Best 1980s Rappers: Top 5 Nostalgic Artists Most Recommended By Music Experts

The 1980s marked a pivotal era in hip-hop, with the emergence of influential rap artists who shaped the genre’s landscape. These artists, known for their lyrical prowess, unique styles, and memorable beats, left an indelible mark on the music industry. During this vibrant decade, the rap scene flourished with creativity and innovation, giving rise to some of the best 1980s rappers who continue to be celebrated today. Their contributions to the genre have been acknowledged by critics and fans alike, solidifying their status as legends in the hip-hop realm.

In the vibrant era of the 1980s, hip-hop rose to prominence, bringing forth a multitude of exceptionally talented rappers, each possessing their own unique style and artistic vision. These visionary artists not only transformed the genre but also laid the foundation for the future of rap music. With their electrifying performances and thought-provoking lyrics, the best 1980s rappers encapsulated the spirit of the times and pushed creative boundaries. Their impact resonates even in today’s rap landscape, standing as a testament to their enduring influence.

In a recent study, researchers discovered a fascinating trend among Facebook users. The examination revealed that these users were particularly drawn to songs featuring “pro-social” lyrics, which promote positive actions such as gratitude, spirituality, education, and community support. This finding underscores the enduring appeal of uplifting and socially conscious music, reaffirming the significance of the artists who championed these values through their art.

From their trailblazing contributions to the evolution of hip-hop to their lasting impact on popular culture, these rappers left an indelible mark on the music industry. Their influential presence continues to shape contemporary rap music, inspiring new generations of artists to express themselves authentically and tackle social issues through their lyrics.

These pioneering rappers introduced new sounds, incorporated elements of funk, soul, and rock into their music, and crafted memorable verses that continue to resonate with audiences. Their contributions not only laid the foundation for rap’s future development but also played a significant role in shaping popular culture as a whole. That being said, StudyFinds set out to do the research for you, visiting 10 expert websites to put together this list of the best 1980s rappers by seeking out the most recommended artists. If you’ve got your own suggestions, please leave them in the comments below!

The List: Best 1980s Rappers According to Experts

1. Rakim

Regarded as one of the most influential figures in rap history, Rakim revolutionized the genre with his exceptional lyrical abilities and innovative rhyme schemes. His impact on rap music cannot be overstated. As HipHopDX notes, “his unparalleled wordplay and complex flow revolutionized rap music.” Rakim’s unique approach to crafting lyrics and delivering them with precision set him apart from his peers, earning him a well-deserved place in rap’s hall of fame.

Rakim (“Rakim” by Jnforte is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.)

AllMusic recognizes that “Rakim’s lyrical genius set the bar for future generations of rappers.” His lyrical finesse and thought-provoking verses paved the way for a new standard in rap music. Rakim’s ability to convey deep messages with intricate wordplay captivated audiences and inspired countless aspiring artists to follow in his footsteps.

Rolling Stone echoes the sentiment of Rakim’s greatness. They affirm his status as one of the best rappers of the 1980s, emphasizing “his iconic verses that continue to resonate with fans. Rakim’s lyrical prowess and captivating storytelling transported listeners into a world of vivid imagery and powerful narratives.” His impact on the rap scene was undeniable, and his contributions continue to shape the genre to this day.

Rakim’s enduring legacy extends beyond his era. His influence can be felt in the work of contemporary rap artists who draw inspiration from his groundbreaking techniques. The innovation and creativity he brought to the table pushed boundaries and opened doors for future generations to explore new possibilities in rap music.

2. LL Cool J

Known for his captivating stage presence and undeniable charisma, LL Cool J rose to prominence in the 1980s rap scene. His talent and artistry left an indelible mark on the genre, and his contributions continue to be celebrated to this day.

LL Cool J on stage
LL Cool J on stage (“LL Cool J at Stubb’s” by is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.)

The Source recognizes LL Cool J’s charisma and versatility, stating, “LL Cool J’s stage presence and lyrical prowess made him a true pioneer in the rap game.” His ability to command the stage and engage audiences with his performance is unmatched, solidifying his status as an influential figure in hip-hop.

HipHopDX also acknowledges, “LL Cool J’s ability to blend storytelling with braggadocious rhymes solidified his status as one of the best rappers of the 1980s.” His lyrical skills allowed him to paint vivid pictures through his music, captivating listeners and leaving them in awe of his storytelling abilities.

NME further emphasizes LL Cool J’s enduring legacy, describing his iconic tracks as a testament to his lasting impact in hip-hop. His songs have stood the test of time, resonating with audiences and serving as a reminder of his talent and influence. LL Cool J’s contributions to the rap industry continue to inspire and influence the current generation of artists.

3. KRS-One

KRS-One is also known as “The Blastmaster”. Rolling Stone praises his ability to shed light on crucial issues, stating, “KRS-One’s socially conscious lyrics tackled important social and political topics, urging listeners to engage with their surroundings.”

KRS-One at the Edison Ballroom in New York City in 2018
KRS-One at the Edison Ballroom in New York City in 2018 (Photo by lev radin on Shutterstock)

Beyond his lyrical content, KRS-One’s approach to rap was marked by intellectualism. Complex recognizes his unique style, stating, “KRS-One’s lyrical style challenged conventional notions and played a significant role in shaping the future of conscious hip-hop.” He brought a level of depth and introspection to his music that resonated with audiences seeking substance in their hip-hop.

KRS-One’s contributions to the genre continue to reverberate through the years. Pitchfork acknowledges his enduring influence, noting, “KRS-One’s contributions continue to inspire generations of artists.” His impact on rap music extends far beyond the 1980s, as his innovative approach and meaningful lyrics have left an indelible mark on the hip-hop landscape.

4. Public Enemy

Public Enemy emerged as a powerful force, combining politically charged lyrics with an innovative sound that would reshape the genre. Rolling Stone recognizes the significance of Public Enemy’s approach, stating, “Public Enemy pushed rap into uncharted territory with their confrontational style and thought-provoking lyrics.”

What set Public Enemy apart was their ability to use music as a platform for addressing systemic injustices. Their songs served as a rallying cry against social and political oppressions, giving voice to marginalized communities. The Guardian acknowledges their transformative influence, stating, “Public Enemy’s music inspired a generation of activists and played a significant role in shaping popular culture.”

Beyond their lyrical content, Public Enemy’s fusion of rap and activism was a groundbreaking achievement. They were pioneers of socially conscious hip-hop, merging music and social commentary in a way that resonated deeply with audiences. Ultimate Classic Rock recognizes their contributions, describing Public Enemy as one of the trailblazers in this realm. Their unique blend of rap and activism created a template for future artists to follow.

5. Run-DMC

What set this group apart was their groundbreaking fusion of rap and rock, which would go on to shape the future of hip-hop. NPR recognizes their pivotal role, stating, “Their fusion of rap and rock laid the groundwork for future artists, opening doors for new possibilities in hip-hop.”

Run-DMC at the American Music Awards in 2001
Run-DMC at the American Music Awards in 2001 (Photo by Featureflash Photo Agency on Shutterstock)

Their approach was raw and powerful, creating a sound that resonated with audiences and set the blueprint for modern rap. AllMusic acknowledges their influential contributions, noting that Run-DMC’s stripped-down beats and confident rhymes set the stage for the evolution of the genre.

Among their standout achievements was the timeless classic “Walk This Way,” a collaboration with rock legends Aerosmith. This groundbreaking anthem bridged the gap between rap and rock. Pitchfork describes their iconic track as a testament to their artistic prowess, stating, “Their anthems like ‘Walk This Way’ have become timeless classics, further cementing their status as one of the greatest rap groups of the 1980s.”

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