The best hip hop songs of the 80’s were quite different than what we know as rap and hip hop today; there was no auto tune, and many of the best hip hop songs of the era actually weren’t about the money and the honeys. So throw on your best tracksuit and take a trip down memory lane with a mix tape of some of the best hip hop songs of the 80’s here:
‘Rapper’s Delight’ by The Sugarhill Gang – Okay, so technically this isn’t one of the best hip hop songs on this list that was released in the 80’s, but since it is such a big part of the birth of the music genre, I’ve got to put it here. It’s almost surreal to see the people in platform shoes disco dancing to one of hip hop’s first big hits, but with Saturday Night Fever dying down in 1979, this funky freestyle tune with an addictive bass beat was the new sound the people needed to keep them on their feet. It might be one of the longest of the best hip hop songs of the 80’s on this list, but somehow it’s hard to get tired of hearing it.
‘The Message’ by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five – But while one of the first of the best hip hop songs to take the 80’s by storm was full of lighthearted lyrics, Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five decided to delve a little deeper into the pain of life on the streets with 1982’s ‘The Message’. It’s a slower tune with a little synthesizer, but this song isn’t about the music; it’s all about the message contained in the song’s lyrics. It’s one of the best when it comes to capturing the frustration and heartbreak of living in the ghetto, a unique form of poetry with amazing imagery (including a graphic description of what happens to many of the smugglers, burglars, pickpockets, and panhandlers when they get caught). It may be one of the more heartbreaking hip hop songs of the 80’s, but it’s also one of the most honest, and it’s ability to move you makes it one of the best.
‘Planet Rock’ by Afrika Bambaataa & The Soulsonic Force – This is another of the best hip hop songs of the 80’s hailing from the year 1982, but but it is quite a different beat from the one above. The obvious precursor to genres like techno and house definitely sounds like it’s from another planet, with otherworldly synthesizer sounds (including some robotic singing). It’s hypnotic and chaotic, and it makes this list of the best 80’s hip hop songs for being a successful experiment in music.
‘Walk This Way’ by Run-D.M.C. and Aerosmith – Of course you can’t have a list of the best hip hop songs of the 80’s without this one. In what is one of the most ingenuous musical collaborations of all time, Run-D.M.C. took an Aerosmith song from the 1970’s and ran with it in 1986 (I’m sure that was hard to do in their unlaced sneakers). Of course the hip hop crew had a little help from the band behind the original, the result of which was a perfect meshing of rock and hip hop. And if the mixture of rapping and scratching with electric guitar isn’t enough for you, just check out the amazing music video where the long-haired rock band meets the Adidas-adorned rappers. Plus the hit’s power to bring together fans of two very different types of music definitely makes it one of the best hip hop (and rock) songs of the 80’s.
‘Fight For Your Right’ by Beastie Boys – I know the Beastie Boys ended up hating it, but if you look at one of the best hip hop songs of the 80’s as it’s meant to be seen (a little ditty that delights in poking fun at the frat boys that take its lyrics seriously), you can’t help but smile and sing along to another of the hip hop songs of the 80’s that helped the genre cross over into mainstream popularity. The 1986 tune about living to party was supposed to be a parody, but the fact that it’s silly lyrics about lollygagging around went over everyone’s heads is just further proof that it’s one of the best hip hop songs of the 80’s.
‘Pump Up The Volume’ by M/A/R/R/S – This is another of the best hip hop songs of the 80’s with an experimental sound, and one of the musical mashups that would help popularize sampling from other songs. The 1987 dance tune contained samples from over a dozen different songs, and even includes a Wolfman Jack quip at the beginning (that’s enough to make it one of the best hip hop songs of the 80’s in my book).
‘Push It’ by Salt-N-Pepa – What would this list of the best hip hop songs of the 80’s be without the first ladies of the genre? In 1987, Salt-N-Pepa set the stage for many sexy hip hop songs to follow with some very naughty lyrics about getting down and dirty on the dance floor. With their over-the-top style and sex appeal, these lovely ladies spiced up a male-dominated genre and proved that female rappers were going to push it and not let themselves get pushed around.
‘Straight Outta Compton’ by N.W.A. – And now for something completely different. This hard-hitting, hardcore rap hit from 1988 is one of the best hip hop songs of the 80’s for the way it shocked and rocked the world upon its release. The song takes no prisoners from the beginning, assaulting your ears with language that would make a sailor blush and references to guns and bodies being hauled off. Sure it was controversial at the time, but this powerful ode to living on the streets has since become, without a doubt, one of the best rap songs of all time (hard to believe Ice Cube is doing family films now).
‘Fight the Power’ by Public Enemy – The end of the 80’s saw another of the best hip hop songs of the decade with a message about life on the streets. This 1989 joint featured in the film ‘Do the Right Thing’ contains a political message about standing up to racism (the John Wayne and Elvis lines are great), and was a defiant call to action for a young generation feeling persecuted and frustrated. But the message doesn’t just make this one of the best rap songs of the 80’s; the audio behind the activism is also amazing.
‘Bust a Move’ by Young M.C. – And I think I’ll end this list of the best hip hop songs of the 80’s on a more lighthearted note with this tune from1989. ‘Bust a Move’ is just so much fun to listen to and to try and “bust a move” to (which might be why it’s so popular at weddings). The song manages to take us through a few vignettes portraying the perfect times to bust moves (at a party, high class luncheon, at the movies, and, of course, at a wedding), and I could seriously listen to Young M.C. tell stories all day long (there’s just something soothing and hypnotic about his voice). And here’s an interesting tidbit of trivia: Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers makes an appearance in the song playing bass guitar.
So from the hip hop songs of the 80’s that make us happy to music with a message and the best surreal sounds of the decade, the era was an amazing mix of some of the best beats to ever be blasted from a boom box. So get in the 80’s groove, and don’t just stand there; bust a move.