genres. The adoption of sampling and innovative production techniques influenced various music styles. For instance, the use of funk and jazz samples became a staple in later hip-hop and R&B.

Southern rap was heavily impacted by songs like The Showboys’ “Drag Rap,” which shaped its sound. Hip-hop’s reach also extended to pop music, with collaborations expanding its influence.

Artists from the 80s like LL Cool J and Eric B. & Rakim set a foundation for lyrical skill and flow that future rappers like Nas and Jay-Z would build upon. Their innovations in beats and rhymes also influenced electronic and dance music, demonstrating the genre’s broad impact on the music industry overall.

Key Figures and Their Contributions

The 1980s saw the rise of key figures who played critical roles in shaping hip-hop history. These individuals, both MCs and DJs, left an indelible mark on the genre, each contributing their unique style and sound.

Legendary MCs

Rakim: With his partner, Eric B., Rakim brought a sophisticated level of lyricism that was previously unseen. His complex internal rhymes and laid-back flow, showcased in tracks like “Microphone Fiend,” set a new standard for MCs. Rakim’s influence is still felt in today’s hip-hop.

Run-D.M.C.: As pioneers of hip-hop, Run-D.M.C. helped bring the genre into the mainstream. Their collaboration with Aerosmith on “Walk This Way” broke barriers and mixed rock with rap, making them leaders of cultural fusion.

Kurtis Blow: Known for “The Breaks,” Kurtis Blow was the first rapper to sign with a major record label. His success opened doors for future artists and helped legitimize rap as a viable genre. Blow’s storytelling and party anthems remain influential.

Pioneering DJs and Producers

DJ Kool Herc: Credited as the father of hip-hop, DJ Kool Herc’s innovative use of breakbeats during block parties in the Bronx laid the foundation for what hip-hop would become. His technique of isolating and looping the breaks in funk records created the groundwork for DJing.

Afrika Bambaataa: Known for his track “Planet Rock,” Afrika Bambaataa fused electronic music with hip-hop, creating a futuristic sound. As a leader of the Zulu Nation, he promoted peace and unity, heavily influencing hip-hop culture and its social impact.

Rick Rubin: As a co-founder of Def Jam Recordings, Rick Rubin was critical in producing and promoting early hip-hop acts like Run-D.M.C. and LL Cool J. Rubin’s minimalist production style became a staple in the genre, emphasizing beats and lyrical delivery.

These figures, through their innovation and talent, laid the foundation for all subsequent generations of hip-hop artists. Their contributions continue to resonate within the industry today.

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