When hip hop music is referred to as old school hip-hop, that means it was some of the earliest recorded hip-hop and shows the original hip-hop style. This style of hip-hop reached its peak between 1978 and 1986 – but the same term is sometimes also used to describe any music that differs in style from other contemporary hip hop.
Most serious hip-hop fans know at least a little about some of the best old-school rappers because the genre of music that has become today’s hip-hop owes a lot to the influence of early rap.
Not surprisingly, the rapping techniques in old-school hip-hop tend to be simpler than those found in more recent hip-hop. Those old-school songs normally have fewer syllables to fit into each bar, simpler rhythms, and a medium speed.
As far as the subject of these songs is concerned, most old-school hip-hop is about partying. At a time when there was significant social upheaval taking place, people liked their music to take their minds off their problems.
In 1982, Planet Rock was released, and that ushered in a big musical shift. The beat of electronic percussion typical of sci-fi music was being combined with rap, and the results were astonishing. For example, Warp 9 wrote the hit “Light Years Away,” which some describe as brilliant and that this electro hip-hop traverses inner and outer space.
Electro-funk, the electronic recreation of 1970s block party sounds, took on a leading role (especially between about 1982 and 1986). New mixing and scratching techniques were also developed in line with the extended percussion breaks now being used.
The Influence of Old School
With old-school hip-hop, what makes the music great isn’t just the lyrics, the beats, or the instrumental techniques. The main point is the emotions these songs stir in their listeners. The songs motivate people to push for changes in society, changes that would make the world a better place.
The hip-hop classics that have influenced the genre the most profoundly weren’t all billboard leaders in their day. Several of the lists of top hip-hop songs feature the same songs. Everybody agrees about how important they were, but they were not all chart-toppers.
Rapper’s Delight, by The Sugarhill Gang, is often rated the most popular old-school hip-hop song, and its billboard rating in 1979 was 4/100. But the number two most popular, The Message (by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five) is also often considered one of Hip Hop’s founding tracks, and it only ever achieved a billboard rating of 62/100!
Roxanne, Roxanne (by UTFO) came out in 1983. This is number 3 on the list of Most Beloved Hip Hop Songs, and its billboard rating is not even known! Slow Down, by Brand Nubian (1990), is number 4 and also had an unknown billboard rating.
Like any form of creative art, music affects different people differently. That’s why no two lists of the top old-school hip-hop classics will ever be exactly the same. But hip-hop fans around the world tend to agree on some of the best beloved old-school hip-hop songs that undoubtedly deserve a place on any list.