Golden Age Hip Hop

Soli Evans, Chelsea Griffith, Abi Okoro, Adrianna Richardson, Darshai Hollie, Brittney Kwakye, Jada Farley-Cook


Hip Hop in the early 1980s encompassed immense amounts of disco and funk influence. Rappers like Kurtis Blow made hip hop dance music. By the mid-1980s, hip hop music was becoming popularized because of artists like Run DMC who incorporated rock music into their raps in order to appeal to different audiences. Rappers like LL Cool J began adding melodic hooks to their songs to add a “catchy” or memorable part. In 1986, Raising Hell became hip hops first top ten album. Towards the end of the 1980s, gangsta rap started to emerge from groups like N.W.A who spoke on social issues. Because of the widespread popularity and drastic change of hip hops style in the 1980s it is often credited as the decade that diversified hip hop.

The Era


80s fashion drastically differed from that of the 70s because of the newly popularized obsession over showcasing ones wealth through apparel. It started with the shoes. The popular shoe brands consisted of Fila, Puma, Reebok, TROOP, and, after Run DMC dropped “My Adidas”, Adidas emerged as well. Another popular shoe brand that started in the 80s were Jordans with his drop of the classic Jordan 1 releasing in 1985. LL Cool J popularized the Kangol bucket hat and track suit style. Although he was shut down after being sued by multiple designer fashion brands, Dapper Dan’s fashion influence was essential to the 80s. He made clothing from handbags he would cut up from designers such as Louis Vuitton, Fendi, and Gucci. The 80s was also known for their extremely expensive and bulky jewelry made by brand such as Ben Baller. 



Break dancing became popular in the early 80s in Harlem. Break dancing was very important to the 80s because it influenced an era. Other popular dances established in the 80s consist of The Wop, Kid n’ Play, The Butt, The Moonwalk, The Running Man, The Percolator, The Tootsee Roll, The Humpty, The Electric Slide,  and The Cabbage Patch.


There were many infamous rap beefs in the 80s. In the beginning of the 80s, Busy Bee and Kool Moe Dee had a freestyle rap battle. “Roxanne’s Revenge” by Roxanne Shante was geared towards U.T.F.O. “The Show Stoppa” by Salt ‘n Peppa was aimed at Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick. Kool Moe Dee put out a diss track called “How Ya Like Me Now” taking shots at LL Cool J and LL Cool J clapped back with the track “Jack the Ripper”. These were the most famous of the beefs during the 80s, but there were many more.


Several outside factors influenced hip hop in the 1980s. From public unrest to technological advancements, the music from hip hop’s “Golden Age” quickly grew and developed to be more substantial and innovative than hip hop from the 1970s.


1980s hip hop was influenced by earlier forms of music such as the blues, r&b, and jazz. Lyrically, though, what set 1980s hip hop apart from its predecessors in the decade before was that the songs’ content had somewhat matured and became more “authentic.” 1980s hip hop found inspiration in the political and social issues of the time, and artists in the genre began to speak out against the problems plaguing Americans living in urban areas, such as police brutality and drugs. In addition, 1980s hip hop was influenced by technological advancements that enabled artists to swap out turntables for sampler machines that were more affordable and efficient for producing music. Consequently, the change in the technology available for the production of music allowed for artists to try different things and become more innovative, such as can be seen with the strains of electronic music heard in some of the genre’s songs from the decade.

Early 80s

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five was a hip group originating from the South Bronx of New York City. Their use of turntables and breakbeats is what made them different from other performers as they used conscious hip hop lyrics revolving around activism and politics. After signing to Sugar Hill Records, they released a single called “Freedom” which reached #19 on the R&B charts  and then later on went on to produce a hit single “The Message” in 1982 which put them on the map for being socially conscious rappers.

The Sugarhill Gang is most known for their 1979 hit “Rapper’s Delight” which later became the first rap single to be featured on Billboard Hot 100 songs. This trio was formed by Sylvia Robinson who wanted to put together a group to make rap record, and although many of their songs did not reach as much success as Rappers Delight, they brought the rap sound from the undergound to more mainstream media and paved the way for many, if not all, of the rappers we see today.

Run DMC was a hip-hop group founded in Hollies, Queen, in 1983.  The members included Joseph Simmons, Darryl McDaniels, and Jason Mizell. They were the first hip-hop group to bring rap music to the mainstream and the most influential hip hop music. They had a signature style of wearing bowler hats, black leather jackets, black denim pants, and Adidas shoes. Run DMC hits are It’s Tricky, It’s like that, and Walk this way.

Kurtis Walker,  known as Kurtis Blow, is an early hip-hop artist during the early 80s. He is the first commercially successful rapper and is the first rapper to be signed to a major record company. His hit song “The Breaks” become the first hip-hop song to be single certified gold in 1980. Kurtis’s popularity and becoming a successful rapper have influenced and inspired other hip-hop artists during the early day of hip-hop.

Mid 80s

Salt-n-Pepa is a trio comprised of Cheryl “Salt” James, Sandra “Pepa” Denton, and Latoya Hanson, who was later replaced by DJ Spinderella. Created in 1985, Salt-n-Pepa changed the industry by showing that women could participate and be successful in the male-dominated music genre. Overcoming various challenges derived from the fact that they were women, Salt-n-Pepa opened up the genre for other female hip-hop artists that would come in the future. For instance, in 1995, they became the first women within the genre of hip hop and rap to win a Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group.

Slick Rick is considered one of hip hop’s earliest and, still to this day, one of its best storytellers. Slick Rick is credited with helping bring the “pimpster” attitude to the mainstream culture in America. Known for his gold chains, diamond rings, flashy suits, and distinctive eye-patch, he changed not only hip hop musically but also in terms of fashion. His persona of material excess and his use of explicit lyrics helped distinguish him in the industry as well as provide a blueprint for the future of hip hop and rap music.

Fat Boys

Best known in the 1980s. The members are Prince Markie Dee, Damon Wimbley (Kool Rock-Ski), and Darren Robinson (Buff Love). The Fat Boys put entertainment at the forefront of their music. The boys used their mouth to create unique and exciting noises- beatboxing- which captured audiences. However, the old fans did not like the new sound and preferred the more rigorous sound from their first album. The boys met in junior high, and formed a trio called the Disco Three. Later, they entered the Radio City Music Hall, In the Spring of 19 Later, the agent renamed the group Fat Boys. Later in the decade, they remade old rock hits such as Louie Louie, the Twist, and Wipeout. Their top hits include “The Fat Boys are Back”, “Jail House Rap”, and “Human Beat Box.” The music of Fat Boys defined the decade as listeners can’t seem to stop feeling it.

Late 80s

LL Cool J, known by the government as James Todd Smith, was born in 1968. He is one of the biggest influences in mid-late 80s new-school rap. He signed to Def Jam Records at age 16.  Some of his most popular songs are “Around the Way Girl”, “I’m Bad”, “Rock the Bells, and “Mama Said Knock You Out”. He has also been featured in a few popular movies including “Krush Groove”, “In Too Deep”, and “The Last Holiday”.

Eric B and Rakim are a hip hop group from Long Island, NY. They started out in 1986 with Eric B being the DJ and Rakim as the lyricist. Rakim was known for poetic raps, and creating a new flow in the rap game that was not solely focused around the beat but also included the claps. Some of their biggest hits include “Move The Crowd”, “I Know You Got Soul”, “Paid in Full”, and “I Ain’t No Joke”.

Starting his career in 1987, Big Daddy Kane, formally known as Antonio Hardy, is an Americam hip hop rapper and MC. He is known as one of the best MC’s and lyricists of all time, with his fast and unmatched rhyming. In 1991, he won a grammy for his collaborative track “Back on the Block”, and later went on to have Jay-Z tour with him for cameo appearances. He is still making music, having just released a single in June, 2020 about police brutality, titled ‘Enough’.

N.W.A was one of the most notorious and influential hip hop groups of all time, known greatly for their controversy. From Compton, California, joining the rap game at the conclusion of the 80s, their original members were Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and Arabian Prince, DJ Yella and MC Ren joining later. Their debut album “Straight Outta Compton” featuring the song “F*ck tha Police” caused controversy across America. The song is still popular and used as a form of protest against police brutality today.

Public Enemy is an all African-American, male group that was founded in 1982, at Adelphi University, Long Island, NY. Original members of the group included Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Terminator X and Professor Griff. Public enemy, in an unparalleled manner was able to bring radical Black ideologies to pop music in the late 80s on albums such as, “Yo! Bum Rush the Show” in 1987 and “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” in 1988, setting the tone for 90s Hip Hop. 


Sub Genre

  • New School Hip-hop is a type of subgenre that was from 1983 to 1984. It characterizes included drum machines, a little bit of rock, and had an aggressive, self-assertive style. New School hip hop is notable for remarks about rapping and social and political statement. Artist of the New School Hip Hop was RUN-DMC and LL Cool J.
  • Political Hip-hop is a type of subgenre that was developed in the early 80s. Political hip hop sends a message that challenges the political, social, and economic issues. It also spread awareness about what was going on in the black community, such as poverty, drugs, and police brutality. Policial Hip-hip songs included Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message” and Public Enemy ” Fight the power.
  • Electro-Hop is a fusion of electronic music and early hip-hop music. It used many techno elements like a Roland TL-808, drum machines, and funk. In electro-hip, usually have a deadpan manner and talk boxing vocals. Examples of Electro-Hop are Afrika Bambaataa “Planet Rock” and Whodini “Friends.”

Top 100 Hip Hop music of the 80s

1.N.W.A.-Straight Outta Compton 

2.Kool G Rap And DJ Polo-Road To The Riches

3.Treacherous Three-Feel The Heartbeat

4.Run-D.M.C.-Its Like That

5.Kurtis Blow-The Breaks

6.Ice-T-6 ‘N The Mornin

7.Boogie Down Productions-Criminal Minded

8.Doug E Fresh And Slick Rick-The Show

9.Eazy E-Boyz N The Hood

10.Slick Rick-Children´s Story

11.Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five-Message

12.Eric B And Rakim-I Ain’t No Joke

13.LL Cool J-Rock The Bells

14.Eric B And Rakim-Paid In Full

15.LL Cool J-I´m Bad

16.The D.O.C.-Its Funky Enough

17.N.W.A.-Gangsta Gangsta

18.The D.O.C.-The Formula

19.Big Daddy Kane-Ain’t No Half Steppin

20.Too Short-Don’t Stop Rappin 01

21.Too Short-Players

22.Beastie Boys-Beastie

23.Run-D.M.C.-Sucker M.C’S (Krush-Groove 1)

24.Salt-N-Pepa-Push It

25.Public Enemy-Rebel Without A Pause

26.N.W.A.-Express Yourself

27.Tone Loc-Wild Thing

28.Funky Four Plus One-That’s The Joint

29.Doug E. Fresh-La Di Da Di

30.Beastie Boys-Fight For Your Right

31.Biz Markie-Just A Friend

32.Run-D.M.C.-Walk This Way

33.Young MC-Bust A Move

34.LL Cool J-I Need Love

35.Schoolly-D P. S K ‘What Does It Mean’?

36.Beastie Boys-Paul Revere

37.Audio Two-Top Billin’

38.Boogie Down Productions-The Bridge Is Over

39.Special Ed-I Got It Made

40.Run-D.M.C.-Rock Box

41.EPMD-You Gots To Chill

42.De La Soul-Me Myself And I

43.Public Enemy-Don’t Believe The Hype

44.Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five-White Lines-Long Version

45.EPMD-So Wat Cha Sayin’

46.Public Enemy-Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos

47.Mc Shan-The Bridge

48.Newcleus-Jam On It

49.Run-D.M.C.-Peter Piper

50.Whodini-Funky Bea

51.Mc Lyte-Paper Thin

52.Eric B And Rakim-Microphone Fiend

53.Boogie Down Productions-My Philosophy

54.Ultramagnetic MCs-Ego Trippin

55.Run-D.M.C.-Its Tricky

56.Marley Marl-The Symphony

57.DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince-Parents Just Don’t Understand

58.Public Enemy-Bring The Noise

59.Eric B And Rakim-Eric B Is The President

60.Boogie Down Productions-South Bronx

61.Big Daddy Kane-Smooth Operator

62.Kurtis Blow-Christmas Rappin’

63.Eric B And Rakim-My Melody

64.Stetsasonic-Talkin’ All That Jazz

65.DJ Jazzy Jeff And The Fresh Prince-Brand New Funk

66.Treacherous Three-The New Rap Language

67.The SugarHill Gang-Rappers Delight

68.Beastie Boys-Shake Your Rump

69.Eric B And Rakim-I Know You Got Soul

70.Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five-The Megamelle Mix

71.Kool G Rap And DJ Polo-Men At Work

72.MC Lyte-I’m Not Havin It

73.N.W.A.-Panic Zone

74.Ice-T-Im Your Pusher

75.Eazy E-Eazy Duz It

76.Doug E Fresh And Slick Rick-Play This Only At Night (Will’s Mood)

77.Eric B And Rakim-Follow The Leader

78.Eric B And Rakim-Paid In Full

79.LL Cool J-I Need A Beat


81.Big Daddy Kane-Mister Cee’s Master Plan

82.Kool G Rap-She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not

83.Kool Moe Dee-The Don

84.Kurtis Blow-Basket Ball

85.The SugarHill Gang-Be A Winner

86.Boogie Down Productions-Word From Our Sponser

87.Mc Shan-Go For Yours (‘Cause I’m Gonna Get Mine)

88.Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five-Can’t Keep Runnin’ Away

89.EPMD-You Had Too Much To Drink

90.Kool Moe Dee-The Best

91.Special Ed-One In A Million (Loose Talk In The Studio)

92.MC Lyte-Cappucino

93.LL Cool J-Def Jam In The Motherland

94.MC Hammer-You’re Being Served

95.N.W.A.-Something Like That

96.Dj Jazzy Jeff And The Fresh Prince-Another Special Announcement

97.Beastie Boys-Hey Ladies

98.MC Shan-Dub Biter

99.Ice-T-What Ya Wanna Do?

100.Kool Moe Dee-Stupid

Global and Cultural Impact of 80s Rap/Hip Hop Music

80s rap music has influenced many youth to start being more critically conscious about the things happening around them such as the police brutality, targeting of black youth and the stop and frisk practices that were prominent in the 80s. For example, many rap songs produced in the 80s were about the police so the phrase “F*** the police” and “Fight the power” in a song starts conversations within the community providing that vocal outlet that has not been present for many years. It most importantly impacted America because as Black people were oppressed for so long, they finally had something and somewhere that not only belonged to them but was unregulated and soon became their way to express the injustices happening towards Black people. It also impacted the world globally since you now see artists like Skepta and Drake who are also Hip Hop/Rap artists but not from America. Although this sound began in the 80s, over the years it has made its way across borders and into the ears of like minded artists who enjoyed the sound and wanted to produce the same message .

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