The best and ultimate old-school hip-hop playlist! Whether rapping about their welfare checks, cars, swagger, or women, these old-school hip-hop songs are timeless. Until Grandmaster Flash expanded rap’s horizons with socially conscious material, most old-school songs focused on fun and partying.
When people talk about the best old-school hip-hop songs, they often forget many legends from the early stages of rap. These legends also incorporated disco and funk influences. Check out this list of classic golden age rap songs to rediscover some of the genre’s most impactful hits.
5. “Slow Down” by Brand Nubian
Brand Nubian was one of the most unique acts to emerge from the 90s rap scene. The group featured MCs Grand Puba and Sadat X, along with DJ Alamo. On this classic track, they criticize the false media and rumors that plague the hip-hop culture. They were one of the first groups to incorporate rock influences into their music. Their debut album, One For All, is considered a classic. This track showcases their unique style and the way they use humor to make serious points.
The song’s beat is a perfect example of g-funk at its finest. It blends classic loops and funk samples with a futuristic sound that reflects the 90s’ techno explosion. It is a perfect representation of how far hip-hop has come over the years. With this song, Brand Nubian urges black people to stand together and overcome adversity. They also celebrate African American culture and heritage, encouraging listeners to embrace their roots and take pride in their identity.
After the release of their debut album, Brand Nubian’s chief emcee, Grand Puba Maxwell, left to pursue a solo career. This left Sadat (Derek) X, Lord Jamar, and DJ Alamo as the remaining members of the group. This was their first single without Puba, and it shows how much the loss of a member can change the direction of an entire album.
4. “911 Is A Joke” by Public Enemy
Whether you’re looking for fuel for your workout playlist or an old-school throwback to listen to, “911 Is A Joke” delivered smart rhymes and social commentary to satisfy everyone.
A true anthem of the Black community, this song speaks to the issue of emergency services negligence in impoverished neighborhoods. The lyrics are comical in tone, thanks to Flavor Flav and Samuel L. Jackson, but the message is serious nonetheless. The smash hit song critiques 911 emergency response times in impoverished neighborhoods and medical professional’s attitudes towards urban residents.
Public Enemy’s hit single combines hard-hitting lyrics with the perfect instrumental to make it one of hip-hop’s most powerful songs. Chuck D’s booming voice and the back-and-forth between himself and Flavor Flav give this track its signature sound.
At first, the radio stations resisted playing the song, but this only helped increase its popularity. It has since inspired several artists to focus on societal issues, starting the age of socially conscious hip-hop in the 1990s. This smash hit is a must-listen for everyone who loves old-school hip-hop!
3. “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash
Easily one of the most influential old-school hip-hop songs ever, this track is a lyrical classic. With clever double entendres and a banging beat, this smash hit brought Hip Hop into the Golden Age. Melle Mel tackled serious topics on this classic track. Using a slower tempo than most hip-hop at the time, he discussed life in the ghetto and the effect of drugs on inner-city youth. The Message’s lyrical themes and production helped to create an aesthetic that would change hip-hop for the better.
Incorporating rock influences into their music, their song introduced new lingo to American culture and topped the charts. The catchy tune and ominous instrumental makes it an instant hit. It also serves as a precursor to the harder, sparse beats that would characterize the next decade’s hip-hop music. The iconic song was a rap anthem that brought new lingo to American culture and influenced many future rappers. When you listen to it, you can hear why many consider it a hit to this day.
2. “Sometimes I Rhyme Slow” by Nice & Smooth
This song from Nice & Smooth epitomizes old-school hip hop’s first mainstream wave. The duo’s slick rapping and soulful keyboard chords made this a hit. It also introduced slam dancing, which became a staple in rap culture. The song was a top 10 hit in its era and still stands out as one of the most iconic of its genre.
Yet another classic old-school hip-hop song that pushed the style into the mainstream. This fast-paced track was the ultimate party song and helped boost hip-hop’s popularity. This dope song fuses rock music with hip-hop and is full of double entendres. It was the first time a rap group had used rock influences in their work. It remains a fan favorite. This is considered to be part of the beginning of Hip Hop’s Golden Age.
1. “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugar Hill Gang
Grandmaster Caz is arguably one of the most influential old-school hip-hop artists. His most notable contribution was uncredited rhymes that Big Bank Hank borrowed for the Sugar Hill Gang’s 1979 single “Rapper’s Delight.” Caz offered his lyric book in exchange for songwriting credit and royalties, but he never got them. This song was one of their first hits and paved the way for hip hop’s ascent to the mainstream.
When this song was released, disco and soul still ruled the clubs of urban centers across the country. Rappers were often misunderstood and accused of being drug dealers or criminals. But MCs such as Wonder Mike, Master Gee, and Big Bank Hank captivated listeners with their boastful lyrics and hilarious narratives. The record smashed into the Billboard Hot 100 in January of 1980, launching Hip-Hop from the streets to mainstream popularity. The Sugar Hill Gang made what many consider to be the first commercially successful rap song. They paved the way for other legendary groups like Run DMC and Cypress Hill.
Hip-hop made a huge impact on the mainstream when it was introduced to pop culture in the 1970s with this hit. The song solidified the genre’s popularity and helped bring it into the public eye. This song also marked the first time a group used an instrumental (Afrika Bambaataa’s “Good Times”) in a single. It would set a precedent for sampling that would grow in popularity over the years.
With its fun lyrics and classic bass line, this is one of the best old-school hip-hop songs ever. This was a time when hip-hop was about social consciousness and making improvements in the community. The lyrics are clever and full of double entendres. They’re the best of the best old-school hip-hop artists, paving the way for all the new superstars today.