Essential 80s Rap Music
The golden age of hip-hop, many argue, was the early years, before California brought the gangsta sound into full effect. Born out of the block party sound of the Boogie Down Bronx, rap music originated as a disco offshoot where bored disk jockeys would freestyle nonsense rhymes over dancefloor killers, riling up the crowd with local color and fancy wordplay. When the Sugarhill Gang released “Rapper’s Delight” in 1979, swiping lyrics from other New York MCs and laying them over a breakdown from “Good Times” by Chic, the hip-hop record industry was born. What follows is a selection of the essential moments in 80s rap music.
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Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five – The Message. One of the definitive tracks in the entire world of 80s rap music was this socially conscious groove by MC Melle Mel – even though Flash and the other members of the Five are credited on the vinyl, they don’t actually appear on the recording. Over an unforgettable twinkling keyboard line by session musician Ed “Duke Bootee” Fletcher , Mel delivered socially conscious, earthy lyrics about life in the ghetto. Honorable message has to go to Melle Mel’s 1984 “White Lines (Don’t Do It),” an anti-cocaine ballad over a crackling sample from NYC art-funk band Liquid Liquid.
Run-D.M.C. – Walk This Way. After the initial rap boom of the early 80s, most music writers thought the genre would die a quick and unmourned death, just another fad that bubbled up from the inner city, sold some albums, and vanished into the ether. But the story of 80s rap music wasn’t over, and three leather-clad fellows from Queens would bring it back with a vengeance. Run-D.M.C. would release several albums in the decade, but it was 1986’s “Raising Hell” that would prove that hip-hop was here to stay. Featuring the genre-busting “Walk This Way,” which showed old-school rockers Aerosmith and the Hollis-born rappers collaborating, the album would go triple platinum and make bonafide stars of Run-D.M.C, as well as revitalizing Aerosmith’s careers.
Public Enemy – Bring The Noise. It’s hard to remember when Flavor Flav wasn’t a reality show clown but rather half of the hottest MC duo in the world, but in the 1980s Public Enemy was a game-changer – excoriating, heavily political lyrics backed up by the flawless production of the Bomb Squad. This cut, from the 1989 album “It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back,” was somewhat of a manifesto for PE, using the classic James Brown “Funky Drummer” breakbeat to propel Chuck D’s astoundingly complex wordplay at a million miles a minute. The end of the decade brought one of the most important 80s hip hop music songs ever recorded, and just a few years later nothing would be the same.