The Ten Most Important Songs Of Hip-Hop’s First Decade
On August 11, 2013, hip-hop music celebrated the 40th anniversary of the day Kool Herc dragged his turntables and records to a Bronx recreation area and spun discs in an entirely different way than most had ever heard. In addition, when his homeboy Coke La Rock started talking trash into a microphone left on the table, the beautiful dynamic between DJ and MC blossomed to the beat. Although a definitive list of the best hip-hop tracks from that first golden decade would be long as hell, this is our top ten. Let the disagreements and arguing begin... —Michael A. Gonzales (@gonzomike)
1. "Apache" (1973)/The Incredible Bongo Band
This Wild Wild West sounding song was one of the many tracks that pre-record-making DJs spun to get the party started. In 1981, the Sugar Hill Gang sampled it for their popular track “Apache (Jump On It)."
2. "Trans-Europe Express" (1977)/Kraftwerk
Like music constructed in a computer factory, the electro-brilliance of Kraftwerk’s “Trans-Europe Express” sounded both futuristic and funky when it was released in 1977. Launching a few aural revolutions and rocking more than a few block parties, this track was the launching pad for the electro hip-hop movement that jumped off in the early '80s. If not for this song, Afrika Bambaataa & the Soul Sonic Force never would have made “Planet Rock."
3. "Good Times" (1979)/Chic
Before the Sugar Hill Gang jacked this Studio 54 disco classic for their own hit “Rapper’s Delight,” b-boys were already spinning it in crammed parties and rapping over Bernard Edwards' hypnotic bassline. Composed with his partner in Chic, guitarist Nile Rodgers (yes, the same dude riffing on Daft Punk's “Get Lucky”), this classic track has a timeless quality.
4. "Rapper's Delight" (1979)/The Sugar Hill Gang
Believe it or not, back in the day many DJs and rappers could care less about making records. For them it was all about performing on the small stages of firetrap clubs and partying in the park, their equipment plugged into the nearest lamppost. While Fatback’s “King Tim III” was the actual first rap track, the Chic-sponsored “Rapper’s Delight” is the one radio jocks actually played.
5. "The Adventures of Super Rhymes" (1979)/Jimmy Spicer
When hip-hop first began, it was the DJ that ran things at the jams. Most folks just wanted to dance, and listening to somebody going on and on till the break of dawn lyrically was the last thing on their minds. Yet, while “Rapper’s Delight” changed the game as well as the creative dynamic of hip-hop duos, making the MC the top dog, Jimmy Spicer’s verbose “The Adventures of Super Rhymes” was another word bomb dropped on the DJ side. Going on for over fourteen minutes, Spicer makes his point and then some.
6. "Love Rap" (1979)/Spoonie Gee
Leave it to a Harlem native to go all mack daddy on the mic and create a masterpiece in the process. With a laid back voice and his smooth delivery, Spoonie was scoopin’ up all the freaks walking down the streets as well as those that cruised down or chilled in the club. A real “woman pleaser,” Spoonie’s iceberg cool still serves as an inspiration to studio pimps-in-training.
7. "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel" (1981)/ Grandmaster Flash
Sugar Hill’s live band played on more than a few of the label’s hits, turntable wizard Flash was out to prove that his job was still essential when it came to making real hip-hop. Sounding like he’s spinning in the darkness of the legendary Bronx club the Disco Fever, he gets nasty on the cuts, slicing in bits of Blondie’s “Rapture,” as well as “Apache” and “Good Times.” With all the cutting, mixing and scratching of various records on this one song, some call “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” the beginning of turntablism.
8. "Planet Rock" (1982)/ Afrika Bambaataa & the Soul Sonic Force
As one of the first Bronx made jams to crossover to the downtown New York City crowd, “Planet Rock” came across like the P-Funk space-nuts for the hip-hop generation. A favorite of punk rock manager Malcolm Mclaren, who saw Bam at a Boogie Down jam wearing a Sex Pistols t-shirt and instantly knew they were the truth, these brothers were before their time. Both Afrocentric and Afro-Futurist, they wilded out with the 808s and synths creating a space-age track one can imagine a Timbaland playing continuously when he was a boy.
9. "Problems of the World" (1983)/The Fearless Four
While folks usually credit Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s classic “The Message” (1982) as the first song to talk about the streets straight-up, the truth is that song has gotten mad props over the years although most of the group including Flash was AWOL from the recording session. Although “Problems of the World” has become a footnote in rap history, this gritty track deserves equal billing and actually features the entire posse talking about life (unemployment, bad schools, crimes) in the hood. In addition, as the first group signed to a major label (Elektra Records), they also had a budget to create a dope low-budget video directed by future crime novelist Jerry Rodriguez.
10. "It’s Like That"/"Sucker MCs" (1983)/Run-DMC
Over the years, hip-hop historians have laid down the law that these two tracks were the beginning of the end of the original old school. Released with “It’s Like That” on the A-side and “Sucker MCs” holding down the B, Run-DMC stepped into our lives dressed in b-boy black and white Adidas, taking over the game with their mad skills and brash arrogance. With the late Jam Master Jay sharing production credits with manager Russell Simmons and Larry Smith on “It’s Like That,” Run and DMC pulled no punches as they threw down the lyrical gauntlet.