The ’80s was a wonderful time for musicians. MTV created something special that allowed more and more black musicians to get their music out to a broader audience. Music videos from many of the black musicians on this list changed music forever.
All the albums on this list have been commercial and critical successes. If you miss the ’80s and want a walk back down memory lane, here are 8 of the best ’80s black albums for you to listen to.
Purple Rain – 1984
No other black musician dominated the ’80s like Prince. Releasing nine albums in the ’80s, Prince peaked when he released Purple Rain. From the opening prayer during “Let’s Go Crazy” until the album closes with the title song, listeners are in for a wild ride while listening to Purple Rain.
While crafting the album, Prince envisioned the film Purple Rain. Combined with the film, Prince and the Revolution gave us a performance for the ages in the 1980s.
As one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the ’80s, “Purple Rain” peaked at #1 on Billboards album chart and scored two number one hits including Let’s Go Crazy and When Doves Cry. The band also won 3 Grammys for the album.
Thriller – 1982
Thriller was an unstoppable force in the ’80s. As the biggest selling album in history, Thriller went on to sell a staggering 70 million records worldwide. Michael Jackson and producer Quincy Jones created the perfect ’80s pop record that accumulated seven hit singles. While every single charted, only “Billie Jean” made it to #1 on the Hot 100.
Michael Jackson’s massive success with Thriller has encouraged countless other black musicians over the years. No other black musician had ever crafted an album with such pop crossover appeal.
The post-disco sounds on tunes like “Wanna be Starting Something” and “P.Y.T. Pretty Young Thing” became dancefloor favorites. “Thriller,” “Billie Jean” and “Beat It” took full advantage of MTV and brought Michael Jackson and black music to every home in America.
Tracy Chapman – 1988
Recorded in 1988, this self-titled album is quite different from many of the other pop-friendly albums on this list. Critically acclaimed, Tracy Chapman showed that singer-songwriters could be successful in the MTV era.
The songs from Tracy Chapman are bare-boned yet filled with emotion. In a time of pop dance, heavy metal, and hip hop musicians charting, Tracy brought a unique sound and voice that was unmatched during the ’80s.
“Fast Car” was the biggest single on the album and infiltrated radios and televisions around the world. The album also saw commercial success and peaked at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart. The critics loved the album as well and Tracy received 3 Grammys for “Best Female Pop Vocal Performance,” “Best Contemporary Folk Album,” and “Best New Artist.”
It Takes a Nation Of Millions to Hold Us Back – 1989
Chuck D and Flavor Flav set out to craft the hip hop equivalent to Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going on” and they succeeded. Each song on the album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back is fueled with hard hitting lyrics portraying life across the inner city.
The songs are fueled by Chuck D’s aggressive and politically charged rhymes are filled with a dense vocabulary that many other MCs of the era lacked. Hypeman, Flavor Flav adds to every track with his memorable vocal hooks like “Don’t Believe the Hype.”
Released in 1988, the album was critically praised and saw commercial success as well. Certified platinum, “Nation” peaked at 42 on the US album charts. Since its release, the album has been constantly praised as one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time.
Control – 1986
Control was Janet Jackson’s declaration of independence from the Jackson Family. Growing up in the shadows of the King of Pop, Control was Janet’s first attempt at creating her sound and image. The album went on to incredible success and Janet Jackson showed she could rock the charts just as well as anyone in her family.
Along with producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Janet Jackson created one of the most danceable and memorable albums of the late ’80s. The sounds created were unique and a far departure from her brother Michael’s sound.
“What Have You Done for Me Lately”, as well as “Nasty,” and even “Control,” all had dancefloor and chart success. The album hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and is constantly listed on many top albums of all-time lists.
Private Dancer – 1984
“Private Dancer” helped Tina Turner perform the comeback of the decade. After a tough break up with long time partner, Ike Turner, Tina was having difficulty with her solo career. This was all about to change when she met John Carter of Capitol Records.
The team created “Private Dancer” in 1984 and Tina was propelled into superstardom shortly after release. Her captivating and seductive vocals fill every song and instantly pull you into the tunes.
The album had amazing critical acclaim as well. Tina won four Grammy awards for “Private Dancer” including “Best Female Rock Vocal,” “Best Female Pop Vocal,” “Record of the Year,” and “Song of the Year.”
Raising Hell – 1986
If you had to choose one hip-hop album that helped create the most crossover interest in this new musical genre, “Raising Hell” would be at the top of the list. While rap was still in its infancy and only heard on black music stations in the early ’80s, Raising Hell was about to change the world. Combing rock riffs and hard rhymes Run DMC was ready for superstardom.
With this album, Run DMC quickly found pop crossover success. After release “Raising Hell” was the first hip hop album to reach #3 on Billboards Top 200 and #1 on the R&B charts.
Creative and unique, the 4 hit singles on the album changed hip hop forever. Their success was fueled by the massive success of “Walk this Way” The song sampled Aersomith’s tune of the same name and the band joined Run DMC for the music video. The crossover tune is also credited with revitalizing Aerosmith’s career in the ’80s.
Whitney Houston – 1985
No ’80s album music list would be complete without adding Whitney Houston to the list. Whitney’s self-titled debut album topped the charts in 1985 and featured three #1 hit singles including “Saving All My Love For You,” “How Will I Know,” and “The Greatest Love of All.”
The critics also appreciated the album giving “Whitney Houston” 4 Grammy nominations and the award for “Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female” for “Saving All My Love For You.”
Tops 80s Black Albums, Final Thoughts
The ’80s were filled with fantastic music from black musicians. From pop to disco to hip hop, black artists gave us some of the most memorable songs in history during the 1980s. This list is just a sampling of the amazing music produced by black musicians in the ’80s. Whether you are a Prince or MJ fan, we hope you enjoyed our picks for the eight best ’80s black albums.