The golden age of hip-hop, when the genre saw incredible innovation and growth, gave us some of the most memorable and influential artists in music history. Old-school rappers, hailing from the late ’70s to early ’90s, laid the foundation for the genre we know and love today. Their distinctive styles, lyrical prowess, and captivating stories left an indelible mark on the industry and continue to inspire future generations.
Among these iconic artists, some stand out as the very best. Their impact on hip-hop culture cannot be overstated, and their legacies are still celebrated today. This list of the top 10 old-school rappers delves into the history of these trailblazers, who impacted music fans and paved the way for today’s rappers.
From pioneers like Grandmaster Flash and Run D.M.C., to undeniable legends like Tupac and Notorious B.I.G., this selection of old school rappers spans various styles and sounds within the genre. The unique stories behind these artists, their inimitable talent, and their influence on the hip-hop world make them deserving of the title “Top 10 Best Old School Rappers.”
Old School Rap: Origins and Evolution
The Golden Age of Hip Hop
Old School Rap originated in the late ’70s and early ’80s, emerging from New York City. This era, known as the Golden Age of Hip Hop, was marked by its relatively simple raps, with most lines taking up approximately equal amounts of time, and the rhythm of the language rarely twisted around the song’s beats. The music during this time focused primarily on storytelling, wordplay, and social commentary, frequently addressing themes like gang violence, socio-economic issues, and urban life.
Influential Artists and Their Impact
Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five: Led by DJ Grandmaster Flash and featuring rappers Melle Mel, Kidd Creole, Keith Cowboy, Scorpio, and Rahiem, The Furious Five helped lay the foundation for old school rap with their innovative DJing techniques and socially conscious lyrics. Their 1982 hit, “The Message,” is considered a classic and pioneered the use of rap as a form of social commentary.
Run-DMC: Run-DMC, comprising Joseph “Run” Simmons, Darryl “D.M.C” McDaniels, and DJ Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell, brought a new style of rap into the mainstream with their incorporation of rock elements and aggressive, stripped-down sound. Their debut album, Run-D.M.C., released in 1984, paved the way for hip-hop’s crossover into mainstream music.
N.W.A: N.W.A, short for “Niggaz Wit Attitudes,” consisted of members Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, MC Ren, and DJ Yella. They popularized gangsta rap with their 1988 album, Straight Outta Compton, which detailed life in the streets of Compton, California. N.W.A’s raw sound and controversial lyrics brought attention to the West Coast hip-hop scene and opened the door for other gangsta rappers.
Some other notable old-school rappers include:
- Tupac: Tupac Amaru Shakur, also known as 2Pac and Makaveli, was a rapper and actor who greatly influenced East Coast and West Coast hip-hop.
- Missy Elliott: Melissa Arnette Elliott, active since the ’90s, is known for her innovative music videos, dance moves, and a combination of R&B and rap in her music.
- Public Enemy: Consisting of Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Professor Griff, and DJ Terminator X, this rap group pushed the boundaries with their politically charged music and confrontational performances.
Old School Rap helped shape the foundations of modern hip-hop, influencing generations of artists to come. The music and innovations of these influential artists continue to be celebrated and emulated by rappers today.
Top 10 Best Old School Rappers
1. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were a pioneering hip-hop group formed in the late 1970s. Their hit song “The Message” tackled social issues and became a landmark of the genre, showcasing the potential for rap as a tool for social commentary.
2. Run DMC
Run DMC broke barriers in the 1980s, merging rock and rap with their groundbreaking collaboration with Aerosmith on “Walk This Way.” The trio was known for their iconic style, including Adidas sneakers and black fedoras, inspiring future generations of rappers and hip-hop enthusiasts.
3. Eric B and Rakim
Eric B and Rakim came into prominence in the late 1980s, known for Rakim’s innovative lyricism and Eric B’s skilled DJing. Their debut album “Paid in Full” cemented them as legends, with tracks like “I Ain’t No Joke” showcasing Rakim’s smooth flow and lyrical prowess.
4. Public Enemy
Public Enemy’s politically charged lyrics and powerful sound pushed boundaries in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Led by the outspoken Chuck D and the energetic Flavor Flav, the group’s influential albums such as “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” expressed a social consciousness that resonated with fans.
5. LL Cool J
LL Cool J, or “Ladies Love Cool James,” rose to fame in the mid-1980s as a teenage rap sensation with his debut album “Radio.” Known for his versatility, LL Cool J produced hits ranging from romantic ballads like “I Need Love” to hard-hitting tracks such as “Mama Said Knock You Out.”
N.W.A, or Niggaz Wit Attitudes, shined a spotlight on the realities of life in Compton, California, with raw lyrics that shocked and captivated audiences. The group’s groundbreaking debut album “Straight Outta Compton” featured tracks like “Fuck tha Police” that sparked controversy and laid the foundation for gangsta rap.
7. Slick Rick
Slick Rick’s distinctive storytelling style and signature eye patch made him a unique figure in hip-hop. His debut album “The Great Adventures of Slick Rick” remains a classic, with hits like “Children’s Story” showcasing his talent for narrative-driven lyrics and smooth delivery.
KRS-One (an acronym for “Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone”) emerged in the late 1980s as the frontman of Boogie Down Productions. The group’s debut album “Criminal Minded” and KRS-One’s later solo work helped establish him as one of hip-hop’s most intelligent and conscious lyricists.
Tupac Shakur remains one of the most iconic figures in rap history. Known for his introspective lyrics and charisma, Tupac rose to fame in the early 1990s with hits like “California Love” and “Dear Mama.” His life was tragically cut short in 1996, but his influence on hip-hop continues to be felt today.
10. The Notorious B.I.G.
The Notorious B.I.G., also known as Biggie Smalls, made a massive impact on the hip-hop scene in the 1990s. His debut album “Ready to Die” showcased his storytelling talent, vivid imagery, and smooth delivery on tracks like “Juicy” and “Big Poppa.” Biggie’s untimely death in 1997 solidified his legacy as one of the greatest rappers ever.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who are iconic 90s rappers?
The 1990s brought us unforgettable rappers who left an indelible mark on hip-hop culture. Some of the most notable names include Tupac Shakur (2Pac), The Notorious B.I.G. (Biggie Smalls), and Nas. Other iconic rappers from the era include Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, OutKast, and Wu-Tang Clan.
Who dominated 80s hip-hop?
The 1980s saw the rise of hip-hop as a global phenomenon. Prominent hip-hop artists from this era include Grandmaster Flash, Kurtis Blow, The Sugarhill Gang, Run-DMC, Public Enemy, LL Cool J, and N.W.A. These artists significantly contributed to the genre’s development and paved the way for future artists.
Which 70s rappers influenced the genre?
The 1970s was the decade when hip-hop was born. Some crucial pioneers from this time include DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, and Grandmaster Flash. These artists created the fundamental sounds of hip-hop and laid the foundation for the genre’s evolution in the coming decades.
What are some classic old-school rap songs?
Numerous classic old-school rap songs have stood the test of time. A few memorable examples include “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang, “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, “Planet Rock” by Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force, and “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy.
Who are notable female old school rappers?
Female rappers have played an essential role in the development of hip-hop. Some memorable names in old school female rappers include Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Salt-N-Pepa, Roxanne Shanté, and Missy Elliott. These women broke barriers and carved a space for female artists in the male-dominated genre.
Who are the pioneers of gangsta rap?
Gangsta rap emerged in the 1980s as a subgenre of hip-hop, focusing on street life and urban struggles. Key gangsta rap pioneers include Ice-T, who released the song “6 in the Mornin’” in 1986, and N.W.A., a group consisting of Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren, and DJ Yella. Their album “Straight Outta Compton” brought gangsta rap mainstream attention and inspired future artists.