When Sugarhill Gang’s 1979 hit “Rapper’s Delight” became the first hip-hop song to land on the Billboard Hot 100, it opened the door for the 1980s to be a massive decade for the new genre.
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Beginning as a humble music style birthed from the record-scratching DJs in New York in the 1970s, hip-hop would transform into a beloved mainstream commodity in the 1980s, launching careers of some of the most important figures in music history like Salt-N-Pepa, N.W.A., Run-D.M.C., and more.
In these 10 years, multiple hip-hop songs were able to climb the charts and become ubiquitous in pop culture. So, we at American Songwriter decided to compile a list of some of the best of these smash hits.
Here are the eight best hip-hop songs of the 1980s, listed in order of when they came out.
“The Breaks,” Kurtis Blow (1980)
Born in the birthplace of hip-hop, New Yorker Kurtis Blow became the first rapper ever signed to a major label in 1979. Following this achievement, he prepped to release his debut self-titled studio album and used “The Breaks” as its lead promotional single.
“The Breaks” would peak at No. 87 on the Billboard Hot 100 and eventually became the first hip-hop song to earn a gold RIAA certification.
“The Message,” Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (1982)
As the lead single for Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five‘s debut album The Message, “The Message” reached No. 62 on the Billboard Hot 100, in 1982. Additionally, the track hit No. 4 on the Billboard Hot Black Singles chart, which is now referred to as the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
“Boyz-n-the-Hood,” Eazy E (1987)
With a scene in the 2015 biopic Straight Outta Compton depicting the song’s creation, “Boyz-n-the-Hood” by Eazy E was practically the jumpstarting hit for the eventual formation of N.W.A. Written by Ice Cube, “Boyz-n-the-Hood” was Eazy E’s debut single, and peaked at No. 50 on the Hot 100.
“Push It,” Salt-N-Pepa (1987)
Their first song to ever chart, “Push It” by Queens female rap group Salt-N-Pepa was practically an afterthought upon its initial release. Used as a B-side for their 1987 single “Tramp,” “Push It” elevated Salt-N-Pepa to becoming a platinum-certified act.
“Express Yourself,” N.W.A. (1988)
The last single released before their debut album Straight Outta Compton in 1989, N.W.A.’s “Express Yourself” was their first commercial release without cuss words or profanity. Although it didn’t achieve the commercial success of their prior single “Straight Outta Compton,” “Express Yourself” is still seen as one of the most impactful songs in N.W.A.’s entire discography.
“Me Myself and I,” De La Soul (1989)
As the lead single for De La Soul’s 1989 debut album 3 Feet High and Rising, “Me Myself and I” skyrocketed to No. 34 on the Hot 100. The most successful song in the group’s history, aside from their “Feel Good Inc.” collaboration with Gorillaz in 2005, “Me Myself and I” set an impossibly hard standard for the group to surpass.
“Fight the Power,” Public Enemy (1989)
Landing at No. 2 on Rolling Stone‘s 2021 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list, “Fight The Power” by Public Enemy was originally only made for the soundtrack of Spike Lee’s 1989 film Do the Right Thing.
“I wanted it to be defiant, I wanted it to be angry, I wanted it to be very rhythmic. I thought right away of Public Enemy,” Spike Lee said about employing the group to make a song for the movie.
“Just a Friend,” Biz Markie (1989)
The overwhelming highlight of his career, “Just a Friend” by the late Biz Markie found its appeal in its unorthodoxy. Thanks to his impromptu, off-key singing, the song was an irresistible sensation for the mainstream masses and peaked at No. 8 on the Hot 100.
“A lot of people didn’t like the record at the beginning. They would say, ‘Biz is trying to sing? Aw, the record is wack.’ But I wasn’t supposed to sing the [chorus]. I asked people to sing the part, and nobody showed up at the studio, so I did it myself,” Markie said about the song.
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