Top Ten Most Relevant Old School Rap Songs
The definition of Old School Rap is debatable. Most descriptions put Old School as being from the mid-70s until the mid-90s. To me, anything after the early 90s is not Old School. It is merely old. That leads me to a question, what are the most influential early rap songs? Looking at the artists and songs *through the 80s, here is my list of the most notable. By no means is the list all-inclusive. There are too many great songs and artist to mention.
10. Children’s Story – Slick Rick
Slick Rick (aka Richard Walters) has a unique delivery and cadence using the Queen’s English and clear enunciation. However, it is his ability to tell a story that makes the song so influential. “Children’s Story” is the tale of a kid growing up making wrong decisions. He can also deliver a story with humor like “La Di Da Di.” “Children’s Story” led to future classics like Eminem’s “Stan,” A Tribe Called Quest’s “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo” and Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day.”
Peter Shapiro in The Rough Guide To Hip-Hop wrote, ” ‘Children’s Story’ was important because of its narrative structure and Rick’s understanding of how crucial little sonic details—such as his use of a female voice and his yawning rap—were to hip-hop style.”
9. Me Myself and I – De la Soul
“Me Myself and I” reached the top 4o on the US Pop chart and number 1 on various R&B and Dance charts. The song is the most popular single from De La Soul’s masterpiece album 3 Feet and Rising. De La Soul is part of Rap’s Native Tongue Posse that includes the Jungle Brothers, Queen Latifah, Black Sheep, and A Tribe Called Quest (biggest hits were in the early 90s). The band is known for their positivity, good-natured fun, and Afrocentric lyrics. They are pioneers in the use of heterogeneous samples and jazz beats. They often rap against the increasingly violent, misogynistic world of rap
The song pushes the positivity of being who you are and not another lemming. “Me Myself and I” touches on the band’s unfair stereotype of being hippies. The song, the group, and the Native Tongue movement went on to influence the works of Common, Brand Nubian, Leaders of the Old School, Mos-Def and De La’s work with the Gorillaz.
8. Fuck the Police – N.W.A
Not the first Gangsta Rap song (Ice T and Schoolly D can claim that), but ‘Fuck the Police,’ and its LP popularized it. The song is an actual protest song (released a year before Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power”). It is a brash and courageous song that deals with police brutality and racial profiling, a topic that still resonates today. Controversial for the lyrics encouraging the use of violence against the police, it was banned globally from radio airplay. The exception was a single radio station in Australia. The LP for “Fuck the Police” is the first record to go double platinum without airplay. It is also one of the first to receive the explicit lyrics sticker. Always controversial, its anger and frustration mirror today’s Black Lives Matter movement.
“If something happened in my neighborhood, the last people we’d call was the police. Our friends get killed; they never find the killer. 387 people were killed in gang activity in L.A. In 1988.” – Ice Cube 
7. The Breaks – Kurtis Blow
“The Breaks” is Rap Music’s first gold single. It is ranked as the tenth greatest Hip Hop song of all time by VH1. With its release, Kurtis Blow (born, Kurtis Walker) became the first rapper to sign to a major label and the first to perform overseas. “The Breaks” shows that a rap artist can be financially viable, inspiring generations.
6. (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!) – Beastie Boys
The band were the first non-black performers to sign with the Def Jam label. Michael “Mike D,” Adam “MCA” Yauch, and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz may not be who you think of when you say Old School. However, they were part of the expansion of rap too a young MTV audience. The punk-influenced song became a party anthem aided by its frat-boy humor and rebellious attitude. “Fight for Your Right” provided the band with a niche in what was a mainly black market. Its success even helped Public Enemy. According to David Gonos, “Chuck D credits Public Enemy’s success to the Beastie Boys allowing them to open for them in 1987”. “Fight for Your Right” inspired artists from Cypress Hill to Linkin Park, clearing a path of legitimacy for future talents like Eminem, Mac Miller, and Hoodie Allen.
5. Fight the Power -Public Enemy
Released in June 1989 and recorded for the Spike Lee joint Do the Right Thing., “Fight the Power” is the result of Lee asking Chuck D for a song to use as a leitmotif. Musically it is full of looping samples on top of looping samples. Many samples are as short as a second. The only instruments used for the song were a saxophone played by Branford Marsalis and the scratching of DJ Terminator X.
Beyond the creative use of sampling to achieve its unique sound, “Fight the Power,” is a call to arms. It is an anthem to solidify a movement. It is rebellion. Producer Rick Rueben says”For me it was like a Black version of Punk Rock” The video filmed as part political rally, part live performance. The song and video show the anger of Black America at the “power that be.” The video contains images of Malcolm X and the nation of Islam. Also, the lyrics disparage white icons like Elvis Pressley and John Wayne.
Elvis was a hero to most
But he never meant shit to me you see
Straight up racist that sucker was
Simple and plain
Mother fuck him and John Wayne
The song is compelling, and the anger is real. It inspires many activists for civil rights and social change as well as generations of rap and rock performers.
4. Push It – Salt-N-Pepa
“Push It” made the album Hot, Cool and Vicious the first to reach Platinum by a female rap group or artist. Cheryl James (“Salt”), Sandra Denton (“Pepa”) and Deidra Roper (“DJ Spinderella”), better known as Salt-N-Pepa, charted the remix of “Push It” in 14 countries. The global smash released in 1986, a year that saw the image of rap move from a perceived fad to a legitimate music genre. They were not the first female rappers to record for a major label (that goes to Sha-Rock of Funky 4 +1). They were the most influential.
Until their success, the lyrics often contain too much male bravado. Most women saw rap as too misogynous. The underlying sexual message of “Push It” gave women a strong voice for their sexuality. The song led to a wider female audience for rap. Salt-N-Pepa continues to be a strong voice for women continuing to talk about sex and their expectations of men with such hits as “Let’s Talk about Sex,” “Swoop” and “Whatta Man.”
3. Walk this Way – Run-DMC
The birth of rock-rap started with this song. A collaboration with Aerosmith and Run-DMC, it became the first top 10 rap song on the Billboard Popular chart. “Walk this Way” paved the path for such future bands like Korn, Linkin Park and Rage Against the Machine.
2. Rapper’s Delight – The Sugarhill Gang
“Rapper’s Delight” is built upon the disco classic, Chic’s “Good Times”, which helps to keep it light and very danceable. The song’s fun wordplay and cadence make it timeless. The story goes that Big Bank Hank, Wonder Mike, and Master Gee recorded the original 15-minute version in 1 take. Trimmed to 7-minutes, the shortened version helped it gain more and more airplay internationally, eventually charting in 14 countries.
The 1979 release brought rap from the urban streets to the masses. It provided a way for young black males to make their voices heard outside of their neighborhood. In many ways, it influences all rap artist that follow it.
I dare you not to rap “I said a hip hop – Hippie to the hippie – The hip, hip a hop, and you don’t stop” when you hear the song.
1. The Message – Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.
“The Message” changed the face of rap. Before this masterpiece, rap was about parties, sex, and bragging. “The Message” is social commentary about the struggles of life. It describes where rap originated. It is hard to get Melle Mel out of your head as he says what may be the most memorable verse in rap. “Don’t push me ’cause I’m close to the edge – I’m trying not to lose my head – It’s like a jungle – sometimes It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under.” Its influence paved the way for the lyrics of NWA, Public Enemy, and Rage Against the Machine.
Again, there are so many great artists and songs – if you disagree with my list, great! Tell me what you think.
Other Worthy Artists
Boogie Down Productions
Big Daddy Kane
Soul Sonic Force
LL Cool J
Eric B & Rakim
Doug E. Fresh
Many, many more…