Hip hop’s “Golden Age” happened to coincide with the years I spent going to school just outside of New York City, so I got to witness the Era from within range of both WBLS 107.5 and 98.7 KISS FM. Run-DMC had broken through to some mainstream success in 1985 – they appeared at Live Aid in that year – and the genre was spreading from the inner-city to the suburbs based mainly on Run-DMC’s fusion of rap and rock ‘n roll. Punk rock, the voice of restless youth in the early 80s, was in decline, and its audience was splintering into two divergent camps – those who migrated to new metal like Slayer or Corrosion of Conformity, and those of us who wandered into the emerging Hip Hop movement centered in NYC. When I left Baltimore for school in New York in August of 1986, I took with me three boxes of vinyl – mostly early 80’s punk rock and new wave – but there were three hip-hop LPs sitting right at the top: the first two Run-DMC albums and their newest, Raising Hell.

By my (admittedly subjective) calculations, the fall of 1986 was the dawn of the golden era – an era know for its diversity, innovation, production quality, and long-term influence – and no doubt driven financially by the idea that the suburbs would buy the records as well as the inner city. In contrast to the pop charts, hip hop was experimental and the sampling unregulated, and each of the records on this list were basically trying to out-do whatever record had just been played on the radio the week before. Album after album were remarkably different, and each record launched with styles no one had ever heard before. And this went on week after week for at least four years.

Please leave a comment if you think I have left anyone out that deserves to be here.

View the “Curated” list to see the list in chronological order.

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