To start, the father, if you will, of the subculture is known as DJ Kool Herc. Herc developed a part in a record in which most dancers of the time really enjoyed, known as the "break". The dancers to Kool Herc's breaks were known as "b-boys or girls", and their dancing style was known as "breakdancing" once the 1980's hit which was slang for "getting excited" or "causing a disturbance" by his standards.
Hip-hop is said to encompass four distinct manifestations, that being music, DJ'ing, breakdancing, and graffiti art.
Hip-hop was probably the most influential cultural scene for African-Americans and other minorities alike. 80's rappers made social statements of the struggle, namely with the law, drugs, equality, and divide within the community to note a few. They were already at a disadvantage by not being the dominant race, hip-hop was their savior, so to speak. It gave them an outlet, a chance to be heard by more than just the residents of their communities. Grandmaster Flash's "The Message" embodies a few of those said social statements. Classic track. Great F'n song.
1980's hip-hop/rap was known as the beginning of the 'Golden Age' for the subculture. This age of hip-hop marked innovation, diversity, and there were tons of quality artists. According to the Rolling Stone, the Golden Age was a time "when it seemed that every new single reinvented the genre". Artists included Boogie Down Productions, Eric B. & Rakim, Run–D.M.C., Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, Kool G Rap, A Tribe Called Quest, NWA, Slick Rick, Pete Rock & CL Smooth and others.
Popular hip-hop songs of the 1980s include Afrika Bambaataa's Planet Rock, Sugar Hill Gang's Rappers Delight (although released in 1979), UTFO's Roxanne Roxanne, Doug E. Fresh's The Show (an all-time favorite of mine), Eric B. and Rakim's Paid In Full, Salt-n-Pepa's Push It and Whodini's Friends just to name a few.
Hip-hop in the1980's also marked the birth Rick Rubin's dorm room brainchild known as Def Jam Recordings. By the way, Rick Rubin is a record producer, in case you were lost. Russell Simmons also joined the team, and is known as a co-founder of the record label. The first Def Jam record was LL Cool J's "I Need A Beat" and since then Def Jam has accumulated a legendary list of artists. From Jay-Z being a former president, to Kanye West, Nas, The Roots, LL Cool J, Beastie Boys, and Public Enemy just to name a few.
The late 80's seen an explosion of 'gangster rap' albums like NWA's Straight Outta Compton. Rappers who used this style of artistry were rebels against the commercial forms of rap. This was an unordinary thing at the time. They rapped about crime and the violent lifestyles they encountered while growing up, mainly as inner-city youth. Critics would say that these rappers, these groups were just glorifying the negatives of the world, violence and sex as well. Their responses? Their goals were to tell the truth about the inner-city, the side you would only see if you were there at that very moment. This set the tone for the direction rap would most definitely take as the 90's approached. Other gangster rap albums of the 1980's include BDP's Criminal Minded, Ice T's Colors, and Public Enemy's Fight The Power.
What was seen as another milestone, and testament to the diversity of the subculture was the genesis of female rappers in the mid to latter part of the 1980's. Hip-hop is long known as a sexist and male-dominated world. In 1984, rapper Roxanne Shante (born Lolita Shante) set the stage for all of the female artists that would succeed her. She gained early success as the first female of the group The Juice Crew and with her diss of UTFO after their song Roxanne Roxanne with her own song, Roxanne's Revenge. This was seen as an earlier form of "battle-rapping".
In 1985, the female duo first known as Super Nature came on the scene. Later known as Salt-N-Pepa, they were the first female rap act (group or solo) to go gold, platinum and multi-platinum. Their members were Cheryl “Salt ” James and Sandra “Pepa” Denton. Their DJ, Spindarella (Deidra “Dee-Dee” Roper) — was the first female DJ in the genre.
In 1986, The Real Roxanne — born Adelaida Martinez and haling from Brooklyn, New York — was imbrued in a war with Roxanne Shante called The Roxanne Wars. The Wars were a series of answer records inspired by UTFO’s hit song “Roxanne, Roxanne.” She was the officially sanctioned artist in response to all of the answer records. Those wars served to take elevate hip-hop’s prominence and bring female emcees into the forefront.
Here's a detailed description of the Roxanne Wars.
Then, Lana Moorer, better known as MC Lyte had also had something to say about the male-dominated world of hip-hop. She gained success when her debut album, Lyte As A Rock released in 1988. Her trademark voice along with her "hit you in the face" lyrics helped her to sustain her popularity as a female artist. Lyte had diss songs, battle rap songs, socially-conscious songs, and songs that put a stamp on her dominance as a not only a female, but simply as a rapper doing everything the men were doing.
And this is where I finish. There's so much more to 80's hip-hop/rap, hopefully I provided a great taste of the beginning of the Golden Age.