Yo! I’m taking you back to ’80s hip hop and the best debut albums, in my opinion.

If you like this kind of series, let me know. I also wrote a post on the best hip hop debut albums from the ’90s, go check that one out as well.

Run-D.M.C.: Run-D.M.C. (1984)

The first one on my list of best debut hip hop albums from the ’80s is Run-D.M.C. Run-D.M.C.’s self-titled album, released in 1984, ushered in the New School Era of hip hop. Above all, the album remains the group’s most powerful and immediate studio record. Famously, the album’s production removed all the glossy live-band funk popular on the rap records of the day. They replaced it with a harsh, spacey stripped-down electronic boom.

Lyrically, it’s nothing special. But musically, it’s spare and hard and densely compelling. And it probably sounded terrifying in 1984. The album sounds pretty much like hard empty beats with yelled catchphrase-slinging rapping. It’s a strong and forceful time capsule from an era when rap’s hardness came from its sound rather than its lyrics.

You sucker MC’s, you sad-faced clown
You a five-dollar boy and I’m a-million dollar man
Youse a sucker MC, and you’re my fan
You try to bite lines, but rhymes are mine
Youse a sucker MC in a pair of Calvin Kleins

Run-D.M.C. – Sucker M.C.’s
Run-D.M.C.: Run-D.M.C. (Full Album) (1984)

Beastie Boys: Licensed to Ill (1986)

Released in 1986, Licensed to Ill became the first rap LP to top the Billboard album chart. The group originally wanted to title the album Don’t Be a Faggot, but Columbia Records refused to release the album under this title. It’s easy to get lost in the political issues that surround this album: Def Jam Records (after being pressured to change the title) releases the first album made by a Jewish hip hop act, and it becomes a worldwide smash. Race and America and cultural appropriation, etc. Heavy conversation.

But that shouldn’t blind anyone to the brilliance of Licensed to Ill. Every song on it, from inescapable frat-party classics like “Fight For Your Right” and “No Sleep Til Brooklyn” to less ubiquitous gems like “Posse in Effect” and “Slow and Low”, works just the way it’s supposed to. There’s lots of self-reverential bragging, more tenuous rhymes than are usually permitted by law, and an unshakably glorious celebration of being alive… And I still enjoy it today.

Don’t step out of this house if that’s the clothes you’re gonna wear
I’ll kick you out of my home if you don’t cut that hair
Your mom busted in and said, “What’s that noise?”
Aw, Mom, you’re just jealous it’s the Beastie Boys

Beastie Boys – Fight for Your Right
Beastie Boys.: Licensed to Ill (Full Album) (1986)

Eric B. & Rakim: Paid in Full (1987)

It’s hard to overstate the importance of Eric B. and Rakim’s 1987 debut album, Paid in Full. The album is credited as a benchmark album of golden age hip hop. As the first full-length display of Rakim’s rapping, it changed the art form more profoundly than any album before or since.

Rapping has changed a lot over the past 26-and-a-half years. But it’s never undergone a more dramatic stylistic shift than it did from the time just before anyone outside of Wyandach, Long Island had heard Rakim’s monotone—flowing so smooth, so patiently, so cold, putting words together in such complex patterns—and just after. Paid In Full marks the start of modern-day rap.

Dave Bry, The Awl

His rapping, which pioneered the use of internal rhymes in hip hop, set a higher standard of lyricism in the genre and served as template for future rappers. The album’s heavy sampling by Eric B. became influential in hip hop production.

I don’t bug out or chill or be acting ill
No tricks in ’86, it’s time to build
Eric be easy on the cut, no mistakes allowed
‘Cause to me, MC means move the crowd

Eric B. & Rakim – Eric B. Is President
Eric B. & Rakim: Paid in Full (Full Album) (1987)

N.W.A: Straight Outta Compton (1988)

N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton, released in 1988, has been viewed as the pioneering record of gangsta rap with its pervasive graphic profanity and violent lyrics. Unlike a lot of the gangster-inspired material of today, Straight Outta Compton balanced their brutal themes with songs that fell in line with hip hop’s core foundation with MC Ren’s “If It Ain’t Ruff”, “Quiet on tha Set”, and “Express Yourself”. These were nods to the group’s background in the art proving they weren’t just a bunch of newbies on the mic.

Because of the recurring violent and sexual lyrics and profanity, often specifically directed at the LAPD, N.W.A always enjoyed a particular reputation with U.S. Senators and the FBI. Cops refused to provide security for concerts and fans wanted more. Straight Outta Compton was one of the first albums ever to get a parental advisory sticker and by the time it was all said and done, the album had sold over 10 million copies.

Fuck the police! Comin’ straight from the underground
A young nigga got it bad ‘cause I’m brown
And not the other color, so police think
They have the authority to kill a minority

N.W.A – Fuck tha Police

De La Soul: 3 Feet High and Rising (1989)

Long before album skits became commonplace on rap records, De La Soul, with the help of twisted beat guru Prince Paul, crafted Three Feet High and Rising, hip hop’s first album with produced skits. It was a far stretch from what hip hop was used to hearing. It wasn’t boastful or commanding, and there weren’t any tales of drama.

Released amid the 1989 boom in gangsta rap, which gravitated towards hardcore, confrontational, violet lyrics, De La Soul’s uniquely positive style made them an oddity beginning with the first single, “Me, Myself and I”. Their positivity meant many labeled them a “hippie” group, based on their declaration of the “D.A.I.S.Y. Age” (da inner sound, y’all).

Mirror mirror on the wall
Tell me mirror, what is wrong?
Can it be my De La Clothes
Or is it just my De La Soul?
What I do ain’t make-believe
People say I sit and try
But when it comes to being De La
It’s just me myself and I

De La Soul – Me Myself and I

Finally, that’s my list of 5 best hip hop debut albums from the ’80s.

What are your favorites? Let me know down in the comments!

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