Aight, we about to take a deep dive into the foundation years of hip-hop, the era that started it all, and brought this genre to the forefront – the ’80s!
From the streets of the Bronx, New York to Compton, California, the 1980s was a time when the raw energy of hip-hop culture seeped into the mainstream.
Breakdancing, graffiti, and most importantly, the music, all came together to create a movement that was so much more than just a genre. It was a voice, a lifestyle, a revolution.
It was the beginning of the establishment of hip-hop as a force to be reckoned with. The rappers who emerged during this time set the blueprint for all who came after them.
So, let’s journey back in time and salute the ten best rappers of the 1980s!
10. Kool Moe Dee
Kool Moe Dee, one-third of the pioneering group, Treacherous Three, really stepped into the spotlight when he launched his solo career in the mid-’80s.
His lyrical skill and complex rhyme schemes placed him at the forefront of the rap game. He was one of the first rappers to win a Grammy, with his eponymous album featuring the hit single, “Go See the Doctor.”
Dee wasn’t just about the music, though. He famously had a longstanding feud with LL Cool J, which brought the concept of battle rap to a wider audience.
Kool Moe Dee was a game-changer, his braggadocious style, quickfire rhymes, and star persona laid the blueprint for the MCs that followed.
9. MC Lyte
MC Lyte burst onto the scene with her debut album, “Lyte as a Rock,” back in 1988.
As one of the first solo female rappers, she carved out a place for herself with her no-nonsense lyrics and ferocious delivery.
From the heartbroken vulnerability of “Paper Thin” to the socially conscious storytelling of “Cappucino,” Lyte demonstrated a range and depth that defied the era’s sexist expectations.
More than just a rapper, MC Lyte was a trailblazer, breaking down barriers in a male-dominated industry and paving the way for future generations of female MCs.
8. Slick Rick
Born in London and raised in the Bronx, Slick Rick’s distinctive style made him one of the standout artists of the ’80s.
With his eye patch, crown, and heavy English accent, he brought a unique flavor to the rap game.
His debut album, “The Great Adventures of Slick Rick,” was an instant classic, featuring the hit singles “Children’s Story” and “Teenage Love.” But Rick’s influence goes beyond his hits.
He was a master storyteller, weaving intricate narratives with a witty, often humorous touch.
His smooth flow and laid-back delivery made his tales all the more engaging, marking him as one of the greatest storytellers hip-hop has ever known.
7. Big Daddy Kane
Big Daddy Kane was one of the biggest stars of the golden age of hip-hop. As a member of the Juice Crew, he was at the center of the East Coast hip-hop scene.
But it was his solo work that really made him a legend. Kane’s 1988 debut album, “Long Live the Kane,” is considered one of the greatest rap albums of all time, featuring the classic tracks “Ain’t No Half Steppin'” and “Raw.”
With his smooth flow, rapid-fire delivery, and complex rhymes, Kane set the bar for lyrical proficiency.
He was also known for his suave persona, incorporating elements of R&B and soul into his music, which helped to broaden the appeal of hip-hop.
6. LL Cool J
LL Cool J (Ladies Love Cool James) was one of the first rappers to achieve mainstream success.
His debut album, “Radio,” released in 1985, was a commercial hit, blending hard-hitting beats with LL’s smooth delivery and charismatic personality.
From romantic ballads like “I Need Love” to aggressive bangers like “Rock The Bells,” LL showed that he could do it all. His long-running feud with Kool Moe Dee became one of the most famous rivalries in rap history, helping to cement the tradition of competitive spitting.
LL’s career has spanned over three decades, proving his enduring influence on the genre.
Salt-N-Pepa, made up of Cheryl “Salt” James, Sandra “Pepa” Denton, and Deidra “DJ Spinderella” Roper, were not only among the best rappers of the ’80s but also some of the most influential.
Their 1986 debut album “Hot, Cool & Vicious” was a major hit, blending elements of rap, R&B, and dance music.
They were masters of making catchy, danceable songs with strong messages, from safe sex in “Let’s Talk About Sex” to female empowerment in “None of Your Business.”
Salt-N-Pepa broke many barriers for female rappers and artists in hip-hop, proving that women could hold their own in a male-dominated industry.
Rakim, alongside his DJ, Eric B., transformed hip-hop with their debut album, “Paid in Full” (1987).
Rakim’s rhyming style was a revelation, using internal and multi-syllabic rhymes that were unheard of at the time.
His cool, laid-back delivery was a stark contrast to the more aggressive styles popular in the early ’80s, setting a new standard for MCs.
Rakim was also one of the first rappers to weave complex narratives into his lyrics, dealing with themes of philosophy, religion, and street life.
The influence of Rakim’s innovative style can still be heard in hip-hop today, earning him the title of the “God MC.”
Straight outta Compton, NWA (Niggaz Wit Attitudes) were the pioneers of gangsta rap.
The group, made up of Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, MC Ren, and DJ Yella, brought the reality of life in the inner city to the forefront of popular music with their 1988 album “Straight Outta Compton”.
Their controversial lyrics and hard-hitting beats were a stark departure from the party-oriented rap of the early ’80s.
NWA’s influence went beyond music, influencing the culture and sparking debates about censorship and police brutality.
Run-DMC, consisting of Joseph “Rev Run” Simmons, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, and Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell, revolutionized hip-hop in the ’80s.
Their unique blend of rock and rap, as showcased in their cover of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way,” opened the door for hip-hop’s mainstream acceptance.
Their style, from their Adidas sneakers to their black fedoras, became iconic in the hip-hop culture.
But it wasn’t just about the look or the sound.
Run-DMC were also groundbreaking in their lyrical content, addressing social issues in songs like “It’s Like That.”
1. Public Enemy
At number one, we have Public Enemy. Chuck D, Flavor Flav, and their production team, The Bomb Squad, used their platform to deliver powerful social and political messages.
Their 1988 album “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” is considered one of the greatest albums in hip-hop history, dealing with topics like institutional racism and media bias.
Chuck D’s commanding voice and Flavor Flav’s flamboyant style created a dynamic that was both compelling and thought-provoking.
Public Enemy showed that hip-hop could be a tool for social change, influencing countless artists that came after them.
From Public Enemy’s politically charged rhymes to the pioneering storytelling style of Rakim, these 80s rap artists shaped the landscape of hip-hop – they laid down the groundwork, they were the architects who sketched the first designs of what rap music could be.
As we journeyed through the best 80s rappers list, we paid tribute to the giants whose shoulders the rappers of today stand upon.
These rappers gave hip-hop a voice, an identity, a vibe that resonated with the youth across the globe.
So here’s to the trailblazing rappers of the 80s, who made hip-hop what it is today. These are the individuals that set the mic on fire and forever left their imprint on the world of hip-hop. Respect due. Peace!