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Rap Movies: The Best Hip Hop Movies of All Time

best hip hop rap movies of all time

New school, old school, gangsta, east coast or west coast – hip-hop and rap have been an indispensable expression of African-American urban life since the 1970s, but at the latest since the 1980s.

And even beyond that, hip-hop and rap have now arrived in the mainstream. There’s hardly a contemporary film that doesn’t have some hip-hop track on the soundtrack.

Hip-hop films that explicitly deal with the musical style or have a designated hip-hop soundtrack, on the other hand, are fewer in number, yet rap films are not as rare as one might think: they have enjoyed steady popularity since the late 1980s and early 1990s, and filmmakers such as F. Gary Gray or Spike Lee would not even be imaginable without hip-hop.

The following list introduces you to some of these films from the last thirty years. Among them are hip-hop films like “All Eyez on Me” from 2017, which are about rap itself, as well as so-called hood films like the classic “Do the Right Thing” by Spike Lee from 1989, which deals with the urban lifestyle and racist attitudes of the 1980s and has a very hip-hip soundtrack.

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THE 10 BEST HIP HOP MOVIES OF ALL TIME:

1. Straight Outta Compton (2015)

Gary Gray’s 2015 film about the origins of hip-hop group N.W.A. is definitely worth watching – and not just for rap fans.

Straight Outta Compton tells the true story of hip-hop legends Eazy-E, Dr. Der and Ice Cube and how they made music history in the 1980s in Compton, California with the group N.W.A (Niggaz Wit Attitudes) and the label Ruthless Records. Straight Outta Compton was also the title of the group’s first album.

The hip-hip film was nominated for an Oscar in 2016 in the Best Original Screenplay category.

2. Do the Right Thing (1989)

On a hot summer day, underlying racial tensions in a New York City neighborhood lead to disaster: Spike Lee’s now nearly iconic film about life in Brooklyn in the late 1980s may not belong to the repertoire of classic rap films, but the soundtrack, with tracks like Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” alone justifies its entry on this list. Spike Lee, who was just 32 years old when he made Do the Right Thing, was not only responsible for the screenplay and direction, but also plays one of the main roles in the film.

“Do the Right Thing” was nominated for a Palme d’Or in the Best Film category at Cannes, four Golden Globes and an Oscar in the Best Original Screenplay category, among others.

3. 8 Mile (2002)

For many, 8 Mile is the hip-hop movie of all time: director Curtis Hanson’s drama about the life of a young white rapper in the automobile city of Detroit, starring Eminem, Kim Basinger and Brittany Murphy, remains one of the most successful rap films of all time. The rap film follows the fate of young white Jimmy as he tries to carve out a place for himself as a rapper in the predominantly African-American subculture.

The film won an Oscar in 2003 for Eminem’s autobiographical theme song Lose Yourself – one of the most successful hip-hop tracks in history. 8 Mile grossed over $240 million worldwide.

4. All Eyez on Me (2017)

He was one of the greats of American hip-hip: Tupac Shakur, who was shot dead in the street in 1996 at the age of just 25.

Both as an actor and as a subject, he has appeared in many rap films – he himself has appeared as an actor in films such as “Poetic Justice” (1993) and the 1997 comedy “Gridlock,” while documentaries such as 2003’s “Tupac Resurrection” follow the life of the young rapper.

Benny Boom’s “All Eyez on Me” is thus only the latest in a whole series of hip-hip films dealing with the life, work and death of Tupac Shakur. “All Eyez on Me” deals with Tupac’s childhood in the 1970s, his first musical successes and his big breakthrough, as well as his legal problems and the East Coast versus West Coast conflict, which probably cost him his life.

The film grossed over $55 million worldwide.

5. Boyz N the Hood (1991)

John Singleton’s “Boyz N the Hood” is now a classic among rap films. The hip-hop film follows the story of three young friends, Tré, Ricky and Doughboy, who grow up in an urban ghetto of Los Angeles and end up going very different ways. In the process, Boyz N the Hood paints an unusually realistic picture of gang violence and life in the hood much sung about in hip-hop – director John Singleton insisted on shooting exclusively on original locations.

This, coupled with the phenomenal ensemble cast of Laurence Fishburne, Cuba Gooding Jr, Ice Cube and Angela Bassett made this film a highly acclaimed cinematic event. “Boyz N the Hood” was nominated in the Best Screenplay and Best Director categories at the Oscars. The soundtrack features tracks like “How To Survive in South Central” by Ice Cube.

6. Notorious B.I.G. (2009)

The rap film deals with the biography of the rapper Notorious Big, also known as Biggie, who was murdered in Los Angeles in 1997.

George Tillman’s film begins shortly before Biggie’s murder in March 1997 and shows important stages of his life in flashbacks. Notorious B.I.G. follows Biggie’s beginnings as a hard-working student and drug dealer through his early success as a rapper to his breakthrough and friendship and enmity with rapper Tupac.

The actor from Notorious B.I.G., Jamal Woolard, took on the role again in 2017 in the hip-hop film “All Eyes on Me” about Tupac Shakur. The soundtrack is mainly composed of tracks by Biggie himself, but also features guest contributions from rappers Jay Z and Mary J. Blige.

7. Friday (1995)

F. Gary Gray’s 1995 comedy now has cult status among fans of rap films.

Craig Jones, who just got fired, and his buddy Smokey, a small-time dealer who prefers to smoke his own weed rather than sell it, hang out at Jones’ place on Friday night – but problems with Smokey’s dealer Big Worm and various girl trouble complicate the relaxed weekend. The energetic performances of rapper Ice Cube and a young Chris Tucker are the centerpiece of this rap film, which incidentally is the origin of the Internet meme “Bye Felicia.”

8. Office Space (1999)

A movie about office workers and programmers starring Jennifer Aniston on a list about hip-hop movies, is that supposed to be a joke? Not at all – because Mike Judge’s iconic and likeable comedy about the everyday madness of the office not only features the hip-hip loving character of Michael Bolton, who loves to sing along to gangsta rap on his morning commute to work but shuts the door when an African-American flower vendor walks by, but also one of the best hip-hop soundtracks ever, whose passion and fire brilliantly comment on and set the scene for the boring office routine of the film’s action.

9. Menace II Society (1993)

Allen and Albert Hughes’ directorial debut, “Menace II Society,” is one of the grittiest hip-hop films ever made, garnering much praise for its unforgiving depiction of everyday gang life and urban violence in 1990s metropolitan America.

The rap film shows a few days in the life of teenager Caine Lawson, who is stuck with his friends in a hopeless cycle of violence, drugs and poverty.

The film, with Jada Pinkett Smith and Samuel L. Jackson in supporting roles, was nominated for a Golden Camera at Cannes in 1993. Incidentally, Tupac Shakur was supposed to star in “Menace II Society,” but after a dispute with one of the directors, he was dropped.

10. Brown Sugar (2002)

Director Rick Famuyiwa’s “Brown Sugar” combines two of the most popular film genres of the turn of the millennium, rap films and romantic comedy, in this warm-hearted hip-hop film. A young woman, Sidney is the editor of a hip-hop magazine and has been friends since childhood with Dre, who works for a record label. While the two are united by their shared love of hip-hop, their love and personal lives are initially neatly complicated by some misunderstandings. In the end, however, their love for each other and for rap wins out!

Not only does Queen Latifah star in this saccharine rap film, but the comedy is bursting with cameos from bigger and smaller names in the hip-hop scene.

Whether you’re a die-hard hip-hop fan, want to learn more about this very specific U.S. lifestyle, or are simply looking for new movies, you’ll definitely find what you’re looking for among these ten hip-hop movies.

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