The prevailing ethos of the 1980’s was to make money, by any means necessary, either by engagement with corporate America, or through entrepreneurial hustles. And music started to reflect that concept, as hip-hop and its focus on material gain took root in inner cities across the U.S.
Racial disparities remained, as even superstars such as Michael Jackson and Prince were denied airtime on MTV, then a fledgling cable network that debuted in 1981, but which initially refused to feature Black artists. Prince, contrary to popular belief, was the first Black artist to debut on the network.
RELATED: Black Music Month: 100 Best Songs Of All Time – The 1970s
Prince’s “1999,” the title track from his fifth album by the same name, appeared on the network in December 16, 1982, followed by Jackson’s “Beat It” in March of 1983. Both artists were, of course, immediately supported by BET, which first aired on January 25, 1980.
Sifting through hundreds of possible choices, here are 20 songs that represent Black culture at its best and some might say, most prolific, throughout the 80s.
“The Breaks” - Kurtis Blow, 1980
Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
(Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
The first big star of hip-hop, Kurtis Blow’s hit established not just the future of the genre but its sales potential, as it is credited as the first hip-hop single to go gold, selling over 500,000 copies.
“Never Too Much” - Luther Vandross, 1981
Photo: David Corio/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
(Photo: David Corio/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
“Super Freak” - Rick James, 1981
Photo: George Rose/Getty Images
(Photo: George Rose/Getty Images)
Though he never quite got the mainstream recognition attained by Prince or Michael Jackson, Rick James was an important artist, given his funk bonafides. This was the one song that allowed him the mainstream success he craved, going to #16 on Billboard’s pop chart and eventually earning him a gold record.(Video) 80s Greatest Hits - Best Oldies Songs Of 1980s - Oldies But Goodies
“Before I Let Go” - Maze Ft Frankie Beverly, 1981
Whether through familiarity or alchemy, this Maze featuring Frankie Beverly song has endured the test of time, becoming not just a staple at every Black celebration, but a defining part of the culture’s soundtrack. Beyoncé’s 2019 cover version went to #5, higher on the charts than the original.
“I Like It” - DeBarge, 1982
Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images
(Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)
This song hails from one of the hit groups from Motown’s post-Detroit era. It was, arguably, the peak moment for the sibling groups that dominated the charts in the ‘70s and ‘80s. A #2 R&B hit, it featured El DeBarge’s silky falsetto joined by his equally melodic siblings, helping the group’s second album, All This Love, to go to #3 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop albums chart.
“Beat It” - Michael Jackson, 1983
Photo: Chris Walter/WireImage
(Photo: Chris Walter/WireImage)
The 4x-platinum, two-time Grammy-winning song that helped Michael Jackson’s Thriller become the best-selling album of all time, “Beat It” changed the game for Black artists, pure and simple. It launched Jackson into global superstardom and is now one of only three songs from the ‘80s that have reached over a billion YouTube views.
“Rock Box” - Run-D.M.C. March, 1984
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
(Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
The rock-oriented song would come to define Run-D.M.C.’s sound, making the trio one of the earliest superstars of hip-hop. “Rock Box” was the first video by a hip-hop group played on MTV, though the group didn’t care at first for the guitar solo that made the song a hit.
“When Doves Cry” - Prince, 1984
Photo: Ross Marino/Getty Images(Video) The 100 Greatest Soul Songs of the 70s Unforgettable Soul Music Full Playlist
(Photo: Ross Marino/Getty Images)
The first single from Purple Rain, Prince’s career-changing album and movie, it catapulted the Minneapolis genius into superstardom and a place among music royalty. Recorded without a bass line, an innovation at the time, the platinum single ranks #52 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All-time list.
“Roxanne, Roxanne”/”Roxanne’s Revenge” U.T.F.O./Roxanne Shanté, 1984
U.T.F.O.’s smash was the ‘80s version of going viral. The song’s success led to 14-year-old Roxanne Shanté’s cheeky response, “Roxanne’s Revenge,” which led to dozens of answer records hitting the streets and her career as one of hip-hop’s earliest female hitmakers.
“One Love” - Whodini ,1986
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
The Brooklyn-based hip-hop trio holds two important distinctions in hip-hop: their 1983 song “Magic’s Wand” is credited as hip-hop’s first video, and their upscale videos and style, along with catchy songs including “Friends,” “Freaks Come out at Night,” and “One Love,” were precursors of hip-hop’s upcoming merger with R&B.
“Control” - Janet Jackson, 1986
Photo by Harry Langdon/Getty Images
(Photo by Harry Langdon/Getty Images)
In the pantheon of coming-of-age records, Janet Jackson’s ranks near the top as Michael’s baby sister’s definitive statement to the world. The title cut for her 5x platinum album, it was recorded in Minneapolis with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, marking Janet’s ascension as a superstar, on her own terms. The gold single went #1 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop songs chart in 1987.
“The Bridge is Over” - KRS-One, 1987
A notable early salvo in beef records, this was New York rapper KRS- One’s answer to “The Bridge,” the MC Shan/Marley Marl song that boasted the borough of Queens as hip-hop’s true center. KRS’s blistering response set the tone for later records such as LL Cool J’s “Jack the Ripper,” 2Pac’s “Hit ‘Em Up,” and Nas’ “Ether.”
“Push It” - Salt-N-Pepa, 1987
Photo: Michael Putland/Getty Images
Though it was not even on the initial release of the duo’s 1986 Hot, Cool & Vicious album, the platinum single helped earn the duo (plus DJ Spinderella) the first-ever platinum album certification by a female rap act. The video, which showcased Salt-N-Pepa’s dynamic live shows and highlighted the decade’s fashion trends, is among the era’s most significant.(Video) 80's R&B Soul Groove Mix by DJ Amuur
“I’m Bad” - LL Cool J, 1987
Photo by Paul Natkin/WireImage
(Photo by Paul Natkin/WireImage)
Produced by the L.A. Posse, LL Cool J’s 1987 hit was the Queens MC’s breakthrough hit. As the first single off his multiplatinum Bigger and Deffer album, “I’m Bad” established him as a mainstream superstar and set the tone of braggadocio for many rap stars to follow.
“Paid in Full” - Eric B, & Rakim, 1987
Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
The 1987 release is one of the most influential hip-hop records of all time. Rakim’s precise, skillful wordplay, devoid of profanity, set the bar for hip-hop’s most gifted lyricists who cite him as an inspiration. The song’s remix, “Seven Minutes of Madness,” by British dance duo Coldcut, is among hip-hop’s early remix successes.
“I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” - Whitney Houston, 1987
Photo by Bill Marino/Sygma via Getty Images
(Photo by Bill Marino/Sygma via Getty Images)
“Straight Outta Compton” - N.W.A., 1988
The first release from N.W.A.’s debut album of the same name, “Straight Outta Compton” establishes hip-hop’s move away from its initial East Coast dominance. It also put into motion the careers of its biggest stars, producer Dr. Dre and future solo hitmakers Eazy-E and Ice Cube. The song was certified platinum in 2016.
“If It Isn’t Love” - New Edition, 1988
Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
(Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc)
The Boston-based quintet endured major changes, including the addition of Johnny Gill when Bobby Brown departed for a successful solo career. The reconfigured group prevailed with this #2 R&B hit and video with choreography that made it an instant classic. Keeping it out of the top spot? Brown’s “Don’t Be Cruel.”(Video) DISCO FUNKY SOUL CLASSICS | Kool & The Gang, Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross, Patrice Rushen
“Don’t Be Cruel” - Bobby Brown, 1988
After his departure from New Edition, the group that brought him to fame, Brown became a solo star with his first album, King of Stage. Though Teddy Riley would be considered the architect of New Jack Swing, Brown was its first big hitmaker, collaborating with L.A. Reid and Babyface for this #1 Billboard R&B hit. The single went gold in 1989.
“Fight the Power” - Public Enemy, 1989
Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
(Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Visit BET.com for the next sampling of best songs from the 1990s and check out Black Music Month: 100 Best Songs Of All Time – The 1970s.
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Olivia Newton-John's "Physical" remained the longest at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart during the 1980s (10 weeks).What was black music called in the 80s? ›
In the 1970s and 1980s, black artists developed hip-hop, and in the 1980s introduced the disco-infused dance style known as house music.What is the biggest song of all time? ›
According to Guinness World Records, Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" (1942) as performed by Bing Crosby is the best-selling single worldwide, with estimated sales of over 50 million copies.What music did black people listen to in the 80s? ›
Pop music also was distinct from popular music in that any musical genre could encapsulate popularity. Black artists were especially noted for including many musical genres into pop artistry, such as jazz, R&B, soul, and funk. Pop music was a defining musical genre in the 1980s.What was the #1 song in 1981? ›
|1||"Bette Davis Eyes"||Kim Carnes|
|2||"Endless Love"||Diana Ross & Lionel Richie|
|4||"(Just Like) Starting Over"||John Lennon|
The earliest form of black musical expression in America, spirituals were based on Christian psalms and hymns and merged with African music styles and secular American music forms. Spirituals were originally an oral tradition and imparted Christian values while also defining the hardships of slavery.
- Michael Jackson.
- Janet Jackson.
- Whitney Houston.
- Tina Turner.
- Luther Vandross.
- Dionne Warwick.
- Lionel Richie.
In 1890 George W. Johnson became the first African American to record commercially. A common story is that Johnson, a former slave, was discovered singing on the streets of Washington, D.C., by Berliner recording agent Fred Gaisberg.What is the #1 song in history? ›
|1.||"Blinding Lights"||The Weeknd|
|2.||"The Twist"||Chubby Checker|
|3.||"Smooth"||Santana featuring Rob Thomas|
|4.||"Mack the Knife"||Bobby Darin|
- 'Blinding Lights' by The Weeknd (3.52 billion streams) ...
- 'Shape of You' by Ed Sheeran (3.44 billion streams) ...
- 'Dance Monkey' by Tones And I (2.79 billion streams) ...
- 'Someone You Loved' by Lewis Capaldi (2.74 billion streams) ...
- 'Rockstar' by Post Malone feat 21 Savage (2.65 billion streams)
"Old Town Road" holds the record for the longest stretch at No. 1 with 19 weeks. It also became the fastest song in history to be certified diamond. "The Box" charted at No.Who was the black singer in 80s music? ›
Colin Vearncombe (26 May 1962 – 26 January 2016), known by his stage name Black, was an English singer-songwriter. He emerged from the punk rock music scene and achieved mainstream pop success in the late 1980s, most notably with the 1986 single "Wonderful Life", which was an international hit the next year.What was black music during slavery? ›
Music was a way for slaves to express their feelings whether it was sorrow, joy, inspiration or hope. Songs were passed down from generation to generation throughout slavery. These songs were influenced by African and religious traditions and would later form the basis for what is known as “Negro Spirituals”. Col.What was popular black music called? ›
The term "rhythm and blues," often called "R&B," originated in the 1940s when it replaced "race music" as a general marketing term for all African American music, though it usually referred only to secular, not religious music.What was the #1 song of 1982? ›
The two longest running number-one singles of 1985 are "We Are the World" by USA for Africa and "Say You, Say Me" by Lionel Richie which each logged four weeks at number-one. "Say You, Say Me" logged two weeks at number-one in 1985 and two more additional weeks in 1986, reaching a total of four.What was the #1 song in 1983? ›
The longest running number-one single of 1983 is "Every Breath You Take" by the Police at eight weeks. That year, 9 acts reached number one for the first time: Toto, Patti Austin, James Ingram, Dexys Midnight Runners, Irene Cara, The Police, Eurythmics, Michael Sembello, and Bonnie Tyler.What was the number one song in 1984? ›
Overall, Prince spent the most weeks at number one in 1984, reigning for seven weeks at the top with "When Doves Cry" and "Let's Go Crazy" (with the Revolution). However, "Like a Virgin" by Madonna had the longest run at number one of any song which rose into the top position during 1984.What was the fastest selling album in the 80s? ›
American singer Michael Jackson's 1982 Thriller became the best-selling record in the country for two consecutive years in the 1980s.
On Valentine's Day 1920, a little over a century ago, a 28-year-old singer named Mamie Smith walked into a recording studio in New York City and made history.Who was the first black musician to win a Grammy? ›
African-American artists have been making history at the GRAMMYs since the awards were first presented on May 4, 1959. Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie each took home two awards that night.Who was the first black music band? ›
Among the earliest ensembles were the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band. The trumpeter and singer Louis Armstrong (1900-1971) became the first jazz musician to achieve national and international recognition with the success of his "West End Blues" in the 1920s.Who is the greatest black singer? ›
- Aretha Franklin.
- Whitney Houston.
- Michael Jackson.
- Marvin Gaye.
- Jimi Hendrix.
Prominent American urban pop acts of the 1980s include Tina Turner, Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson, Donna Summer, Whitney Houston and Diana Ross. African American artists like Lionel Richie and Prince became some of the decade's biggest stars.Who is the most famous black singer in history? ›
- Michael Jackson (1958 – 2009) ...
- Prince (1958 – 2016) ...
- Whitney Houston (1963 – 2012) ...
- Stevie Wonder. ...
- Ray Charles (1930 – 2004) ...
- Aretha Franklin (1942 – 2018) ...
- Louis Armstrong (1901 – 1971) ...
- James Brown (1933 – 2006)
Bob Johnson knows what it takes for people of color to advance to the highest level of the business world. The founder of Black Entertainment Television, Johnson became the first Black billionaire in American history in terms of personal net worth when he sold the pioneering cable network to Viacom for $3B in 2001.What Black artist sold the most records? ›
- Thriller (No. 1 all time of any artist): over 70 million sold.
- Bad (No. ...
- Dangerous (No. ...
- Music Box (No. ...
- Legend: The Best of Bob Marley & The Wailers (No. ...
- Purple Rain (No. ...
- Whitney Houston (No. ...
- The Score (No.
But in 1976, with the industry expanding, a platinum award for sales of one million copies was instigated. The first recipient was Dallas-based soul singer Johnnie Taylor, who grabbed the award for his recording of Disco Lady.
Michael Jackson snagged No. 1 with the iconic “Man In the Mirror,” and let's not forget that 1988 was also the year George Harrison emerged from a five-year hiatus with “Got My Mind Set On You.”What was the number one song in 1989? ›
The two longest running number-one singles of 1989 are "Miss You Much" by Janet Jackson and "Another Day in Paradise" by Phil Collins, which each charted at number one for four weeks. "Another Day in Paradise" attained two weeks at number one in 1989 and two more weeks in 1990, achieving four weeks at the top.Who sold most albums ever? ›
Perhaps unsurprisingly, British rock band The Beatles are top of the list for best-selling artists worldwide, with 183 million units certified sales. Second is Garth Brooks with over 157 million units sales, followed by Elvis Presley with 139 million units.What song has the most cuss words? ›
The 1980s group, 2 Live Crew, made everyone sound like they were just writing the encore for the school play and Lil' Jon (see below) holds a Guinness World Record with 295 cusses in just one song: 2004's "Real N----- Roll Call," with Ice Cube.What was the number one song in 1979? ›
Rod Stewart was at #1 for four straight weeks with “Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?” The drums and bass in that song? Definitely disco.What is the number one song in America? ›
|1. (3)||3||Last Night Morgan Wallen peak position: 1 – total weeks: 10|
|2. (4)||4||Kill Bill SZA peak position: 2 – total weeks: 17|
|3. (2)||2||Flowers Miley Cyrus peak position: 1 – total weeks: 12|
|4. (5)||5||Creepin' Metro Boomin featuring The Weeknd and 21 Savage peak position: 3 – total weeks: 18|
The youngest person ever to top the US charts is Stevie Wonder, who was 13 when he hit Number One with 'Fingertips Pt 2' in 1963.Who has more #1 hits than The Beatles? ›
• Beatles lead Elvis in #1 records
As to be expected, due to his far greater number of total chart entries, Elvis has the advantage over The Beatles in most performance categories. Presley placed 102 titles in Billboard's top 40, while The Beatles had 50 entries that made it that far up the chart.
Johnny Cash was an imperfect man who was beloved by many, both in spite his flaws but also because of them. His fans could relate to his humanity and found comfort in his music. Now you know a little more about him, the life he lived, the kind of man he was, and why he always wore black.Who is the most famous black rock band? ›
Three MTV Video Music Awards and two Grammys out of four nominations, Living Colour is bar none the most acclaimed Rock band with an all Black roster.
Freddie Jackson (no relation to Janet and Michael), Luther Vandross, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, and Stephanie Mills all had two chart-toppers in 1987. Michael Jackson's total of five weeks at number one was the highest by any artist.What song did slaves sing? ›
A slave would sing “Steal Away” when they were planning on escaping soon. “Sweet Chariot” was sung to let slaves know that they would be escaping soon. This was Harriet Tubman's favorite song. In the spring, they would sing “Follow the Drinking Gourd” to remind the slaves of the clues to find their way north.What did slaves eat? ›
Faunal remains in excavations have confirmed that livestock such as pigs and cows were the principal components of slaves' meat diets. Other sites show remnants of wild species such as opossum, raccoon, snapping turtle, deer, squirrel, duck, and rabbit.What songs represent slavery? ›
- Follow the Drinking Gourd.
- Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.
- Music in Slave Life.
- Songs of the Underground Railroad.
Known as “Hillbilly” or “Old-Time” music prior to the 1950s, country music was brought forward by slaves who used instruments like the banjo. The banjo is derived from a West African kora, a lute that African American slaves used in their music.What was the name of the first black musical? ›
"Shuffle Along," the first major African American hit musical, premieres on Broadway. Deeply in debt and relegated to a shabby theater, the musical Shuffle Along debuts at the Sixty-Third Street Music Hall on May 23, 1921.What music came from black people? ›
Black music is a sound created, produced, or inspired by black people, people of African descent, including African music traditions and African popular music as well as the music genres of the African diaspora, including Caribbean music, Latin music, Brazilian music and African-American music.Who was the biggest music star in the 80s? ›
- Michael Jackson.
- Freddie Mercury.
- Whitney Houston.
- George Michael.
- Bruce Springsteen.
- Tina Turner.
The first number-one song of the Billboard Hot 100 was "Poor Little Fool" by Ricky Nelson, on August 4, 1958.What was the number 1 song in 1988? ›
Michael Jackson snagged No. 1 with the iconic “Man In the Mirror,” and let's not forget that 1988 was also the year George Harrison emerged from a five-year hiatus with “Got My Mind Set On You.”
The two longest running number-one singles of 1982 are "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and "Ebony and Ivory" by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder, which each stayed at the top for seven weeks. "Physical" by Olivia Newton-John concluded a ten week run that began in 1981.Who sold most albums in the 80s? ›
American singer Michael Jackson's 1982 Thriller became the best-selling record in the country for two consecutive years in the 1980s.Who was the #1 selling artist of the 1980's? ›
1 Michael Jackson
As the decade's best-selling artist, it may come as a surprise to note that Michael Jackson only released two albums. However, it certainly helps out when one is the best-selling album of all time as his 1982 record Thriller has sold an astonishing 70 million copies worldwide.
|2.||"The Twist"||1960, 1961 ( re )|
|4.||"Mack the Knife"||1959|
"You Light Up My Life" by Debby Boone. "You Light Up My Life" was the first song in history to chart at No.What was the number 1 hit song in 1989? ›
The two longest running number-one singles of 1989 are "Miss You Much" by Janet Jackson and "Another Day in Paradise" by Phil Collins, which each charted at number one for four weeks. "Another Day in Paradise" attained two weeks at number one in 1989 and two more weeks in 1990, achieving four weeks at the top.What was the number 1 song of 1987? ›
|1||"Walk Like An Egyptian"||The Bangles|
|3||"Shake You Down"||Gregory Abbott|
|4||"I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)"||Whitney Houston|
Overall, Prince spent the most weeks at number one in 1984, reigning for seven weeks at the top with "When Doves Cry" and "Let's Go Crazy" (with the Revolution). However, "Like a Virgin" by Madonna had the longest run at number one of any song which rose into the top position during 1984.What was the number 1 song in 1983? ›
The longest running number-one single of 1983 is "Every Breath You Take" by the Police at eight weeks. That year, 9 acts reached number one for the first time: Toto, Patti Austin, James Ingram, Dexys Midnight Runners, Irene Cara, The Police, Eurythmics, Michael Sembello, and Bonnie Tyler.
|1||"Hold On"||Wilson Phillips|
|2||"It Must Have Been Love"||Roxette|
|3||"Nothing Compares 2 U"||Sinéad O'Connor|
|4||"Poison"||Bell Biv DeVoe|