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20 Classic 80s Rap Anthems

Photograph of the blog post author, Sebastian Wolf

Sebastian Wolf


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Classic 80s Rap Anthems

The 1980s marked a pivotal era in the evolution of rap music, transforming it from an underground phenomenon to a mainstream staple. From the social commentary of Grandmaster Flash to the infectious rhymes of Run-D.M.C., rap music not only shaped the soundscape of the 80s but also laid the foundation for the future of hip-hop

In this article, we’ll take you on a nostalgic journey through the decade with a look back at 20 classic 80s rap anthems. We’ll trace the vibrant, pulsating beats that echoed through city streets and the profound lyrics that gave voice to a generation. So, prepare to immerse yourself in a time when rap was raw, unfiltered, and teeming with cultural significance as we explore the tracks that made history and defined the golden age of hip-hop.

What Is Rap Music?

What Is Rap Music

Rap music, also known as hip-hop, is a dynamic genre that originated in African American and Latino communities in the Bronx, New York, in the 1970s. It’s characterised by its unique blend of rhythmic beats, often created through DJing and beatboxing, and spoken-word poetry, known as rapping. 

The content of rap lyrics is diverse, ranging from personal experiences and social commentary to storytelling and party anthems. Rap music serves as a powerful platform for expressing cultural, political, and social issues, often voicing the struggles and experiences of marginalised communities. 

Over the decades, it has evolved and branched into various sub-genres, including gangsta rap, conscious rap, and trap, each carrying its own distinct style and thematic focus. Despite its evolution, the core essence of rap – its rhythmic intensity, lyrical complexity, and cultural resonance – remains intact, making it a vital and influential part of global music culture.

The Evolution of 80s Rap Music

Hip-Hop Characteristics

In the 1980s, rap music underwent a profound transformation, shaping the genre into a cultural phenomenon that continues to influence today’s music scene. The decade witnessed the birth of a new, vibrant form of expression as rap moved from the fringes into mainstream consciousness. 

The 80s marked the era of what we now call “old school” rap, characterised by its simplistic raps and beats. Artists like Run-D.M.C. and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five pioneered this movement, introducing innovative storytelling techniques and social commentary that lent depth to the genre. The emergence of labels like Def Jam Recordings further propelled rap’s popularity, providing platforms for artists to reach a wider audience. 

Additionally, the 80s saw the advent of sub-genres such as gangsta rap, with groups like N.W.A. offering raw, unfiltered narratives about urban life. This period’s rap anthems, with their catchy hooks and groundbreaking lyrics, not only revolutionised the music industry but also played a significant role in shaping societal discourse. The 1980s, thus, is often celebrated as the “Golden Age” of rap, laying the foundation for the genre’s future evolution.

20 Classic 80s Rap Anthems

The 1980s was a vital decade in the development of rap music. Tracks from this era introduced innovative beats, thought-provoking lyrics, and a unique style that still resonates today. From socially charged narratives to party-starting hits, here’s a look at the 20 best 80s rap anthems that encapsulate the spirit of this influential decade and continue to inspire generations of artists and fans alike.

The Sugarhill Gang – “Rapper’s Delight”

“Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang is a seminal track in the history of rap music. It’s credited as the first rap single to crack the Top 40, introducing a wider audience to hip-hop. The song’s infectious beat, innovative use of sampling, and playful, storytelling lyrics set the template for future rap hits. Its cultural impact extends beyond the genre, influencing pop culture and music globally. 

“Rapper’s Delight” is a timeless classic that continues to resonate, epitomising the spirit and creativity of early hip-hop.

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five – “The Message”

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s 1982 release, “The Message”, was a groundbreaking track in the development of rap. It’s celebrated for its profound social commentary, contrasting sharply with the party anthems prevalent at the time. The song’s poignant lyrics offer a raw depiction of inner-city life, marking a shift towards more narrative-driven and conscious rap. Its innovative use of electronic sounds and beats also helped shape the future of hip-hop production. “The Message” is a vital rap landmark, reflecting the transformative power of music and its potential to give voice to societal struggles.

Public Enemy – “Fight the Power”

Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power”, released in 1989, is a potent anthem that encapsulates the socio-political consciousness of hip-hop in the late 80s. The song’s powerful lyrics and aggressive beats were a rallying cry against societal and racial injustices, embodying the spirit of resistance. Its innovative sound, characterised by hard-hitting samples and layered production, played a significant role in defining the golden age of hip-hop. 

“Fight the Power” remains a cultural touchstone, epitomising the capacity of rap music to challenge authority and inspire social change.

Eric B. & Rakim – “Paid in Full”

Released in 1987, “Paid in Full” by Eric B. & Rakim is a groundbreaking track that revolutionised hip-hop with its innovative lyrical style and production. Rakim’s complex, introspective lyrics and smooth delivery, combined with Eric B.’s sampling of diverse music genres, brought a new level of sophistication to rap. The song’s theme of aspiration and progress resonated with many, making it a cultural icon. 

“Paid in Full” significantly influenced the evolution of hip-hop, demonstrating the genre’s potential for depth and intellectualism, and it continues to be celebrated as a pivotal work in the rap canon.

Run-D.M.C feat. Aerosmith – “Walk This Way” – Best 80s Rap Rock

“Walk This Way” by Run-D.M.C. and Aerosmith, released in 1986, is a landmark collaboration that bridged the gap between rock and hip-hop. The song, a cover of Aerosmith’s 1975 hit, fused Steven Tyler’s rock vocals and Joe Perry’s guitar riffs with Run-D.M.C.’s rap verses. This innovative blend of genres broke down musical barriers, bringing hip-hop into the mainstream and revitalising Aerosmith’s career. 

“Walk This Way” is widely recognised as a pivotal moment in music history, illustrating the potential for cross-genre collaborations and laying the groundwork for the future of rap-rock and nu metal.

Salt-N-Pepa – “Push It”

“Push It” by Salt-N-Pepa is an iconic 1987 hip-hop track that helped to redefine the genre. The song, with its catchy synth-driven beat and empowering lyrics, brought female voices to the forefront of a male-dominated industry. Salt-N-Pepa’s confident and dynamic performance in “Push It” broke down barriers, proving that women could succeed in hip-hop. 

The song became a global hit, reaching the top of the charts worldwide and earning a Grammy nomination. Today, “Push It” is remembered as a pioneering track that paved the way for future generations of female rappers.

N.W.A – “Straight Outta Compton”

“Straight Outta Compton” by N.W.A is a seminal track in the history of hip-hop. The song’s raw lyrics and aggressive beats reflected the harsh realities of life in urban America, particularly in the group’s hometown of Compton, California. N.W.A’s candid portrayal of their experiences with poverty, violence, and police brutality brought the genre of gangsta rap into the mainstream. Despite sparking controversy at the time, “Straight Outta Compton” was a commercial success and is now a landmark in music history for its social commentary and influence on future hip-hop artists.

Beastie Boys – “Fight For Your Right” – Punk-Influenced 80s Rap

“Fight For Your Right” is an iconic song by the Beastie Boys, released in 1986 on their debut album “Licensed to Ill”. Originally intended as a parody of party and rebellion anthems, the song ironically became a mainstream hit, embodying the very culture it sought to mock. The Beastie Boys’ punk-infused rap style, combined with the song’s catchy chorus and rebellious lyrics, resonated with a generation of young listeners. 

Despite the band’s later disowning of the song due to its misinterpretation, “Fight For Your Right” remains a significant track in the history of hip-hop and popular music.

Eric B. & Rakim – “Eric B. Is President”

“Eric B. Is President” was the groundbreaking 1986 debut single from Eric B. & Rakim. The song revolutionised hip-hop with Rakim’s complex lyricism and Eric B.’s innovative DJing. Rakim’s smooth, metaphor-laden flow and introspective lyrics marked a departure from the simpler, more direct rhymes of early hip-hop. Meanwhile, Eric B.’s use of James Brown samples set a new standard for beats. 

Although not a commercial hit, “Eric B. Is President” was highly influential. It helped to usher in the golden age of hip-hop, solidifying Eric B. & Rakim’s status as hip-hop pioneers.

Slick Rick – “Children’s Story”

“Children’s Story” is an iconic track by British-American rapper Slick Rick, featuring on his 1988 debut album, “The Great Adventures of Slick Rick”. The song is a narrative masterpiece. It tells a cautionary tale of crime and its consequences through engaging storytelling and memorable characters. Slick Rick’s distinctive voice and vivid, cinematic lyrics create a compelling narrative rarely seen in hip-hop at the time. 

Despite its serious message, the song is delivered with a catchy, upbeat rhythm, making it a classic of the genre. “Children’s Story” solidified Slick Rick’s reputation as a master storyteller and a hip-hop legend.

LL Cool J – “Rock The Bells”

“Rock The Bells”, a groundbreaking track by LL Cool J, was released in 1985 on his debut album, “Radio”. The song, which emphasises hard-hitting beats and LL Cool J’s energetic rap style, was a hip-hop game-changer. It showcased the rapper’s lyrical prowess and unique flow, setting new standards for the genre. Moreover, the song’s innovative use of synthesised bells was a departure from the traditional funk and soul samples common in early hip-hop. 

“Rock The Bells” cemented LL Cool J’s status as a hip-hop icon and paved the way for the genre’s evolution.

Afrika Bambaataa – “Planet Rock”

The 1982 track “Planet Rock” by Afrika Bambaataa was a pioneering release in the hip-hop genre. The song is famous for its innovative use of the Roland TR-808 drum machine and its fusion of electronic music with hip-hop. Its unique sound would influence the development of the electro, breakbeat, and techno genres. Bambaataa’s lyrics encourage unity and fun, reflecting the positive, community-focused ethos of the early hip-hop movement. 

“Planet Rock” is a landmark in music history, showcasing the potential of electronic instruments in creating new musical styles and transforming the landscape of popular music.

Run-D.M.C – “It’s Like That”

“It’s Like That” by Run-D.M.C., released in 1983, is a seminal track in the history of hip-hop. The song is known for its social commentary, addressing issues like poverty, inequality, and the struggles of daily life. It represented a departure from the party-focused themes prevalent in early hip-hop. The track’s stripped-down beats and heavy use of scratching techniques exemplify the raw, streetwise sound that would become Run-D.M.C.’s signature. 

The song’s innovative blend of rap and rock elements helped broaden hip-hop’s audience and influence, making “It’s Like That” a pivotal moment in the genre’s evolution.

Big Daddy Kane – “Set It Off”

“Set It Off” by Big Daddy Kane was a landmark track in the golden age of hip-hop. Kane’s rapid-fire, smooth lyrical delivery and intricate rhymes set a new standard for MCs, showcasing his prowess as a lyricist. The song’s pulsating beat, driven by James Brown samples, creates an energetic backdrop for Kane’s commanding flow. 

“Set It Off” is not just a display of Kane’s technical skills. It’s also a reflection of his confident, charismatic persona. This track is considered a classic of hip-hop, cementing Big Daddy Kane’s place in the genre’s history.

Ice T – “6 ‘N the Morning” – Best 80s Gangsta Rap

Ice T’s “6 ‘N the Morning”, released in 1986, is a pioneering track in the gangsta rap subgenre. The song narrates a day in the life of a criminal, blending gritty street narratives with Ice T’s distinctive West Coast flow. Its storytelling style and explicit content were groundbreaking, influencing a generation of rappers. The minimalist beat, featuring a simple drum loop and bassline, puts the emphasis on Ice T’s vivid lyricism. 

“6 ‘N the Morning” marked a significant shift towards more realistic and socially conscious themes in the music.

Funky 4 Plus 1 – “That’s the Joint” – Best Early 80s Rap Music

Funky 4 Plus 1’s “That’s the Joint” is a foundational piece in the history of hip-hop, released in 1980. Known for their groundbreaking inclusion of a female MC, Sha Rock, the group pushed boundaries with this track. The song’s infectious rhythm, catchy hooks, and innovative use of turntablism set a new standard for the genre. Though light-hearted and fun, the lyrics showcased the group’s lyrical prowess and ability to engage listeners. 

“That’s the Joint” is a testament to the early days of hip-hop. It reflects the genre’s roots in party culture while hinting at its future potential for social commentary.

MC Lyte – “Cha Cha Cha”

MC Lyte’s “Cha Cha Cha”, released in 1989, is a milestone in the history of female rap. Known for her sharp delivery and clever wordplay, Lyte defied gender norms in the male-dominated world of hip-hop. The song’s hard-hitting beats and Lyte’s confident, assertive lyrics made it a classic. With lines like “I’m the dopest female that you’ve heard thus far”, she asserted her place in the rap pantheon. 

“Cha Cha Cha” solidified MC Lyte’s status as a pioneering female MC. More significantly, it served as an inspiration for future generations of women in hip-hop.

Public Enemy – “Rebel Without a Pause”

“Rebel Without a Pause” is a seminal track in the evolution of hip-hop. The song is famous for its innovative production. It features a relentless, high-pitched siren sample and dense layers of sound that created an intense, chaotic backdrop for the group’s politically charged lyrics. Chuck D’s powerful delivery and the song’s provocative message challenged the status quo, making it a rallying cry for social change. 

“Rebel Without a Pause” remains an iconic track in Public Enemy’s discography. Furthermore, it was a defining moment in the golden age of hip-hop.

Stetsasonic – “Talkin’ All That Jazz”

“Talkin’ All That Jazz” by Stetsasonic is a powerful defence of the use of sampling in hip-hop music. The song was a response to critics who viewed sampling as unoriginal or theft. With its infectious rhythm and poignant lyrics, Stetsasonic argued that sampling is a form of musical evolution, connecting different generations and genres. 

The track itself features a sample from Lonnie Liston Smith, showcasing the creative potential of the technique. “Talkin’ All That Jazz” remains a significant contribution to the discourse on musical originality and the artistic value of hip-hop.

Boogie Down Productions – “My Philosophy”

“My Philosophy” by Boogie Down Productions, led by KRS-One, is a landmark song in hip-hop history. Released in 1988, the track stands out for its insightful lyrics and thought-provoking social commentary. KRS-One uses the song as a platform to question the state of hip-hop, discuss racial issues, and advocate for social change. The song’s production, featuring a blend of jazz, funk, and soul samples, complements its powerful message. 

“My Philosophy” is a pioneering example of conscious rap, highlighting the potential of hip-hop as a medium for social and political discourse.

Impact of the Best 80s Rap Anthems

80s Rap Music Impact

The 1980s brought forth a wave of innovation and cultural expression that not only reshaped the music industry but also had profound societal impacts. The 80s rap scene was a platform for artists to voice their experiences, struggles, and aspirations, often reflecting the socio-political realities of the time. It challenged existing norms, broke down racial barriers, and offered a new perspective on urban life. The powerful narratives and rhythmic beats of 80s rap anthems transcended borders and generations. As a result, they have influenced music, fashion, language, and attitudes globally. 

The impact of 80s rap is undeniable. It laid the groundwork for the diverse and dynamic world of hip-hop we know today. Moreover, its anthems remain timeless classics, celebrated for their lyrical prowess and cultural significance.

Final Thoughts on the 20 Best 80s Rap Anthems

The 1980s was a pivotal era for rap music, birthing anthems that would forever shape the genre’s trajectory. These top 20 rap anthems defined the decade and left a lasting imprint on the cultural and musical landscape. Artists like Run DMC and Public Enemy used lyrical prowess to address societal issues, resonating with audiences globally. Their music continues to inspire and influence current artists, demonstrating the timeless appeal of 80s rap. 

Revisiting these anthems, we’re reminded of the raw passion, creativity, and ingenuity that characterised this golden age of rap. Their power and legacy underscore the profound impact of 80s rap, making it an era worth celebrating and remembering.


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