The 1980's appear to be all the rage right now and who am I to disagree, I (somehow) lived through them.
However, it seems when everyone is looking black, oops I meant back, there seems to nobody looking at the only music born in the "Decade of Decadence."
Well, that is what ya' boy is going to do right now.
In now way are these the "best" 15 hip-hop tunes of the 80's, just the ones that had the biggest impact on me.
Click the word "HERE" to hear the song discussed.
15. 'Sucker MC's' by RUN-DMC (HERE)
I start here because this is just about the first song I ever loved!!!!!
Easily the most influential group in the history of the genre. Before these guys came along emcee's wore fur, long earrings, knee-high boots, skin-tight suede pants and ponchos. Their authentically "hard" gear and delivery are what would later come to be called "swag."
This song is the one that is responsible for the very small burn mark I still wear on my ear today, as I could not resist the urge to break-dance on my Mom's carpeted floor every single time this song came on. Nerdy, yes! But I was powerless.
Side Note: I love that (Rev.) Run told us way back then, before the reality show and the millions, that he lived the life of "champagne, caviar and bubble baths." I guess some things never change.
14. 'Jingling Baby' by LL Cool J (HERE)
When James Todd Smith released his third album, 'Walking with a Panther', I could scarcely believe the noise emitted from the speakers in my bedroom. Was this at all possible? Had someone sampled my very favorite movie from the 1970's, "Black Belt Jones"? Was the person rhyming actually verbally "killing" every word, of every sentence, or every bar on the track?
And was I rewinding the cassette at the end of the song whenever it ended? ABSOLUTELY!
Side Note: While 'I Need Love' is so much more popular and came along earlier, this is the first song that both women and men could sing along to with equal passion.
13. 'Paul Revere' by Beastie Boys (HERE)
While I can say that Brass Monkey probably got more play and was more fun, this, my friends, was a revolution (sic: revelation) on wax.
Let me be perfectly frank about how much I loved this song: Nobody could convince me that the Beastie's were white, NOBODY! I didn't care about the album cover or the live performances, as we had just emerged from an era where even Berry Gordie had plastered white faces on black music to cross-over.
It was just too good to be white. When I finally realized that I was wrong and indeed the Beatsie Boys were white....I was mad. How dare they drop they most ridiculous beat in the (until then)history of the game.
But I kept listening, didn't I. HA!!!!!! Nothing had ever sounded like this, and it would take a full 10years for another track to supplant it as the beat I most like to hear free-styles over (Mobb Deep's 'Shook Ones).
Side Note: Rick Rubin said this was the first song he ever made that he thought was not up to snuff. That is why they decided to never film a video.
12. 'I Get the Job Done' by Big Daddy Kane (HERE)
All you need to know is there was really nobody like him in the annals of "Playa MC's."
'I Get the Job Done's' frenetic pace, produced by Teddy Riley (remember him?) was too much for my friends and I to keep pace with on the dance floor. We nearly died trying, though.
In an age where you had to be able to rhyme, dance and dress well to even get a number, he was KING!
Side Note: There are other, better performances of this song, but I wanted to remind people of the person that gave Hip-Hop credibility and, in the process, saved late-night television by bringing millions of teens to the medium, Arsenio Hall.
SN2: Loved Scoob and Scrap as well (Super LOL!!!!)
11. 'I Got it Made' by Special Ed (HERE)
Special Ed's tome to all the things he "got" single-handedly gave birth to all the Ultra-Braggadocio emcees of today. A simple, fantastic beat with an overly calm teen spitting about the things that range from the obvious (Cascade detergent for dirty dishes) to the absurd (a solid gold bone for his dog). An instant classic.
Side Note: The video is still one of my faves, as he decided to film a song about his riches in a....JUNKYARD! Hilarious!
10. 'Brand New Funk' by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince (HERE)
Before he was a movie star, television star, Scientology person, all-around lovable guy and whack emcee, Will Smith was actually one of the best rappers in the (then) game. This is my favorite of the pre-'Parents Just Don't Understand' catalogue from the group. It actually still stands up, beat-wise and lyrically.
Side Note: The opening of this video presages Smith's turn as Ali in the much later Michael Mann film.
9. 'Buddy' by De La Soul ft. Jungle Brothers (HERE)
Revolutionary on many levels, including: the lack of gold chains, the messaging of wearing condoms (for disease protection, not contraception) the relaxed, cerebral flow.
De La is a universally beloved as being the group that gave birth to backpackers. I just loved that a this was a song about their "buddy." Hey, I was a teenager. But truly a masterpiece in it's time...and now!
Side Note: This song introduced the world to a superstar, in the form of Q-Tip.
8. 'We Got Our Own Thang' by Heavy D (and the Boyz. HA!) (HERE)
Quite possibly the most danceable song of the decade. I dare you not to dance after clicking the link.
This song really set the table for the 1990's, as it was much more R&B than your standard Rap fare of the time. The dances, movement, film style, clothes and even haircuts, lean more 90's than anything else from the 80's, which means it was ...FUTURISTIC!
Side Note: Two-years later they would release the exact same song (not really) with Aaron Hall doing background vocals, Now That We Found Love. It would be the biggest Rap song since Parents Just Don't Understand, reaching #2 (or higher) on the pop charts in 16 countries.
7. 'Paper Thin' by MC Lyte (HERE)
The thing about Paper Thin is it goes beyond musicality. Does that make sense? Didn't think so. Allow me to explain.
Mc Lyte was a movement all by herself. She was as hard as Cool J, good-looking, confident, wore the very best of clothes, drove the best cars and rocked Lotto's. Her swag was swaggarrific to say the least. In an today's era, so many women boast about being "down" with a crew, or attaching themselves to hip-hop groups that are male-dominated and running with them. Mc Lyte was the LEADER of her crew, and that comes across strongly in her music.
It was rather difficult to choose a song that best personified my love (I wanted to hit that) for this outstanding artist, though admittedly, 'Lyte as a Rock' had absolutely zero chance of making the list because so many deejays have played it out over the years. It came down to this and 'ChaChaCha.' As soon as I saw the video, it was a wrap. Brought back too many (GREAT) memories.
Side Note: The car she is in at the beginning of the video, a Volkswagen Jetta, used to be the very pinnacle of black youth's aspiration. I wonder if things will ever get back to such accessible dreams in the hip-hop game, as Lil' Wayne talks of "dumping" his Phantom for a Maybach?
6. 'Please Listen To My Demo' by EPMD (HERE)
Putting into words the eerie, haunting sample of FAZE-O's, 'Ridin' High' that is at the core of EMPD's 'Please Listen to My Demo.' What I can tell you is that id never heard the song before I heard this, and within 10 seconds or so, I knew I was listening to something that would remain with me for years.
EPMD at the time were probably my favorite group, as they fit the mould of what any brash teenager needed in a musical fix: cool, young, rich and confident to the nines.
This track grabbed me because these highly-successful young men decided to bare the struggles of their rise to fame on wax. It had not been done before and there was no questioning a single word of the narrative, as it smacks of self-deprecating situational comedy. Eric and Parrish made dollars and fans, but few bigger than me!
Side Note: It took all my strength not to put 'So What 'Cha Sayin' in it's place, but i decided to go more obscure.
5. 'Hey Young World' by Slick Rick (HERE)
Somehow, someway, on an album that begins with the song 'Treat Her Like a Prostitute' and ends with 'Lick the Balls', Ricky Walters decided to include this beautiful tribute to the world's youth.
12 years before Buddy Love, Rick Da Ruler had his moment of clarity in the middle of a recording session. Truly hilarious, truly improbable and, truly poignant.
Side Note: Rick is BRITISH!!! I never knew. Thank goodness he made it to the States, his pimping may have been to hard on those girls overseas. LOL!
4. 'My Philosophy' by KRS-ONE (HERE)
KRS-ONE was the single-most influential artist of my 1980's persona. He is the reason I got back to reading about black history and nutrition. I grew up in a VERY Afrocentric household. I was at odds with the culture I was a part of in the house once I left to face the real world. Nobody was named Sirami out there. Nobody was vegetarian. Nobody drank distilled water. Nobody knew, or wanted to hear, anything about Africa or Africans. In my early-teens I began to assimilate as more of my time was spent outside of the house, in that "other" world.
KRS put a stop to all that the first time I heard him. He talked about having big nostrils and Hannibal Barca. He talked about Mandela before it was popular. He discussed mad cow in 1987 (go back and listen to his song 'Beef'). He talked about the importance of sexual hygiene (Jimmy), Police Brutality and every other topic that seemed to be important to me. "My Philosophy' just happens to be my favorite from the 1980's. Still very potent.
Side Note: The iconic album cover, with Kris looking out of the window ala Malcolm X, is one of the 25 most recognizable of all-time according to Rolling Stone.
3. 'Express Yourself' by N.W.A. (HERE)
I used to be ashamed of my infatuation with NWA, then I looked across the horizon at what is going on now and find their catalogue to still be relevant in this day and age. As hard as Easy and the boys were at the time, they found a way to make murder music that you could actually dance to.
On their freshman album the group stuck to pointing out the vast discrepancies between the America blacks and whites were a part of. 'Express Yourself' is the best (and funkiest) attempt at communicating that gulf.
Side Note: Easy told Dre he needed to stop worrying about the beats and focus on his lyrics. After listening to the album in it's entirety for the first time, he told Dre to stop worrying about his lyrics altogether, as his beats were better than anything he had ever heard. Totally true story.
2. 'I Aint No Joke' by Eric B. & Rakim (HERE)
I missed the 9 months prior, but i can distinctly remember hearing, watching and experiencing the birth of modern lyricism.
I had fallen asleep on the couch while watching Friday Night Videos with my mom, when I was awakened by Eric B.'s sparse beat over maniacal scratching. Within seconds the screen was filled with a young, fresh-dressed, brash and completely serious figure that proceeded to beat me over the head with originality, insight and verbal dexterity here-to-fore unseen.
The MC was Rakim, the video was for 'I Ain't No Joke' and, as I felt it might, music history was being made before my eyes. This and Thriller are the only two videos that I can recall where I was when I saw them the first time. And this is the only one that I remember what I was wearing! It was that meaningful to me...and still is.
Side Note: My mother threw away the cassette because I played it too much. One of maybe disagreements, of any kind, I ever had with my mother.
Well, that brings us to #1, which because of it's exclusion thus far, becomes rather obvious.
1. 'Rebel Without A Pause' by Public Enemy (HERE)
Here is my feeble attempt to explain how whole-heartedly I loved and love this song:
Side Note: Flavor Flav is a charlatan these days, but is universally considered a very serious and accomplished musician, adept at more than 10 instruments. Harry Allen has written for everyone. Chuck D has a very successful syndicated political talk radio show.
SN2: If you watch this clip you will get goodies through the roof, including: a television commercial for LL's 'Bad' album and a clearly-uncomfortable Don Cornelius, interviewing a group he has no idea how to categorize. Really fully-representative of the times.
'Manifest' by Gangstarr (HERE)
Released in November of 1989, the album made it to the Midwest in early 1990. The track 'Manifest' would otherwise easily be in the top 5.
I 'm certain I have a few glaring ommisions, but this was not meant to be scholarly and just like good hip-hop, was done entirely off the dome.
COMING ONE DAY...15 More from the 1990's, aka the Golden Era.