50 years of hip-hop through the decades: The ’80s


In celebration of hip-hop’s 50th anniversary, ABC Audio is breaking down each decade with important dates and memorable moments of the genre — with the fashionably forward aesthetic of the ’80s and the many hip-hop “firsts.” 

1980 — Hip-hop emerges as mainstream, with all the major components of the genre in place: DJing, MCing, B-boying and graffiti painting. “Old school hip-hop” featured elements of disco and funk music shown in Afrika Bambaataa‘s “Planet Rock” and Warp 9‘s “Nunk.”

September 1980 — Harlem-born rapper Kurtis Kurtis Blow Walker drops his self-titled debut album after becoming the first rap artist to sign a major record deal with Mercury. The premiere project spawned hits “Christmas Rappin,” which sold over 400,000 copies, and “The Breaks,” the first commercially successful hip-hop single, which sold over half a million copies. 

1984 — Queens natives Joseph Rev Run SimmonsDarryl DMC McDaniels and Jason Jam Master Jay” Mizel of the pioneering group Run DMC propelled rap-rock into the spotlight with their hit “Rock Box.” Story goes, the guys were waiting for their turn in the studio when they were inspired by the rock guitar sounds of the band Riot, which finished up a session before them. 

1988 — Brooklyn-born emcee Lana MC Lyte Moorer carved the way for women in hip-hop as the first female solo rapper to release a full studio album. According to reports, Lyte as a Rock was years in the making; Lyte started writing lyrics for the album when she was 12 or 13.

Terms that defined the genre:

  • Pop & lock
  • Cypher
  • Graffiti/tagging
  • The fifth element: knowledge

Songs of the ’80s:

Rebel Without a Pause” — Public Enemy

I Ain’t No Joke” — Eric B Rakim

Rock The Bells” — LL Cool J

La Di Da Di” — Slick Rick & Doug E. Fresh

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