An Introduction to 1980s hip-hop


Image via Flickr user Ben Pearce

An Introduction to 1980s hip-hop

A Mixtape for Jim and Frank.

Because my friend Frank spent the early part of the decade listening to Joy Division, and my friend Jim spent it being a toddler.  Obviously, this is not meant to be definitive.  Just a not quite random collection of back in the day hip-hop songs that those less versed in the genre might not be familiar with. 

“Apache” – Sugarhill Gang – 1981

Rapper’s Delight gets all the hype, but this is by far the superior song.  Will Smith flipped it:

“Planet Rock” – Afrika Bambaataa and Soulsonic Force  - 1982

I can’t overestimate the importance of Bambaataa.  He literally expanded the musical minds of a generation of kids.  This is easily one of the most important hip-hop songs of all time.  If you sent out a space probe full of artifacts to represent black culture, I would have no qualms with using this as the record to showcase rap music. 

“Rock Box” – Run D.M.C – 1984

Easily my favorite Run D.M.C. song ever.  You have to remember that Run D.M.C. just decided to rap over a rock guitar in the 1980s and not one single black person batted an eyelash. Amazing.  The first true hip hop rock stars. 

“Hey DJ” – The World’s Famous Supreme Team – 1984

There is nothing quite like a great “feel good” hip hop record.  If you listen to this and aren’t immediately in a better mood, you’re a fucking vampire.   The only problem is that someone forgot to tell the Supreme Team that they weren’t writing a goddamned  symphony.  Way too long. That’s a common theme among some of the best songs of the 80s. 

“Fat Boys” – Fat Boys – 1984

Yes,  before The Disorderlies, they were taken seriously.  This was one of the first albums I ever owned.  I could tell by our disparate degrees of interest in this and Kurtis Blow that my sister wasn’t going to be into rap as much as me.  Like most great ideas, this one is much better if you don’t over think it.  Three fat guys rapping.  Mostly about food.  How could that not be good? 

“Jam On It” – Newcleus – 1984

I was 11 years old when this song came out.  Newcleus had three young breakdancers  in the crew.  I wanted to be one of those kids so desperately.   For the last 23 years of my life, I think it’s pretty safe to say that I’ve never heard this song without kind of losing my shit at least a little bit.  I could do a fairly impressive, impromptu routine to this song right now.  Given, of course, about 20 minutes to stretch and warm up.  Another long one. 

“The Show” – Doug E. Fresh & The Get Fresh Crew – 1985

Having included both Doug E. Fresh and The Fat Boys, I’ve pretty got beatboxing covered.  And speaking of covering, Snoop Dog recorded a popular reinterpretation of this classic a while back.  Yes, that’s the Inspector Gadget music.  Doug E. Fresh made some monster party records.

“Pee Wee’s Dance” – Joeski Love – 1986

Hip-hop doesn’t have a Weird Al Yankovich, but every now and then a novelty song pops us and makes some noise.  Most are awful. (See: Afroman.)  Some are fucking great.  Like this song and The Mighty Casey’s “Whitegirls.”  


If you’re thinking that you’ll just watch that The Mighty Casey video later, watch it now.  Seriously.  It’s a cover version of Melle Melle’s classic, “White Lines”, but it’s about white girls instead.  I quote: “Don’t tell Minister Farakhan.  He don’t wanna know what’s going on.”

“Top Billin’ ” – Audio Two – 1987

Easily one of my favorite songs of all time.  A perfect example of just how beat driven hip-hop is.  Immediately, any teenager in America realized that they could put on a mini-concert just by banging on a lunch table.  Expertly jacked by Mary J. Blige for “Real Love” to signal the switch from the time when hip-hop sampled R&B to the time when R&B sampled hip-hop. 

“Nobody Beats The Biz” – Biz Markie – 1987

I remember watching a VH1 show about the best one hit wonders of all time and they included Biz for “Just a Friend.”  I wanted to punch everyone in the world in the face.  I know it’s hard for parents and white people to understand, but…people loved Biz.  Biz is a fucking hip-hop legend.  This is an example of why.  That Steve Miller sample is one of the best in the history of rap. 

“The Overweight Lover’s In The House” – Heavy D & the Boyz – 1987

Like I always say, rock star trumps everything.  There have been not one, but two hugely overweight, and hugely successful black rappers with a lazy eye.  And one of them was a really good dancer.  Rock star trumps everything.  Heavy utilized James Brown as well as anybody in hip hop.

“Paid in Full (Seven Minutes of Madness–The Coldcut Remix)” – Eric B. & Rakim – 1988

This extended play, psychedelic version of a song that was already a classic was cemented into popular culture when it was included on the soundtrack to the movie Colors.  If you’re ever DJing a party of 30-something black folks, put this on and then go to the bathroom, smoke a joint and make some phone calls.  Rakim is my favorite MC of all time.

“My Philosophy” – Boogie Down Productions – 1988

You’re teenager who’s left home to live on the street for 6 years.  You meet a counselor in a shelter, record and album with him, and then he gets shot in the throat breaking up a fight.  What do you do?  If you answered A. Crawl into a deep dark hole and cry yourself crazy, you are Nick Adams.  If you answered B. Record a genre-defining album and blow everybody’s mind, you are Kris Parker.  

“Talkin’ All That Jazz” – Stetasonic – 1988

Not only is it a perfect example of the easy symbiosis of hip-hop and jazz.  It’s an open letter that explains what sampling is about.  It’s not my favorite Stet song—that would be “Sally”—but it’s their most important.   Plus Prince Paul was their DJ, so you know they were great.  Speaking of Prince Paul, go here, and check out a phone conversation he had with Jay Smooth of illdoctrine.com. 

“The Symphony” – Marley Marl featuring. Master Ace, Craig G, Kool G Rap & Big Daddy Kane – 1988

This is one of my favorite posse cuts.  That “Hard to Handle” sample is another good example of how one song can be used to construct a totally different, equally great song.  Yes, Kool G Rap has a really bad lisp.  Yes, he manages to overcome that an be a fierce MC.  I told you, rock star trumps everything. 

“I Get The Job Done” – Big Daddy Kane – 1989

If the saying “Black is beautiful” is true, not phony

I’m browner than Bobby so won’t you be my “Tenderoni”

Is there anything else to say after that? 

6 Responses to “An Introduction to 1980s hip-hop”

  1. 1 alex Jan 29th, 2008 at 2:19 pm

    What, no Too $hort? jk, great post!

  2. 2 Zeke Feb 5th, 2008 at 11:29 am

    Ah, this takes me back to my youth.

    These songs, and other songs of the time, introduced me to taking beats or samples from one record and mixing them with another record. I don’t know why, but the idea blew my mind. It was like all the artists were collaborating together.

    In addition to the Steve Miller sample, I remember hearing Paid in Full and thinking “Whoa! That is the bassline from Dennis Edwards’ ‘Dont Look Any Further’ in the background! How did they get that bass part to work with those lyrics?? Incredible!”

    …and the beat from Mtume’s “Juicyfruit” sampled for “Talkin’ All That Jazz” by Stetsasonic…in a rap in which they proclaim the virtues of sampling. Very poignant.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

  3. 3 DJStylus Feb 6th, 2008 at 7:06 am


    “Just throw your hands to the front and if you can’t hear the music say Huh? What?”

    One point in this post that is worth additional emphasis is that Heavy D never gets enough props. I always gotta beat the drum for that dude. Did mid-80′s gold chain rap then crushed New Jack Swing style dance hits and could get raggamuffin sometimes too. Word to the trivia connection between Heavy D and Doug E. Fresh (both had hits produced by Teddy Riley).

    And in tribute to the “Jam On It” blurb, a few joints that also cause me to lose my shit:

    Kurtis Blow – I’m Chillin’ (Trouble Funk!)
    Jungle Brothers – Straight Out The Jungle
    Big Daddy Kane – Wrath of Kane

  4. 4 Julian Feb 7th, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    great post. many many classics. the rock box video needs to be replayed.


  5. 5 Topher Feb 17th, 2008 at 2:31 am

    Wow, I was writing down your song list and then I found the link. I grew up laying out cardboard in the street and breakdancing to these tracks. Great job on Jordan Jesse Go 2000!

  6. 6 Eric Miller Apr 9th, 2008 at 11:33 pm

    Thanks to your book, I rediscovered NAS. I’m curious as to how you could overlook
    Nelly and the Yin Yang Twins. Record sales don’t lie, Nick!:p

Leave a Reply

There are no tags associated with this blog