The 1980s was a golden age in hip hop. On the East Coast, you had Run-DMC and LL Cool J running things, and on the West Coast, you were getting the emergence of Gangsta Rap with Ice-T and N.W.A. However, there were others all over America, you had the Geto Boys running the South in Houston, and other Chicago rappers were on the rise. With this being the case, it is only fitting that we delve deeper into the 80s to see the figures that were dominating the decade and see if we can get to the top ten hip hop albums of the 1980s.
The 1980s was an exciting era in hip hop because the genre started to generate its own sub-genres after only a decade of existence. The New York tri-state area was beginning to break away from funk and embrace a newer sound called Electro. A self-explanatory term, electro saw hip hop become more electronic, with producers relying less on old funk records and instead turning to electronic drum machines such as the Roland TR-808 to create more brash, industrial-sounding records.
The emergence of Electro on the Eastern Seaboard saw the warmness and soulfulness of funk taken out of hip hop and replaced by a more aggressive, raw and rugged sound that reflected the streets of New York far better than its predecessor. Electro tracks such as ‘I’m The Packman’ by The Packman and ‘King of The Beats’ by Mantronix are a far cry from a song such as ‘Rapper’s Delight’, which is more groovy. Electro, as a sound, also embraced the scratch far more as its emergence coincided with the invention of the technique popularised by Bronx DJ Grand Wizard Theodore.
So as Electro was gripping inner city youths on the chilly Eastern Seaboard, down in sunny Florida, Miami Bass music was beginning to take over the clubs. Not too dissimilar to Electro, Miami Bass was much faster and shares some similarities with Jungle music, with songs such as ‘I Wanna Rock’ by Luke containing chopped up high pitch vocals and a lot of repetition designed to make people dance. However, Miami Bass remained extremely regional and barely reached anybody out of Florida.
In the windy city of Chicago, by the mid-80s, rappers were experimenting with house music, another form of underground music taking hold of the clubs. Eventually, they fused the two together, and by the late 80s, Chicago had established its sound of hip house. A great example of hip-house music is ‘Turn Up The Bass’ by Tyree Cooper, released in 1988. It took the clubs by storm as it would fuse the two most popular sounds in Chicago, making a new one perfect for everyone.
Over in the ‘Wild Wild West’, Gangsta Rap was the main sound, with Ice-T considered one of the genre’s godfathers. T’s track ‘6 In The Mornin’ from 1986 was one of the first tracks to be labelled as gangsta rap, but N.W.A would quickly follow and solidify gangsta rap’s place in hip hop with songs such as ‘F*k Da Police’ and ‘Straight Outta Compton’ spreading nationwide like a wildfire.
With such a plethora of music to choose from, picking only ten albums from the 80s is hard, but we managed to, and you can see it below.
The 10 best hip hop albums of the 1980s
- Mantronix – The Album (1985)
- Jonzun Crew – Lost In Space (1983)
- NWA – Straight Outta Compton (1988)
- RUN-DMC – RUN-DMC (1984)
- LL Cool J – Bigger And Deffer (1987)
- De La Soul – 3 Feet and Rising (1989)
- Steet Sounds – Street Sounds Vol.1 (1983)
- Public Enemy – It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988)
- 2 Live Crew – The 2 Live Crew Is What We Are (1987)
- Geto Boys – Making Trouble (1988)