If you loved the 1980s, and have a passion for rap music, then you no doubt have a deep love for 80s rap songs. So in this article, we’re going to provide you with our list of the best songs that were born out of the 1980s rap scene. Hopefully, you’ll love these songs just as much as we do.
The Best 80s Rap Songs You’ll Love
Let’s begin with a Kurtis Blow track.
The Breaks by Kurits Blow (1980)
While the mid to late 80’s may be the golden age of hip-hop, this memorable era had to start somewhere.
In 1980, Kurtis Blow artfully crafted a humorous reflection of reality in his 80’s rap hit, The Breaks. Kurtis Blow alternates rapping about literal breaks, or brakes, and difficult situations that many people face that he names “the breaks.”
The references to “yesterday you lost your job,” and “breaks to make your wallet lean” point out the struggles that people, often in low income neighborhoods, have to deal with regularly.
Kurtis makes sure to point out that “some folks got ‘em and some have not” as a nod to “the breaks” disproportionately affecting minority communities.
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The Message by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (1982)
Two years later, one of the original hip-hop groups put together a rap song specifically addressing several issues that Kurtis Blow would have called “the breaks.”
This social commentary, of black Americans being treated as second-class citizens, has transcended the 80’s, and much of what the early MCs were rapping about still plagues society today.
Each verse of this 5-verse rap song is raw and artistically created. The song has a chorus with lines like “don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge,” being both literal and figurative, adding to the rawness and art of the verses.
The outro of the song, originally created over 30 years ago, puts in stark comparison the police brutality occurring then and now. This song has become so powerful that the Rolling Stones named it the greatest hip-hop song of all time.
Rock the Bells by LL Cool J (1985)
Taking a different route than the previous songs on the list, LL Cool J dives more into the rhyme scheme and art of rap itself rather than social issues surrounding hip-hop culture.
Every section of the song ends with the phrase “Rock the bells,” a phrase that has become synonymous with old school hip-hop and rap music.
LL Cool J uses this song to express his excellence in the rap game, with lyrics like “Just starvin’ like Marvin for a Cool J song” and “My voice is your choice as the hottest wax.” The confidence exuding from his debut album is encapsulated in Rock the Bells.
Tramp by Salt-n-Pepa (1986)
Leave hip-hop to the men? Not in this house! Salt-N-Pepa, an all female hip-hop group formed in 1985, made a strong statement with their 1986 hit, Tramp.
Turning misogyny on its head, Salt-N-Pepa rap to their “homegirls” to warn them about interactions with catcalling men. The song is set up with verses in between, which are various cuts to pick-up lines men use to get women—all used as evidence that men are tramps.
“Tramp” is the last word of the song to drive the point home. The lyrics are often syncopated over a traditional four-beat track, giving the song even more of a flair.
6 ‘n the Mornin’ by Ice-T (1987)
6 ‘n the Mornin’ is an incredible 10-verse song that makes a strong social commentary on gangster life. Ice-T essentially gave rise to this form of rap music that allowed rappers to speak about the violence they witnessed and even experienced in the streets.
It created a platform to give insight to the daily life that young men involved in criminal circles experienced, with lines like “Pigs searched our car, their day was made / Found an Uzi, .44 and a hand grenade” and “Swat-team leader yelled, ‘hit the floor’ / Reached in my pocket, pulled my .44.”
Each of the 10 verses follows the same rhyming pattern, with every two lines rhyming at the end and the song is bookended by references to 6 in the morning, nodding to the song’s title.
The song ends in a shoot-out, something occurring often in these types of circles, the last line, “we didn’t wake up to ask,” having double meaning.
Fight the Power by Public Enemy (1988)
As part of what one might call the golden year of the golden age, this 1988 masterpiece, Fight the Power, took on much more meaning than just a rap song.
This song was brought to life through hip-hop culture and Spike Lee’s movie Do the Right Thing. With lyrics like, “Our freedom of speech is freedom of death / we’ve got to fight the powers that be” and “It’s a start, a work of art / to revolutionize, make a change, nothin’s strange,” Fight the Power gives strength to the fight for rights in an unjust world.
The real-life examples that mirror the fictional 1989 brutal murder of Radio Raheem by white police, such as George Floyd and Eric Garner, show that present day has not learned from the past.
Fight the Power remains a sentiment ingrained in the appeal for justice for the black community in the United States of America.
Ain’t No Half-Steppin’ by Big Daddy Kane (1988)
Like LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane had no fear of expressing how amazing he was at rapping on his debut album. Lyrics such as “Now that’s dictation, proceedin’ to my innovation / Not like the other MC’s that are an imitation,” show off his ability as a rapper to create sounds and rhymes that flow over the beat.
On top of that, phrases like “The name is Big Daddy, you know, as in your father / So when you hear a def rhyme, believe that I’m the author” amplify Big Daddy Kane’s sense of self and confidence in his rapping.
Closing with “And mold him and make him hold up the peace sign / As-salamu alaykum,” Big Daddy Kane shows his versatility and ability to add culture to rap.
This debut single, Ain’t No Half-Steppin’, is proof of the talent and influence Big Daddy Kane brought to the golden year of of hip-hop.
Straight Outta Compton by NWA (1988)
Straight Outta Compton by NWA is a standard of gangsta rap. This 3-verse classic gives Ice Cube, MC Ren, and Easy E each a chance to shine, each given their own verse with its own musical feeling.
In between each verse is a short DJ cut with plenty of record scratch sounds to go around. Each verse also begins and ends with the phrase “Straight Outta Compton.” This song is one of the most ingenious renditions of its form of hip-hop, and has become a symbol of gangsta rap everywhere, especially after the 2015 movie Straight Outta Compton was released. Even Kendrick Lamar references this track on his Pulitzer Prize winning album.
Children’s Story by Slick Rick (1988)
This cautionary tale by Slick Rick is a classic cop and robbers’ tale of a 17-year-old boy caught up and addicted to a life of crime. This rap song has no chorus and maintains what seems like one singular 3-minute verse.
Beginning with “once upon a time not long ago,” it begins like a typical children’s story talking about pajamas and “laws were stern and justice stood.”
That is not, however, like the rest of the story.
As Children’s Story progresses, it becomes more and more intense with new characters and concepts being added. Written as an extended police chase of the main character, the rap song goes on to mention Dave, the dope fiend, a car chase and subsequent crash, and the main character holding a gun to a pregnant woman’s head before getting shot by the police.
One of the most harrowing lines written into the song is “the cops shot the kid, I still hear him scream,” followed by Slick Rick saying it’s a story about “the wrong path.” This wrong path, and the story itself, is a nod to the life of crime referenced by other rap songs on this list.
Microphone Fiend by Eric B. and Rakim (1988)
As the last song of the golden year of the golden age of rap, Microphone Fiend is one of the greatest rap songs to hit the records in 1988. Combining the rap excellence like Big Daddy Kane and LL Cool J with the social awareness of Grandmaster Flash and Public Enemy, Rakim raps another extended verse with no chorus that shows lyrical agility and exudes confidence.
The incredible use of rhyme and metaphor make this rap song stand out. Lyrics like, “so then I add all the rhymes I had,” and “I wrote the rhyme that broke the bull’s back,” and “Doesn’t it sound amazon’ ‘cause every rhyme is made and thought of” display an accurate perception of Rakim’s artful rhyme scheme throughout the song.
On the other hand, lyrics such as “Craving like a fiend for nicotine / but I don’t need a cigarette, know what I mean?,” “When I’m fiending for a microphone, I’m the microphone fiend,” and “feed me hip hop and I start tremblin,” are a metaphor for the drug crisis and the 80’s war on drugs (all while also showing how passionate Rakim is about hip-hop).
Microphone Fiend is one of the best rap songs of the best year of hip-hop.
The 80’s contained the best of the best in the world of hip-hop. As the mid to late 1980’s, particularly 1988, became part of the golden age of hip-hop, the music kept getting better and better.
With five our our top ten 80’s rap songs released in 1988, it takes the cake as the best year of rap in the 80’s (and perhaps any decade since).
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