Do you ever wonder who should get the crown for the best 80s rapper? Honestly, the era had so many talented artists that no single person could win. But here’s a list of the top 21 rap performers and why we crown them the best 80s rappers in the industry.
1. Queen Latifah
We’ll start with the ladies since they generally come last in everything else. Queen Latifah emerged on the rap scene in the late 80s and took the world by storm because of her intensely conscious lyrics, ethnic pride, and eloquent rap style. She was one of the best 80s rappers of her time because she encouraged her people to love one another.
Her first album “All Hail To the Queen” contained several hits that addressed the concepts of black-on-black crime and other social issues. “Evil That Men Do” hit the airwaves in 1989 and was one of her best-performing songs on the album.
2. MC Lyte
MC Lyte was another influential female 80s rapper who helped to pave the way for other women striving to succeed in the industry. Her lyrics weren’t as socially conscious as Latifah’s, but she had the same sense of confidence in who she was as an African-American female. Her song “Lyte As A Rock” launched in 1988 and stayed on the Billboard Top Black Albums list for four months.
The Salt N’ Pepa duo brought an element of playful flirtation to the hip hop scene in 1986 with the release of their megahit, “Push It.” The duo was nominated for Best Rap Performance for the song and won an award in the early 90s for a subsequent hit.
4. Big Daddy Kane
Big Daddy Kane represented everything smooth and delicious about rappers during that era. His mellow flow, jazzy samples and suave presentations made him one of the most memorable artists in the genre, and his looks certainly didn’t hurt his cause.
5. LL Cool J
Ladies Love Cool James is another eye-catching rapper who stormed the charts in the 80s. His tough persona caught the attention of hip hop fans around the nation, but he showed his versatility with the release of the soft hit “I Need Love” in 1989.
“Rock The Bells,” released in 1985 by Def Jam, was one of his earliest and most memorable “hard” hits. Not only did he deliver his lyrics with strength and precision, but the rock riff punches gave the tune an additional kick that won it many listeners.
Run-D.M.C. pioneered the rap-rock mashup early in the 1980s with their hits “Can You Rock It Like This?” and “King Of Rock.” Later, they went on to produce a remix of “Walk This Way” with the rock band Aerosmith. The group is also known for making Adidas sneakers popular and coining the lace-free style of wearing them.
7. Doug E. Fresh
Doug E. Fresh has a unique style, and people often referred to him as a human beatbox. He got his name because he often created his own instrumentals using his voice and throat. He performed most of his earlier songs with his partner, Slick Rick. “La Di-Da-Di” was one of his most popular pieces, and it was released in 1985 as a B-side to his song, “The Show.”
8. Slick Rick
Slick Rick was a British rap artist who partnered with Doug E. Fresh early in the 80s. In 1989, he released the solo song “Children’s Story,” and it garnered widespread attention in the American and British markets. This song reached the number five position on the US Black Singles charts, number two on the Billboard Hot Rap Singles charts, and number 39 on the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart.
9. Biz Markie
Biz Markie had many talents, and he shared one of his most precious elements with us throughout the 80s. His most memorable hit is the 1989 song “Just A Friend,” a tune about dating struggles. Biz Markie used a mixture of singing and rapping to depict the pain he felt being played off or low-key dissed by a woman named “blah-blah-blah.” The song hit number nine on the infamous US Billboard Hot 100 and aired incessantly on MTV during its time.
10. A Tribe Called Quest
A Tribe Called Quest made it to this list because they began producing their first album in 1989. Hip hop fans know them as one of the first groups to deliver the alternative rap style. They mixed their smooth lyrical delivery with elements of jazz for a buttery overall sound. “Bonita Applebum” and “Can I Kick It?” were two of the most popular songs from their debut album.
11. Kool Moe Dee
Kool Moe Dee was on the scene at the same time as Big Daddy Kane, but he had a hyper and punchier style of rap. He delivered hits that still make excellent gym workouts to this day. “I Go To Work” was one of his most successful songs, and it emerged in 1989. “Wild Wild West” was a hit from 1988 that earned the artist a number four spot on the Billboard Hot R&B Singles and a nomination for Best Rap Performance in 1988.
12. Ice Cube
Ice Cube has been around for many years, but he first started with a group called N.W.A., which stood for N*ggas With Attitude. N.W.A. was one of the very first groups to bring “gangsta rap” to the genre, but it wasn’t intentional. Their lyrics told raw stories about living life and surviving in the tough streets of Compton. Other rappers missed the message and began to glorify street life, which birthed some of the subgenres we hear today.
One of N.W.A.’s most memorable and controversial hits was their song “Fuk Da Police,” released in 1988. The piece addressed issues such as police brutality and racial profiling, which are still problematic for certain ethnicities today. Caution: explicit lyrics.
Eazy-E was one of the lead rappers in the N.W.A. group. His fans knew him for his raw lyrics and unique voice. He released a solo album called “Eazy-Duz-It,” which was also the name of his song that advanced to number 41 on the US Billboard Top 100 charts. Warning: explicit lyrics. His unfortunate death in 1995 ended his life much, much too soon.
14. De La Soul
The De La Soul trio contributed to the expansion of jazz-infused rap and an alternative sound. They used catchy samples and precise lyrical delivery to win fans in the genre. Their most notable hit was a song that was released in 1989 called “Me, Myself & I.” It’s a lightly delivered piece about being oneself in a world that loves to stereotype.
15. The Beastie Boys
The Beastie Boys group comprised some of the few Caucasian rappers who came around in the 80s. The group formed in New York in 1981 and added its unique brand of flavor to the mix. Many of their songs mixed rap and rock, similar to how Run-D.M.C. did. One of their most popular songs was “Fight For Your Right,” released in 1986. The song hit number seven on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and gained the group many more fans.
16. Eric B. and Rakim
Eric B. and Rakim can easily be dubbed two of the best 80s rappers. Many people enjoyed them because of their mellow voices and smooth delivery. The two rappers started as disc jockeys and gained considerable notoriety from their efforts. Their first album, “Paid In Full,” was released in 1987 and hit the Top Black Albums chart at number 8. “Eric B. Is President” is one of their top songs from the album.
17. The Sugarhill Gang
The Sugarhill Gang released a rap song in1980 that progressed the whole movement. “Rapper’s Delight” inspired many artists to weave together meaningful words and deliver them in a melodic way people could relate to.
The song was their only music hit in the United States, but the group still received attention in other parts of the world. “Rapper’s Delight” hit number 36 on the US chart and four on the US R&B charts. The piece also reached the number one ranking on the Canadian charts, number two in the Netherlands and Switzerland, and number three in The UK.
18. Grandmaster Flash
Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five released rap hits in the early 80s that were highly conscious. “The Message” was a song about living in poverty and struggling to care for your family while in the ghetto. The song gained notoriety because of its electro sound and memorable catchphrase, “It’s like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder, How I keep from going under.” We deem Grandmaster Flash one of the best 80s rappers because of his social awareness.
19. Public Enemy
Rap group Public Enemy lived up to their name because of their controversial, socially aware lyrics. Lead rapper Chuck D often vocalized topics such as racism, police brutality, drug abuse, racial profiling, and similar issues. Co-rapper Flavor Flav added a comedic mascot-ish presence to tone down the subject matter’s rawness, but the group still faced backlash. Public Enemy reached peak chart rankings with the release of their song “Fight the Power” in 1989.
20. Poor Righteous Teachers
Poor Righteous Teachers had a unique style mixed with political and social awareness and a tinge of faith and religion. The members grew up in New Jersey and released their first album “Holy Intellect” in 1989. “Rock Dis Funky Joint” was one of the top-performing tracks on the release. That song reached number four on the Hot Rap Singles chart and 17 on the Hot R&B Singles chart. We believe the members are some of the best 80s rappers because of their angle and flow.
KRS-One is one of the best 80s rappers with a unique name. His name is an acronym for Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone. He is socially conscious and uses a poetic delivery and intelligent instructor-type format to speak to his listeners. The song “My Philosophy,” released in 1988, was one of the most unforgettable tunes of the Golden Era of Hip Hop.
The artists mentioned above are some of the best 80s rappers because of their influence, style, and message. We hope you enjoyed this list and appreciate the hip hop pioneers as much as we do.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.