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Photo of grandmaster flash
Photo of grandmaster flash
Photo Credit: David Corio for Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images.

10 Live Old-School Rap Tapes You Can Stream on YouTube

From The Cold Crush Brothers' legendary battle with The Fantastic Five to a teenaged Rakim freestyling with a young Biz Markie, here are a few of the many classic live old-school rap tapes you can listen to on YouTube right now.

This article has been handpicked from the Okayplayer editorial archives and included in our Hip Hop 50 collection as a noteworthy inclusion to the genre's rich and diverse narrative. The article has been edited for context to ensure its accuracy and relevance.

Initially, if you wanted to hear the sound of hip-hop, cassette tapes recorded at jams and concerts were your best bet. These legendary tapes circulated far and wide, and they were many people's first exposure to the burgeoning genre and the culture that surrounded it.

The practice of bootlegging and circulating live hip-hop tapes lived on well into the '80s, from New York City, where hip-hop was born, to Los Angeles, home to the first hip-hop radio station, KDAY. Today, many hip-hop preservationists have made it a point to restore and upload these classic live recordings. There is a treasure trove of goodies for those who love rap music and hip-hop culture all over YouTube.

From The Cold Crush Brothers' legendary battle with The Fantastic Five to a teenaged Rakim freestyling with a young Biz Markie, here are a few of the many classic live old-school rap tapes you can listen to on YouTube right now.

Grandmaster Flowers' Brooklyn Park Jam (1979)

Hip-hop’s original “Grandmaster,” Jonathan Cameron Flowers’ reign on the turntables even predates that of Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, and Afrika Bambaataa. Beginning his DJ career in the 60s, Flowers took the slick rhyming style pioneered by Black radio jocks and married it to his live DJing skills to create a blueprint for all that would follow him.

Afrika Bambaataa's "Death Mix" (1983)

Arguably one of the most influential DJ mixes ever made, Death Mix is an infamous recording released by Paul Winley Records in the '80s. Capturing Afrika Bambaataa and Jazzy Jay dropping everything from The Jackson 5 to Japanese Synth-pop pioneers Yellow Magic Orchestra, Death Mix gives us a look at the mighty Zulu Nation at the height of their powers, though Bambaataa's legacy has been tarnished by numerous sexual abuse allegations in the last few years.

Cold Crush Vs. The Fantastic Five Live at Harlem World (1981)

Dynamic performers and prolific battlers, The Cold Crush Brothers are one of the most heavily documented groups from hip-hop’s first wave. Recorded at the legendary Harlem World Club, this tape finds the crew battling The Fantastic Five, exciting the crowd and running through famous rapped/sung routines over classic breaks like Cerrone’s “Rocket In The Pocket” (played on 45RPM of course).

Kool Moe Dee Vs. Busy Bee (1981)

A momentous event when it first went down, the battle between the party-rocking style of Busy Bee Starski and the inventive lyricism of Kool Moe Dee in some ways represented a schism in rap music that remains to this day. By most accounts Kool Moe Dee won this showdown, eschewing the crowd participation chants and routines that Busy Bee employed, instead opting to attack his opponent directly with previously unheard flows, sharp punchlines, and direct disses.

Kool Herc/Herculoids Vs. L Brothers (1978)

Widely recognized as the Father of hip-hop culture as we know it, DJ Kool Herc and his Herculoids crew were a renowned sound system known for rocking jams as well as battling rival crews. Although The Herculoids don’t make an appearance on this brief tape, Busy Bee Starski can be heard dissing the legendary crew, taunting them and rocking over Breaks like Manzel’s “Space Funk.”

Kid Wizard Rakim live at Wyandanch High School (1985)

Recorded at Wyandanch High School in Long Island, this tape is one of the earliest known recordings of the God MC Rakim. Rocking over the “Impeach The President” break alongside a young Biz Markie, Rakim was only a teenager when this was recorded but there is ample evidence that he was already an advanced MC.

Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick Live At The Red Parrot (1985)

In the midst of the release of their genre-defining smash “The Show,” Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick were captured rocking this high-energy set at The Red Parrot club in Manhattan. With their adept crowd-participation routines, Rick and Doug proved themselves to be one of the most charismatic duos in rap history. By the time they perform “The Show,” the atmosphere in the room is electric and the crowd is on the verge of exploding.

Big Daddy Kane vs. Jazz Fresh (1989)

When the legendary Big Daddy Kane came to the After Midnight Club in Philadelphia to rock, he was met in battle with up-and-coming local MC Jazz Fresh. Although Kane is on point, Jazz Fresh is no slouch either, confidently trading bars back and forth and more than holding his own with Kane.

Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five Performing "Flash It To The Beat" (1982)

Famously released as a 12-inch on the infamous bootleg label Bozo Meko, “Flash It To The Beat” is an impressive recording of one of the best crews from rap’s first generation. With Flash playing out live beats on the VOX V829 Percussion King drum machine, the Furious Five’s classic routines on this tape have since been quoted and sampled countless times.

LA Dream Team Live At World On Wheels (1985)

Recorded at Los Angeles’ famed World On Wheels skating rink and club and broadcasted on KDAY — the LA radio station that has the distinction of being the world’s first hip-hop radio station — this tape is a gem of early West Coast hip-hop culture. Cutting up funky, electro beats, and urging the crowd to scream and shout out their zodiac signs, “Live At World On Wheels” captures the flashy, futuristic character of early LA Rap.

Special thanks to Old School Hip Hop Tapes.blogspot, Kevin Beacham, Tapedeck Wreck and Jay Quan (The Foundation) for the info and for uploading many of these classic tapes.

This story was originally published on August 11th, 2022.


John Morrison is a writer, DJ, and sample-flipper based in Philadelphia.