The 1980s were the beginning of the Golden Age of Hip Hop. The culture and swagger of the 80s were just as important as the music itself.
The clothing, hairstyles, and lingo all added to making Hip Hop one of the biggest cultural phenomenons in American history. Rappers like Run DMC, LL Cool J, Rakim and many others helped Hip Hop become a global movement. The music of the 80s was just as important as the culture.
This decade saw the beginning of the dominance of East Coast Hip Hop. Artists like Run DMC, The Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Eric B & Rakim and Big Daddy Kane to name a few all helped make Hip Hop music what it is today. This decade also gave birth to the Golden Age of Hip Hop Albums with classic albums such as Paid In Full by Eric B & Rakim, Raising Hell by Run DMC and Straight Outta Compton by NWA being released during these ten years.
1980s Rap Genre
Rap in general during the 1980s was very different from previous decades. Artists were generally looser than they had been before when it came to their rhymes and flow.
Rappers in the 70s were much more serious and didn’t rely on making funny rhymes or making songs that were just for fun but instead focused on more serious issues such as social injustice and politics which is why some people say that it’s hard listening to old school records knowing what we know today about some of the artists and their politics.
The 1980s also saw Hip Hop break out into the mainstream in a way that it hadn’t before. This is why this decade has been called the Golden Age of Hip Hop. Artists such as Run DMC, The Beastie Boys, LL Cool J and others were able to reach a wider audience than they had before.
70s Rappers vs 80s Rappers
As mentioned before there were many differences between rappers in the 70s and 80s such as subject matter, flow, vibe, etc. but there were also some similarities as well such as lyrics being political or social commentary in nature (although they weren’t always directly about that).
Another similarity between the 70s and 80s rappers was their style which is probably where the biggest difference lies between these two decades. Going back to the subject of rhymes and flow, when you compare songs from artists like Rakim or Big Daddy Kane to songs from Sugarhill Gang or Kurtis Blow it’s very obvious on how much more relaxed this decade was when it came to rap music.
The 80s was a decade where rappers could dress however they wanted to without being judged but also had enough swagger to be taken seriously at the same time. This is why it’s been called the Golden Age of Hip Hop. If you think about it, artists like Run DMC and The Beastie Boys dressed very differently from each other but were both respected by their peers.
It was only until later on in the decade that rappers started getting a lot more serious with their music which is probably why Hip Hop started losing popularity during the latter half of the 80s which is probably why there’s been some debate on whether or not the 80s are considered a part of Hip Hop’s Golden Age.
Just because there were less serious lyrics in this decade doesn’t mean that there weren’t any important or socially conscious songs released during this time as well such as “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five, “Fight The Power” by Public Enemy and “Check It Out Y’all” by MC Lyte.
Here are the most popular rappers in the 1980s:
When you mention the 1980s and Hip Hop, most people will probably immediately think of Kurtis Blow due to him being the first rapper to reach mainstream success. He was also the first rapper to release an album that was number one on Billboard’s R&B Albums Chart. His popularity led him to have confrontations with other rappers such as The Sugarhill Gang which led to his song “The Breaks” which was a response to “Rapper’s Delight”.
MC Hammer is without a doubt best known for his hit single “U Can’t Touch This” but he also made some pretty good music during the 80s. He released his debut album Feel My Power in 1987 and it went double-platinum later that year. His follow-up albums went gold and platinum as well. MC Hammer is one of only a few rappers who had huge popularity during the 80s but still managed to make it into the 21st century as well.
Ice-T is another artist who is still relevant today even though most of his popularity during the 1980s has been overshadowed by his work with Body Count and Law & Order: SVU. The self-proclaimed “Godfather of Gangsta Rap” released his album Rhyme Pays in 1987, a few years before NWA’s Straight Outta Compton. He was a pretty popular rapper during the 80s but he wasn’t nearly as popular as some of the other rappers who made this list.
MC Lyte is another rapper who was overlooked back in the 80s. She is one of the few female rappers to make it to mainstream success during that era which has given her a lot more respect than she probably ever would have had if she didn’t have any success at all during that time. She released her first album called Lyte As A Rock in 1988 and from there her popularity started growing because of singles like “Paper Thin”, “Cha Cha Cha” and “Cappucino”. She would later go on to release two more albums in the 90s.
LL Cool J
LL Cool J is one of the greatest rappers in Hip Hop History but he wasn’t widely recognized as an MC until his debut album Radio came out in 1985. He did have a couple of successful collaboration albums with Kool Moe Dee and The Fat Boys under his belt by then but it wasn’t until he released his solo debut album that he gained mainstream popularity. He is regarded as one of the greatest rappers ever and was a part of the Def Jam roster along with artists such as Public Enemy, Run DMC and The Beastie Boys.