1986 was the last transitional year between Hip Hop’s Old School and its Golden Age. In 1985 we saw Def Jam take over and reshape and change the direction of Hip Hop, from the disco- and electro-influenced sounds from the old days to the sparser, harder instrumentals artists like LL Cool J and Run DMC started using.
In 1986 it was Run DMC and the Beastie Boys who brought Hip Hop to the forefront of music and popular culture worldwide, a definite precursor of even bigger thing to come. For this list, we have selected 40 of 1986’s very best and most influential songs. Missing any? Hit us up in the comments!
1. Run DMC - Peter Piper
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. Perfect tag-team rhyming, perfect instrumental – perfect song.
2. Boogie Down Productions - South Bronx
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.
3. Eric B & Rakim - Eric B Is President
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.
4. Ice T - 6 N The Morning
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 a 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.
5. Beastie Boys - Paul Revere
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.
6. Ultramagnetic MCs - Ego Trippin'
7. MC Shan - The Bridge
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.
8. Biz Markie - Make The Music With Your Mouth, Biz
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.
9. Eric B & Rakim - My Melody
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.
10. Just Ice - Cold Gettin' Dumb
Just Ice’s debut album Back To The Old School is filled with memorable tracks – such as “Gangster of Hip Hop”, “Latoya”, “Put the Record Back On” and especially this one: “Cold Gettin’ Dumb”. Produced by ‘King Of The Beats’ Kurtis Mantronik, this hard-hitting, cowbell-punctuated banger is a classic song without a doubt.
11. Stetsasonic - Go Stetsa I
Often dubbed the first Hip Hop band, this six-man crew (formed in 1979 and featuring emcees Delite, Daddy-O and Frukwan, with music from DBC, Prince Paul and Wise) dropped an undisputed Hip Hop classic in 1986 with their debut album On Fire. Every track on that underrated album is great, this one arguably the best of them all.
12. Kool G Rap & DJ Polo - It's A Demo
“It’s a Demo” is Kool G Rap‘s 1986 debut single, produced by Marley Marl and recorded in his Queensbridge home studio. The beginning of the career of your favorite emcee’s favorite emcee.
13. Run DMC - My Adidas
A classic example of product endorsement in music. Commercially inspired or not, this song is a dope B-boy tribute to their preferred footwear. Classic beat, classic rhymes.
14. Kool Moe Dee - Go See The Doctor
Kool Moe Dee is one of the greatest emcees in the game, ever. He has the wordplay, a powerful voice, great delivery. He never made as big as he could have made it because on his albums he was let down by weak production. This is his biggest hit and a great song, one that got many a casual listener into Hip Hop for real.
15. Beastie Boys - The New Style
Fun, humorous, rebellious, infectious and energetic – to this day it’s a fan favorite and an album you just have to love. This track has the Beasties in top form and is one of the stand-outs, but we could have picked a number of other songs of this album just as easily.
16. Stetsasonic - My Rhyme
Just one of the bangers on Stetsasonic’s debut album. Many people rightfully honor crews like Run DMC, Public Enemy, Ultramagnetic MCs and Boogie Down Productions when it comes to groups who were instrumental in ushering in Hip Hop’s Golden Age. It would only be right if Stetsasonic was mentioned in that company as well, if only based on the quality of the On Fire album.
17. Run DMC - It's Tricky
One of the big singles (second only to the worldwide crossover smash hit “Walk This Way”) from Run DMC’s monumental Raising Hell. It was this album and these singles that ensured that for the time being Run DMC were the undisputed kings of the Hip Hop hill.
18. Sweet Tee & Jazzy Joyce - It's My Beat
Real heads will remember this track. Sweet Tee was a dope female emcee who dropped a number of strong singles in the late eighties. Jazzy Joyce was a talented DJ, who is still going strong today. Don’t sleep on Sweet Tee and Jazzy Joyce.
19. Beastie Boys - No Sleep Till Brooklyn
Even though the crossover mega-hit “Fight For Your Right To Party”, was the best-known song from their multi-platinum Licensed To Ill debut album, there were a lot of better songs on it.
“No Sleep Till Brooklyn” is one of them – a great melange of amped-up guitars and fat Hip Hop beats cooked up by the great Rick Rubin.
20. Doug E Fresh - All The Way To Heaven
A sequel of sorts to Doug E Fresh’s monumental song “The Show” from the year previous. Maybe not quite a strong as “The Show” (without Slick Rick’s input, how can it be?) – it still is an excellent Doug E Fresh cut, from the perfectly enjoyable Oh My God! album.
21. Salt N Pepa - Tramp
This song is a “No Scrubs” / “Bug-A-Boo” song before TLC and Destiny’s Child touched on the subject of male ‘tramps’. It is one of the many great songs of Hot, Cool & Vicious – which truly is a great Hip Hop album.
“Tramp” was released as a single in 1987 with “Push It” – one of Salt N Pepa’s biggest hits – as a B-side. “Push It” was not part of the original track listing of the 1986 release of Hot, Cool & Vicious. The original version of “Push It” was recorded in 1987 and added to later pressings of the album.
22. 2 Live Crew - 2 Live Is What We Are
Luke Campbell’s 2 Live Crew was a pioneering act from Miami, who gained massive popularity AND notoriety because of their vulgar sex-laced lyrics. This is one of their best songs (without their trademark obscenity and profanity!) – this is just fresh and elemental Hip Hop with dope lyrics and great turntable work.
23. DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince - Girls Are Nothing But Trouble
DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’s debut single – which ingeniously interpolates the theme song to TV Show “I Dream Of Jeannie” – immediately showcases The Fresh Prince’s talent for humorous storytelling. This was an underground / sleeper hit in 1986 and firmly set the attention on these two talented kids from Philly.
24. Beastie Boys - Hold It Now, Hit It
The first single from the Beastie Boys’ monumental debut album Licensed to Ill. Deep bass, fun lyrics, packed with samples – stylistically perhaps the best prelude to what would turn out to be their magnum opus: 1989’s masterpiece Paul’s Boutique.
25. T La Rock - Breakin' Bells
In the years before 1987, when T La Rock dropped a solid full-length album, he released a bunch of singles that turned up on everybody’s mixtapes. This is one of T La Rock fine collaborations with producer Kurtis Mantronik, as you can hear without a doubt.
26. Whodini - Funky Beat
“Funky Beat” is one of the singles and highlights of an another all-around excellent Whodini album. Whodini never really got the props other Hip Hop acts of the 80s received, which is a shame.
27. Mantronix - Who Is it?
After their classic self-titled debut album, Mantronix came back a year later with its follow-up Music Madness. Although not quite as good overall, it still contained a few bangers. “Who Is It” is one of them and one of Mantronix’ best and most recognizable songs.
28. Skinny Boys - Jock Box
Skinny Boys was a group who derived their name and (beatbox) style from the Fat Boys. Although never as famous as their bigger counterparts, arguably they had a better catalog, with three solid albums in the last half of the eighties. What they lacked in comparison with the Fat Boys were singles that hit, although this one (from their debut album Weightless) was a mixtape favorite worldwide.
29. Kool G Rap & DJ Polo - I'm Fly
Another one of the early Kool G Rap tracks (B-side to the aforementioned “It’s A Demo) on which his exceptional lyrical skills are already on full display.
30. Roxanne Shante & Biz Markie - The Def Fresh Crew
This live track is legendary if only because it shows us how Biz Markie started his career: beatboxing for Roxanne Shante. Real Hip Hop.
31. Whistle - Just Buggin' (Nothing Serious)
As early as 1986 the discussion about the difference between commercial ‘sell-out’ / pop rap and real Hip Hop was prevalent. Because of this single with massive pop appeal, Whistle was one of those acts that got quickly dismissed as a ‘fake’ act. This, and the fact they dropped a kind of weak album to go with this hit single, make them a one-hit wonder. But however you look at them – this song is fun and hard not to like.
32. Scott La Rock & The Celebrity Three - Advance
33. Salt N Pepa - I Desire
Salt N Pepa dropped a bonafide classic with Hot, Cool & Vicious. (even before the 1987 re-issue which contained “Push It”). This album is straight up Hip Hop, with many stand-out tracks like “I’ll Take Your Man”, “Chick On The Side”, “My Mic Sounds Nice” and The Doug E Fresh dis “The Show Stoppa”.
This not-so-often mentioned track is one of our favorites off the album – great lyrics (co-written by Kool G Rap) and the “Straight Outta Compton” beat before Dr Dre used it. Raw!
34. Run DMC - Raising Hell
“Walk This Way” was the monster hit from Run DMC’s 1986 masterpiece Raising Hell. The titular track of the album is OUR favorite rock-infused song of the album, though. Run and DMC in top form and the instrumental goes hard too – gotta love Raising Hell.
35. DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince - The Magnificent Jazzy Jeff
The second single released in 1986 from their 1987 album Rock The House. Another perfect example of how a DJ and MC can complement each other, in an era when the DJ was at least as important a part of the group as the MC was. And of course we all know that DJ Jazzy Jeff turned out to be one of the best DJ’s in the Hip Hop game, ever.
36. Mantronix - Scream
The second hit single from Mantronix’ second album. Timeless.
37. Beastie Boys - Rhymin' & Stealin'
This brilliant opening track to Licensed To Ill immediately packs a punch. Incorporating “I Fought the Law” by The Clash, “Sweet Leaf” by Black Sabbath and the thumping drumbeat from “When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin (which Ice T would later also use for his “Midnight” track on the Original Gangster album), it perfectly sets the tone for the Beasties’ groundbreaking debut.
38. Ice T - Dog N The Wax
Old School Ice-T, with his DJ Evil E ‘dog’n the wax’ – what’s not to love?
39. MC Shan - Beat Biter
If MC Shan unintentionally started the beef with Boogie Down Productions with “The Bridge”, this track leaves no doubt as to Shan’s intentions. On “Beat Biter” he directly addresses LL Cool J, who he accuses of stealing his beats. Whether true or false – this is a dope track, with that classic Marley Marl sound.
40. Stetsasonic - 4 Ever My Beat
“Bust That Groove”, “Just Say Stet”, “On Fire” – all tracks from Stetsasonic’s debut album that also could / should have been included in this list. We elected to close out this list with “4 Ever My Beat”, the banging opening track of On Fire. True Hip Hop!