The eighties: the decade in which Hip Hop grew from a local phenomenon into a major worldwide musical and cultural force. Pioneered in New York City in the early 1970s, it was not until 1979 that the first Hip Hop song (even though still heavily influenced by disco sounds) was recorded and released – “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang. In the early ’80s, Hip Hop artists released mainly singles and only from the mid-80s on – when the record labels got behind it – the world started to see regular Hip Hop album releases. From then on, Hip Hop quickly started spreading throughout the world. Below you will find 100 classic 1980s Hip Hop songs. Are your favorites missing? Share your opinions in the comments!
1. Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five - The Message (1982)
Perhaps the most important song in Hip Hop history. “The Message” was the first song with unabashed commentaries on life and society, and it had a huge influence on many conscious Hip Hop artists who came later.
2. Public Enemy - Rebel Without A Pause (1987)
“Rebel Without a Pause” was the first song created for and the first single released from Public Enemy‘s masterpiece It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. The song was released in 1987, way before the album came out in the summer of 1988, and it was sort of a bridge between the still somewhat unpolished sounds of Yo! Bum Rush The Show to the Bomb Squad produced perfection on It Takes A Nation.
3. Run DMC - Sucker MCs (1983)
First released in 1983, this was the B-side to Run DMC‘s first single “It’s Like That”. “Sucker MCs” was a perfect early indicator of the direction Hip Hop was going in. Harder, sparser beats and a new, more aggressive style of rapping. Run DMC is THE group that is responsible for bringing Hip Hop from the Old School to the Golden Age.
4. Eric B & Rakim - Microphone Fiend (1988)
This beat. These lyrics. PERFECTION. Strangely the single release of this track wasn’t a huge success in 1988, but since then this track has rightfully come to be recognized not only as the quintessential Eric B & Rakim song but as one of Hip Hop’s biggest songs ever as well.
5. Doug E Fresh & The Get Fresh Crew - The Show / La Di Da Di (1985)
6. LL Cool J - Rock The Bells (1985)
From LL’s groundbreaking debut album Radio, Rock The Bells will always be one of LL Cool J’s signature tracks and a landmark track in Hip Hop history. Also, check out the original Rock The Bells version which did not appear on the Radio album. This version has LL spittin’ rhymes over 7 minutes of hard-hitting, bells-infused Rick Rubin beats.
7. Public Enemy - Fight The Power (1989)
Arguably Public Enemy’s best-known track, the musical theme for Spike Lee’s classic movie Do The Right Thing is universally regarded as one of the best songs of all time. We agree.
8. Eric B & Rakim - I Ain't No Joke (1987)
This is what an opening track should be like. Rakim immediately sets the tone for the rest of the album (and his career) with this brilliant song. After dropping their first two classic tracks – “Eric B Is President” and “My Melody” – in 1986, Eric B & Rakim really raised the bar in 1987 with Paid In Full – one of the top albums in all of Hip Hop’s history.
9. Big Daddy Kane - Set It Off (1988)
The ultimate example of Big Daddy Kane’s rapping prowess and lyrical skill. Pure, unadulterated Hip Hop – it doesn’t get any better than this. One of the stand-out tracks of the all-around masterful Marley Marl-produced debut album Long Live The Kane.
10. Boogie Down Productions - My Philosophy (1988)
This track was so far ahead of its time, Hip Hop still hasn’t caught up yet. Filled with Hip Hop Quotables, this song addresses the commercialization of Hip Hop and the rise of wack and fake rappers. Over 30 years old and more relevant today than ever. Prophetic and brilliant, My Philosophy will always be considered one of Hip Hop’s biggest songs EVER.
11. Run DMC - Peter Piper (1986)
The opening track to Run DMC‘s magnum opus Raising Hell and a tribute to the skills of the multi-talented Jam Master Jay. On this DJ-favorite, Run and DMC trade lyrics based on nursery rhymes and fairy tales while at the same time paying homage to JMJ’s skills on the turntables.
12. Public Enemy - Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos (1988)
This has to be one of the most impactful songs Public Enemy ever did, and that is saying something. A powerful story of a jailbreak, directed at the US government and its prison system. Hard-hitting lyrics, perfect instrumental – this is Public Enemy at its best.
13. Boogie Down Productions - South Bronx (1986)
In response to MC Shan’s “The Bridge”, Boogie Down Productions came out HARD with “South Bronx”. It left no room for doubt about where Hip Hop originated nor who reigned supreme. An all-time classic Hip Hop anthem. The song was produced by DJ Scott La Rock, KRS-One and Ultramagnetic MCs’ Ced Gee, and the first single of Boogie Down Productions’ classic debut album Criminal Minded that would be released in 1987.
14. Audio Two - Top Billin' (1987)
Talk about a classic Hip Hop song. The brilliant reworking of the “Impeach The President” beat is simply unbeatable. Even if they never made any other real noteworthy music, Audio Two will forever be remembered because of this monumental track – released in 1987 as the lead single for their otherwise disappointing 1988 album What More Can I Say?
15. N.W.A - Straight Outta Compton (1988)
N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton album was a game-changer; for better or for worse. One of the first real Gangsta Rap albums, going multi-platinum without any radio play. It influenced and changed the direction of Hip Hop, producing countless clones for decades to come. The difference between all the clones and this album is the originality and authenticity of Straight Outta Compton; combined with the revolutionary & flawless production of Dr Dre and the raw energy & at the time shocking lyrical imagery of Ice Cube, MC Ren & Eazy E. The album is a super classic and this title track the perfect opening salvo.
16. Slick Rick - Children's Story (1988)
After he made his imprint on the scene in 1985 on Doug e Fresh’s classic songs “The Show” and “La Di Da Di”, Slick Rick released his nearly flawless debut album The Great Adventures Of Slick Rick in 1988. Slick Rick’s superior storytelling abilities, combined with his humor and typical rap style shine on the whole album, this is the best song.
17. Kurtis Blow - The Breaks (1980)
Kurtis Blow was the first rapper to sign a contract with a major record label. “The Breaks” was the first Hip Hop single that went ‘gold’. A hugely important and influential track.
18. Just Ice - Going Way Back (1987)
This track by Just-Ice (with the help of a young KRS-One) deals with the origins of Hip Hop in the Bronx and the rest of New York. Just-Ice names everyone that matters – a real Hip Hop history lesson.
19. Eric B & Rakim - Eric B Is President (1986)
Produced by Marley Marl, this is another landmark Hip Hop song. The opening bars are among the most quoted in Hip Hop and the production is supremely creative and diverse. An enticing introduction to the album that would come out the following year and would turn out to be one of the biggest classics in Hip Hop history.
20. LL Cool J - I'm Bad (1987)
LL Cool J at his bragging and boasting best, “I’m Bad” is one of LL’s most recognizable songs and one of his biggest hits.
21. Ice T - 6 N The Morning (1986)
Inspired by arguably the first ‘gangsta rap’ song – 1985’s “PSK What Does It Mean” by Philly rapper Schoolly D, Ice-T’s “6 N The Morning” is one of the most influential songs in Hip Hop (for better or worse…), as it more or less started gangsta rap. Where most gangsta rappers accomplish nothing but making themselves look like tough-guy posturing, gun-toting idiots, Ice T did it RIGHT. He always combined authenticity with humor, displaying calm confidence without the need to prove anything. Even if most so-called gangsta rap ultimately didn’t do any favors to Hip Hop as a culture, Ice-T is one of the few representatives of that particular form of Hip Hop who belongs in the Hip Hop Hall Of Fame without a doubt.
22. Funky 4 Plus 1 - That's The Joint (1980)
This is a classic single from the first Hip Hop group ever to get a record deal. Also, this is the first group with a female rapper to record a single. No doubt you’ve heard samples from this classic track in later Hip Hop favorites many times.
23. Schoolly D - PSK, What Does It Mean? (1985)
One of the first songs that were labeled ‘gangsta rap’ and THE track that inspired Ice T to write 6 N The Morning. Hugely influential, this is an all-time classic by Philly legend Schoolly D.
24. Ice T - Colors (1988)
The powerful title track of the classic 1988 movie “Colors”, and one of Ice-T’s best tracks.
25. Boogie Down Productions - Criminal Minded (1987)
Just one of the classic tracks of Criminal Minded. Clever lyrics, a banging instrumental – this song, along with the rest of the album, was crucial in the maturing of Hip Hop and was one of the albums (together with Run DMC’s Raising Hell, Eric B & Rakim’s Paid in Full, Public Enemy’s Yo! Bum Rush The Show and LL Cool J’s first two) that started Hip Hop’s Golden Age.
26. Beastie Boys - Paul Revere (1986)
The bass-line and reverse beat on this song are just crazy. Co-written by Run DMC and Rick Rubin, the song is a fictional and humorous account of how the Beastie Boys met. Pure genius.
27. Public Enemy - Don't Believe The Hype (1988)
P.E.’s classic critique of false media and rumors is yet another winner from their monumental sophomore album. Classic beat, classic rhymes, classic hook. Don’t Believe The Hype!
28. Ultramagnetic MCs - Ego Trippin' (1986)
The original version of one of the centerpieces of Ultramagnetic MCs‘ underrated 1988 masterpiece Critical Beatdown was recorded as early as 1986. A super innovative and absolute classic track.
29. MC Lyte - Cha Cha Cha (1989)
“Cha Cha Cha” is the first single from MC Lyte‘s second album Eyes on This. No doubt one of MC Lyte’s very best songs, this is 100% pure Hip Hop.
30. N,W.A - F*** Tha Police (1988)
One of the most controversial songs in Hip Hop ever? The sad thing is that in the more than 30 years since this song was recorded nothing has changed…
31. Stop The Violence Movement - Self Destruction (1989)
Remember the days Hip Hop was all about consciousness and improvement? The Stop the Violence Movement was started by KRS-One in response to violence in the Hip Hop and African American communities. With an East Coast all-star line-up, it was one of 1989’s biggest songs, one that resonates with relevance to this day.
32. Eric B & Rakim - Paid In Full (1987)
The memorable bass line and Rakim’s classic bars – surely one of the most potent verses ever – assure that this song is one of the most recognizable joints in the history of Hip Hop. Who doesn’t have the words to this one memorized?
33. The Treacherous Three - Body Rock (1980)
The Treacherous Three is a crew of Hip Hop pioneers from who Kool Moe Dee is the best known. “Body Rock” is a typical song of the time: long and full of that Old School style of rapping. The first Hip Hop song to use rock influences.
34. De La Soul - Buddy (1989)
“Buddy” is the third single from De La Soul’s classic debut album 3 Feet High and Rising. Great vibe and great lyrics – humorous and full of double entendres. The video version features the Jungle Brothers, Q-Tip & Monie Love. The original, also included on 3 Feet High & Rising, is dope as well.
35. Eric B & Rakim - Follow The Leader (1988)
Five minutes of lyrical perfection. Together with “Lyrics of Fury”, perhaps one of the best examples of how advanced Rakim was with his lyricism. Listen to it and then listen to it again and let it sink in. Rakim will take the listener on a metaphorical trip into outer-space and then back into the listeners head – a lyrical masterpiece.
36. Public Enemy - Public Enemy No. 1 (1987)
Public Enemy’s debut single. Remember, this was 1987. Musically, nothing like this was done before, ever. Highly innovative, this unique sound would become trademark Public Enemy. Throw Chuck D’s booming voice and his back-and-forth with joker Flavor Flav in the mix and the signature sound of one of Hip Hop’s biggest acts ever is born.
37. EPMD - You Gots To Chill (1988)
You Gots To Chill is the quintessential EPMD song. It introduced the world to the laidback funk-laced Hip Hop of EPMD – and is just as timeless a classic as the album it came from, Strictly Business.
38. Beastie Boys - Shake Your Rump (1989)
Everything that makes Paul’s Boutique so brilliant comes together on this track. The album performed commercially disappointing upon release (people were probably expecting more “Fight For Your Right” style frat-rap), but Paul’s Boutique would eventually universally be recognized as the creative and innovative masterpiece that it is.
39. Stetsasonic - Talkin'All That Jazz (1988)
This underappreciated song is a response to critics of (sampling in) Hip Hop. The stand-out track from Stetsasonic’s solid second album In Full Gear.
40. Boogie Down Productions - The Bridge Is Over (1987)
Directed at the Juice Crew, and in response to MC Shan’s Kill That Noise, this is the final jab on wax in the Bridge Wars. Brilliantly hard in its simplicity, it is instantly recognizable because of the menacing beat, sharp drum kicks, and classic piano melody.
41. EPMD - So Whatcha Sayin' (1989)
Picking the perfect opening track for an album is an art EPMD understood well. They got it right on their first album and did it again on their second one. So Whatcha Sayin’ is perfect for setting the tone for the rest of Unfinished Business, which would turn to be just as awesome an album as EPMD’s debut was.
42. MC Lyte - Paper Thin (1988)
An emcee who can spit with the best of them, male or female. MC Lyte‘s debut album still is a classic piece of work, that belongs in any Hip Hop fan’s collection. “Paper Thin” is the now-classic cut with which Lyte made her mark.
43. MC Shan - The Bridge (1986)
The song that started the legendary “Bridge Wars” and elicited a few vicious responses from KRS One’s Boogie Down Productions, who responded to Shan’s alleged claim that Hip Hop started out in Queens. Even though the intention of “The Bridge” may not even have been to make that claim, it still is responsible for one of the first beefs in Hip Hop and a few classic BDP songs. Of course, the Marley Marl-produced “The Bridge” is a classic song in its own right.
44. N.W.A - Dopeman (Original) (1987)
From the same album as Eazy-E‘s original version of “Boyz N The Hood”, this track was the no holds barred introduction of N.W.A to the world, with some classic Ice Cube lyrics and revolutionary production by a young Dr. Dre.
45. Biz Markie - Vapors (1988)
The lead single from Biz Markie‘s full-length debut album Goin’ Off. In full story-telling mode, Biz shows us how people’s behavior changes after you become successful.
46. Eric B & Rakim - Move The Crowd (1987)
Rakim took braggadocious rhyming to a new level by adding an intellectual veneer to it all – nobody could say “I’m the best” the way Rakim did, dismissing all competition casually and effortlessly and always without the use of profanity.
47. Biz Markie - Make The Music With Your Mouth, Biz (1986)
Another Marley Marl produced classic, this one from Biz Markie – who started out beatboxing for Roxanne Shante but soon crafted his own career – as a solo artist, as part of the Juice Crew and as close associate of longtime friend Big Daddy Kane (who soon had his own mark to make on the Hip Hop game). This song was the lead track for a 1986 EP and would also be included on Biz Markie’s 1988 full-length debut Goin’ Off.
48. Eazy E - Boyz N The Hood (1988)
49. Big Daddy Kane - Smooth Operator (1989)
One of Big Daddy Kane‘s biggest hits and best-known songs. Showcasing his ladies-man persona to the fullest and lyrically destroying the competition at the same time, “Smooth Operator” is signature Big Daddy Kane. As smooth as it gets.
50. Eric B & Rakim - My Melody (1986)
Yet another Marley Marl produced classic with Rakim spitting elite bars over a hypnotic, slow and hard-ass beat. The rhyming and wordplay here are absolutely amazing and classic if only for the ‘7 emcees’ bars, which are among the most notable in Hip Hop EVER.
51. Jazzy Jay & T La Rock – It’s Yours (1984)
52. Eric B & Rakim – Lyrics Of Fury (1988)
53. Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five – New York New York (1983)
54. Run DMC – Darryl & Joe (1985)
55. Big Daddy Kane – Ain’t No Half Steppin’ (1988)
56. Ice T – Squeeze The Trigger (1987)
57. The D.O.C. – It’s Funky Enough (1989)
58. LL Cool J – I Can’t Live Without My Radio (1985)
59. Marley Marl – The Symphony (1988)
60. Afrika Bambaataa – Planet Rock (1982)
61. Ice T – You Played Yourself (1989)
62. Special Ed – I Got It Made (1989)
63. Fearless Four – Rockin It (1982)
64. Run DMC – Beats To The Rhyme (1988)
65. Public Enemy – Night Of The Living Baseheads (1988)
66. Grandmaster Melle Mel & The Furious Five – White Lines (1983)
67. Just Ice – Cold Gettin’ Dumb (1986)
68. Gang Starr – Manifest (1989)
69. UTFO – Leader Of The Pack (1985)
70. J.V.C. Force – Strong Island (1987)
71. Queen Latifah ft Monie Love – Ladies First (1989)
72. Big Daddy Kane – Warm It Up Kane (1989)
73. Stetsasonic – Go Stetsa I (1986)
74. DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince – Brand New Funk (1988)
75. Grandmaster Melle Mel & The Furious Five – Step Off (1984)
76. Kool G Rap & DJ Polo – Road To The Riches (1989)
77. Biz Markie – Just A Friend (1989)
78. Slick Rick – Hey Young World (1988)
79. Mantronix – Bassline (1985)
80. Roxanne Shante – Bite This (1985)
81. Boogie Down Productions – You Must Learn (1989)
82. Run DMC – King Of Rock (1985)
83. De La Soul – Say No Go (1989)
84. Ultramagnetic MCs – Watch Me Now (1988)
85. Run DMC – My Adidas (1986)
86. Grandmaster Melle Mel & The Furious Five – Beat Street (1984)
87. Tuff Crew – My Part Of Town (1988)
88. Big Daddy Kane – Raw (1987 / 1988)
89. Cold Crush Brothers – Fresh, Wild, Fly & Bold (1984)
90. N.W.A – Express Yourself (1988)
91. Run DMC – It’s Like That (1983)
92. Kool Moe Dee – Go See The Doctor (1986)
93. The D.O.C. – The Formula (1989)
94. 3rd Bass – Brooklyn Queens (1989)
95. Beastie Boys – The New Style (1986)
96. Public Enemy – Bring The Noise (1987)
97. LL Cool J – Jack The Ripper (1988)
98. Treacherous Three – The New Rap Language (1980)
99. Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock – It Takes Two (1988)
100. Fat Boys – Stick Em (1984)