The Sugarhill Gang’s 1979 hit “Rapper’s Delight” was the first rap song to rank in the top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States. This groundbreaking event opened the door for a flourishing mainstream rap culture as we headed into the 1980s. We’ve put together a list of the best Black rappers from the 1980s, first the males then the female rappers, in no particular order.
Best Black Male Rappers of the 80s
There are many more notable Black male rappers from the 1980s, but we are going to point out some of the best. These are not in any order.
He might not have had a lot of hits, but MC Hammer is one of the most recognizable Black rappers from the 80s. His genre was upbeat and catchy and considered “pop-rap” since it appealed to the mainstream and not just the Hip-Hop scene.
His major hit, “U Can’t Touch This” was released in 1989. Some refer to Hammer as a “One-hit wonder” but MC Hammer, known for his iconic parachute pants (or “Hammer pants”), has managed to stay relevant and recognized, even though he has mostly retired from music to become a preacher.
MC Hammer, born Stanley Kirk Burrell, was a known friend of both Arsenio Hall and Vanilla Ice (Robert Van Winkle). Hammer was the first hip-hop artist to achieve diamond status for his 1990 album Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt Em.
Richard Martin Lloyd Waters, or as we know him, Slick Rick, was born in London and moved to the United States (specifically, the Bronx), at age 11. He was blinded in his right eye as a baby, which led to the eye patch he is known for wearing.
He became famous in 1985 when he joined Doug E. Fresh’s Get Fresh Crew and debuted “La Di Da Di.” Snoop Doggy Dogg covered “La Di Da Di” in 1993 as “Lodi Dodi,” making Slick Rick one of the first hip-hop artists to be covered.
The 1986 number-one hit, “Children’s Story,” has been sampled by countless artists since then. Slick Rick was one of the most well-known names in 80s Black music, with people of all ages recognizing his songs and samples of his music.
LL Cool J
There are few Black rappers as widely known as LL Cool J. James Todd Smith’s stage name is an acronym for “Ladies Love Cool James,” because they could get away with that in the 80s.
He debuted his album Radio in 1985 to great success. The last week of December 1985, Radio entered the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums Chart where it would spend 47 weeks, peaking at #6.
In 1987, Bigger and Deffer was released and would spend 11 weeks as the #1 R&B album. Most of us know LL Cool J’s single, “I’m Bad.”
As the 80s ended, LL Cool J released Mama Said Knock You Out, which went double platinum and ushered in another decade of rap.
LL Cool James is still well-known and could be considered a household name to many.
Public Enemy is a group of Black rappers from the 80s who significantly impacted Hip-Hop music as we know it.
Core members Chuck D and Flavor Flav are frequently pointed to as influential musicians who made an impression on Black artists that came to the scene later.
Flavor Flav, who is known for his “antics” as a hype man, even had a brief stint in reality TV in the early 2000s, starring in three VH1 reality shows: The Surreal Life, Strange Love, and Flavor of Love. Everyone knows him by his iconic clock jewelry.
Back in the 80s, however, they released two albums that blew up. They were Yo! Bum Rush The Show in 1987 and It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back in 1988. “Bring The Noise” and “Don’t Believe the Hype” are still popular today.
Run-DMC made up of Joseph “Run” Simmons, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, and Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell, is one of the most influential black rap groups of the 20th century.
Their self-titled album which was released in 1984 made them the first hip-hop group to produce a Gold record.
Run-DMC has a unique sound, and was often referred to as “rap-rock”. They covered Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” and their cover performed better on the charts than Aerosmith’s original version.
“King of Rock”, “Rock Box” and “It’s Tricky” cemented Run-DMC’s status as legendary Black artists. Everybody is aware of Run-DMC and the group’s accomplishments and influence on mainstream hip-hop culture.
In 2002, Jam Master Jay Mizell was murdered. His murderers were not arrested until 2020. Following his death, the group disbanded, but they have done sporadic reunions in the years since.
Marcel Theo Hall, better known as Biz Markie, is one of the most talented beatboxers the world has ever seen. He started in the 1980s as a rapper and was often nicknamed the Clown Prince of Hip-Hop.
Biz was New York-born and raised and his music made listeners want to smile. “Pickin’ Boogers” is an example of that jester-like attitude that Biz Markie held around his work.
His 1989 single “Just A Friend” remains his most listened-to song, accompanied by his creative, cinematic music video. It tells the story of a questionable relationship.
Biz Markie was not just funny, but he was connected to other influential Black artists in the 80s. He was associated with the Juice Crew and involved in the famous “Roxanne Wars” of the era.
In July 2020, Biz Markie passed away as the result of an extended illness. He had a stroke following diabetic complications and spent months in a rehabilitation center before it was announced he had passed away.
Rest in Peace, Biz.
N.W.A. is undoubtedly a group of some of the best Black rappers of the 80s. While they were controversial and their active years were limited, they were unafraid to use profanity and to reference offensive topics.
Several founding members went on to become rap superpowers, like the hugely famous Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy E, and MC Ren.
If you were listening to rap in the 80s, you probably owned a copy of Straight Outta Compton. The members of N.W.A. prided themselves on rapping about real problems and social issues, like police brutality. They referred to their music as “reality rap,” even though many critics and hip-hop artists have said that they consider N.W.A to be the original fathers of gangsta rap.
The group was accused of being misogynistic and Anti-Semitic, among other forms of controversy. The members of N.W.A. seemed to always be warring with each other, with Eazy-E having conflicts with all of the past members of the group. Most members left before the group disbanded.
Eazy E passed away in 1995 due to AIDS-related complications.
Best Black Female Rappers of The 80s
While it was the 90s that saw such iconic Black female rappers as Lil Kim, Missy Elliot, Lauryn Hill, and more, we can’t forget about the early pioneers of hip-hop as we know it. These Black female rappers dominated the 80s.
“Push It” and “Shoop” are essentials when it comes to rap songs by Black females. Salt-N-Pepa is a superpower that consists of Salt (Cheryl James) and Pepa (Sandra Denton), who were both nursing students in 1985. They were joined by DJ Spinderella (Deidra Roper) in 1987, who was a high school student at the time.
In 1985, they released an answer track, “The Showstoppa”, to Doug E. Fresh’s “The Show” and began receiving attention. They signed to a label and by 1986 had released Hot, Cool, & Vicious.
“Push It” earned Platinum status first, followed by the album. The three women became the first female rap group to go Platinum.
Their popularity continued into the 90s, but Salt-N-Pepa was truly groundbreaking when it came to 80s rap.
We can’t talk about Black rappers from the 80s without mentioning MC Lyte. She was born Lana Michele Moorer and began rapping at just 12 years old.
At 16, she released her first single, “I Cram To Understand U (Sam)” which she had written when she was twelve. This was one of the first songs written about the crack epidemic of the 1980s.
The next year, in 1988, Lyte as a Rock came out, making MC Lyte the first female solo rapper to release a full-length album. She was making waves and blazing trails before graduating high school.
In 1989, her second album, Eyes on This, came out featuring number-1 single “Cha Cha Cha”.
Rap queens Missy Elliot, Da Brat, Eve, and Lauryn Hill have all named MC Lyte as an inspiration.
Queen Latifah remains a global superstar to this day. Everyone knows her name and her work.
Even though she came on the scene at the very end of the 80s, with her first album, All Hail The Queen, being released in 1989, she is still considered to be a powerful and influential Black female rapper out of the 80s.
Queen Latifah, who started as a beatboxer, has an impressive two-octave vocal range, which means she has a versatile voice that is sought after.
She went on to become a hugely popular TV and movie star, playing one of the main roles in Living Single and receiving an Academy Award nomination for her supporting role in Chicago.
Roxanne Shante was a talented, ambitious example of pure excellence.
She started rapping at the age of 9, and by 14 was a member of Juice Crew and responsible for “Roxanne’s Revenge”, an answer track to U.T.F.O’s “Roxanne, Roxanne”.
“Roxanne’s Revenge” was a success and led to the famous “Roxanne Wars” of the 80s. During this, there were dozens of diss tracks released back and forth between various hip-hop artists.
Roxanne began touring and was seen performing with big names like Biz Markie, Marley Marl, Sparky D, and more.
Her 1989 album, Bad Sister, performed reasonably well on the hip-hop charts.
Sha-Rock is truly a pioneer when it comes to Black female rappers.
She is considered the first female emcee and was the first to release an album on vinyl.
She was a b-girl (breakdancer) in the late 70s and joined The Funky 4 as their “plus one”, making the group The Funky 4 + 1.
Sha-Rock, who was born Sharon Green, had a unique style of rapping, the “echo chamber”, that was known to influence rappers like Rev. Run of Run-DMC.
Rochelle Ryndia Ray, or Lady Crush, was an old-school hip-hop artist in the 80s.
She made her debut in 1984 after winning a contest and being featured on a single by Tim Greene. In 1985, she launched her solo career and produced MC Perpetrators, a single that is considered highly valuable today. The production of MC Perpetrators made Lady Crush the youngest female rapper on 12” vinyl.
Lady Crush was too young to tour since most venues did not allow pre-teen girls to enter, so she performed at teen dance clubs and continued to gain popularity, eventually becoming an opening act for giants like Salt-N-Pepa, Heavy D & The Boyz, and UTFO.
While many don’t remember Lady Crush as being a superstar of the 80s, she was an important part of the hip-hop scene and copies of her vinyl continue to be in high demand today.
Best Black Rappers In the 80s, Conclusion
The 1980s saw the rise of many Black rap artists. Some faded into obscurity and many are still making music today. Fans of Black rappers can all agree that the 80s was an essential era for rap, as it became popular and started gaining play on the radio. These 13 best Black rappers are just the tip of the iceberg.