Celebrating 50 Years of Hip Hop: A Look Back at Hip Hop Albums from the '80s

From Run DMC to Rakim, hip hop from the 1980s proved it was here to stay.

The 1980s was a decade that witnessed the birth of modern hip hop culture when breakdancers twisted on cardboard mats, and DJs scratched vinyl on turntables. On National Hip Hop Day and as we celebrate hip hop’s 50th anniversary all year, we remember the 1980s as it moved from block parties in the Bronx to the mainstream music charts throughout the world. This was when iconic emcees laid their claim, setting foundational standards for lyricism, flow, and style. Let's dive deep into the 10 albums from this most influential decade.

RELATED: Celebrating 50 Years of Hip-Hop: The Influential Albums of the 90s

  • "Run-D.M.C." - Run-D.M.C. (1984)

  • "Radio" - LL Cool J (1985)

    • Pivotal Facts: LL Cool J was only 17 when he released this debut album, which featured hits like "Rock the Bells" and "I Can't Live Without My Radio."
    • Artist Milestone: He became Def Jam Recordings' first major star, putting both himself and the label on the map.

  • "Licensed to Ill" - Beastie Boys (1986)

    Pivotal Facts: Blending rock and rap, this album, with tracks like "Fight for Your Right," was the first rap LP to top the Billboard chart.

    • Artist Milestone: The Beastie Boys became hip hop ambassadors to the punk and rock communities.

  • "Raising Hell" - Run-D.M.C. (1986)

    Pivotal Facts: With their crossover hit "Walk This Way," Run-D.M.C. and Aerosmith created the first bridge between the worlds of hip hop and rock.

    • Artist Milestone: The album went triple platinum, making it one of the best-selling rap albums of the 1980s.

  • "Criminal Minded" - Boogie Down Productions (1987)

    Pivotal Facts: With tracks like "South Bronx" and "The Bridge is Over," BDP engaged in one of hip hop's earliest and most iconic beefs.

    • Artist Milestone: KRS-One emerged as one of hip hop’s top consciousness-raising emcees.

  • "Paid in Full" - Eric B. & Rakim (1987)

    • Pivotal Facts: This debut album by the duo is frequently hailed as one of hip hop’s greatest. Rakim's complex rhymes and unique flow, combined with Eric B.'s sharp DJ skills, created a groundbreaking soundscape.
    • Artist Milestone: Rakim’s line, "I ain't no joke," became a symbolic proclamation for the genre's serious artistry.

  • "Straight Outta Compton" - N.W.A (1988)

    • Pivotal Facts: A bombshell from the West Coast, N.W.A. introduced gangsta rap to the masses, addressing police brutality, street life, and gang warfare.
    • Artist Milestone: Despite extreme controversy and no airplay, it still went double platinum.

  • "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back" - Public Enemy (1988)

    • Pivotal Facts: A politically charged masterpiece, this album tackled social issues with ferocity.
    • Artist Milestone: Public Enemy's militant stance and sound made them a voice for societal change.

  • "By All Means Necessary" - Boogie Down Productions (1988)

    • Pivotal Facts: Released after the tragic death of DJ Scott La Rock, the album's title and cover reference Malcolm X, marking KRS-One's full pivot to conscious rap.
    • Artist Milestone: "My Philosophy" is one of the decade's definitive hip hop tracks.

  • "3 Feet High and Rising" - De La Soul (1989)

    • Pivotal Facts: This album, featuring the hit "Me Myself, and I," was a marked departure from gangsta rap, ushering in the era of alternative hip hop.
    • Artist Milestone: With their eclectic samples and whimsical lyrics, De La Soul became the figureheads of the Native Tongues collective.

    The 1980s weren't just about neon, MTV, and synthesizers. The era gave us hip hop albums that weren't just about beats and rhymes but about revolution, consciousness, street stories, and parties. These albums, and many others from the era, not only shaped the future of hip hop but also chronicled the stories and struggles of a young generation. Celebrating 50 years of hip hop means recognizing these cornerstone moments that made the genre what it is today.

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