When hip-hop first arose in the late 1970s, nobody knew how far it would go, and not even the culture’s forefathers could have predicted its outcome. Although rap music is now at the forefront, the art form of graffiti lives on, and breakdancing has become a formidable discipline. Hip-hop’s growth and evolution have been well-documented. However, the culture has even been adapted into fictional screenplays. Many of rap music’s most integral figures have contributed to movies about the scene.
A vast array of film genres have been made concerning hip-hop. Although many films that feature rap artists are not necessarily about music, they are often heavily influenced by it and include a lot of it. A lot of the big shots and multi-millionaires of hip-hop have transitioned into Hollywood. They are now involved in producing, directing and writing motion pictures pertaining to the culture. However, there is still much debate surrounding the focus of these films. Many movies about hip-hop perpetuate the toxic narrative that the culture goes hand in hand with drugs and violence, which is a known falsehood.
Hip-hop pioneers such as DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa often don’t feature in movies. This is primarily because the genre was still finding its legs during the ’70s. However, that’s not to say their music hasn’t appeared in films. The 1980s saw the genre take off globally, which is when Hollywood producers came knocking on its door, wanting a slice of the ever-growing pie.
In this article, we’re going to take a look at every hip-hop-orientated film that has ever been produced in a quest to find the five greatest hip-hop movies ever made. You can take a look at our picks in the list below.
The five greatest hip-hop movies ever made:
5. Love, Beats, Rhymes, (2017)
The most recent of all the movies on this list, Love, Beats, Rhymes, is an often overlooked motion picture. The film is outstanding not only due to its production but because it is devoid of violence and drugs. Directed by RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan, Love, Beats, Rhymes has an inspiring storyline. Featuring Azealia Banks, Jill Scott and Common, the movie looks at hip-hop through a poetic lens.
Centred around a young girl named Coco Ford (Azealia Banks), the movie tells explores how Ford struggles to come to grips with the fluid nature of poetry as an avid rap fan. The main character grows frustrated with her college lecturer (Jill Scott) but slowly begins to break out of hip hop’s rigid beats and bars structure and learns to express herself in a more free-flowing and poetic way. A fantastic movie, the motion picture highlights rap music’s intrinsic relation to poetry.
4. Step Up 2: The Streets, (2008)
An extremely well-known film, the Step Up movie franchise focuses on dance but, more importantly, breakdancing. Dance has always been inherently tied to African-American music. Whether it’s Jazz and the Nicholas brothers exhibiting tap dance or Soul birthing the TV show Soul Train, it has always been ingrained in the culture. The same can be said for hip-hop and breakdancing.
With an all-star line-up featuring the likes of Robert Hoffman, Channing Tatum, and Adam Sevani, Step Up 2 is a classic hip-hop movie and a tribute to breakdance culture. Released in the 2000s when the likes of Missy Elliot and Soulja Boy were attempting to revive dance within hip-hop, Step Up 2: The Streets most certainly shone a light on the art form.
3. Boyz N The Hood, (1991)
One of the classics, Boyz N The Hood, is often considered the original, if not the first high-budget hip-hop film ever to hit movie theatres in the US. Based in LA, the motion picture came off the back of the raging success of gangsta rap in the States. N.W.A had spread across the nation like wildfire and made a permanent mark on the culture. Moreover, it sparked a new interest in the city of Los Angeles.
Starring Cuba Gooding Jr, Nia Long and Ice Cube, the movie was directed by John Singleton and explored the Crenshaw neighbourhood of South Central LA. Singleton was just 23 when he wrote the screenplay, and it has become one of the most seminal hip-hop-orientated films of all time. Focusing on crime and the art of hustling, Boyz N The Hood is centred around the fictional character Tre Hustle (Gooding Jr), who is constantly struggling to overcome the obstacles he faces as a black man in LA, such as police harassment and crime. A must-see for any fan of rap music.
2. 8 Mile, (2002)
8 Mile is a semi-autobiographical film starring and produced by Eminem. The Detroit musician (real name Marshall Mathers) plays the lead role of Jimmy Smith, a young man striving to make it as a mainstream rapper. The film follows Smith as he continuously fails to launch take-off in hip-hop as a white rapper. Directed by Curtis Hanson, the movie also starred the late Brittany Murphy.
Smith, played by Eminem, is unemployed and is presented to viewers as a stereotypical “white trash” figure. However, the story has many layers and shows his evolution in other areas beyond hip-hop. The main character also has a daughter, family, and friends. Some people support him, and some don’t, but drawing from his own prior experiences, Eminem gives an outstanding performance in this film.
Named after Detroit’s 8 Mile highway, Mathers won ‘Best Male Performance’ and ‘Best Breakthrough Performance’ at the MTV Movie Awards. The soundtrack features the renowned ‘Lose Yourself’, which won Eminem two Grammy awards. 8 Mile is one of the culture’s most decorated movies and is revered as such.
1. Juice, (1992)
Sitting at the top of our list is Juice. Directed by Ernest Dickinson, this 1992 was Tupac Shakur’s first film role ever. Starring Omar Epps, Shakur, Jermaine Hopkins and Khalil Kain, this Harlem-based movie is considered a classic crime-thriller and, akin to Boyz N The Hood, focuses on the struggles of achieving fame while simultaneously navigating the criminal underworld.
Epps plays the main role of Quincy “Q” Powell, a young African-American who is looking to make it as a big-time DJ. However, with his friends Roland (Shakur), Raheem (Kain) and Eric (Hopkins) more focused on quick money from crime, a conflict of interest soon arises, and plans begin to go horribly wrong. Juice is just an exceptional film, and for 2Pac’s debut, he plays the role of Roland Bishop incredibly.