Old school hip-hop, also spelled “old skool,” refers to the earliest recorded hip-hop music (approximately 1979-1983). Old school hip-hop is characterized as relatively simple rapping techniques—where artists like Melle Mel would use few syllables per bar—simple rhythms and a moderate tempo. Lyrics of old school hip-hop were often about partying and having a good time, until Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five released “The Message” in 1982, introducing harsh realities and social commentary to hip-hop.
This made it possible for future artists like Public Enemy and N.W.A to create socially conscious music in later years. Two other notable characteristics of old school hip-hop include battle rapping and freestyling. As for battle rapping, one famous battle took place in December 1981 when Kool Moe Dee challenged Busy Bee Starski and won.
Freestyle rapping in the old school era is defined by Kool Moe Dee as “coming off the top of the head.” This slightly differs from the more modern definition of the freestyle rap, as "improvisational rap like a jazz solo.” Artists defining the images, styles, and sounds of the old school era included DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, Kurtis Blow, The Sugarhill Gang, Melle Mel, Spoonie Gee, Kool Moe Dee, Busy Bee Starski, Lovebug Starski, Grandmaster Caz, Doug E. Fresh, and Fab Five Freddy.