Rap Movies: The 10 Best Hip-Hop Films 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 and, at the latest, since the 80s.

And even beyond that, hip-hop and rap have now entered the mainstream. Hardly a contemporary film in which some hip-hop track is not on the soundtrack.

On the other hand, hip-hop films that deal explicitly with the musical style or have a designated hip-hop soundtrack are fewer. Yet, Rap films aren’t as rare as you might think: they’ve enjoyed steady popularity since the late 1980s and early 1990s, and filmmakers like F. Gary Gray or Spike Lee would be unimaginable 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 have rap itself as a theme, as well as so-called hood films like the 1989 classic “Do the Right Thing” by Spike Lee, which deals with the urban lifestyle and racist attitudes of the 1980s and has a very hip-hip soundtrack.

1. Straight Outta Compton (2015)

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

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

The hip-hop 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 near-iconic film about life in Brooklyn in the late 1980s may not be in 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 when he made Do the Right Thing, not only wrote and directed the film but also played one of the leads in it.

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“Do the Right Thing” was nominated for a Palme d’Or in the Best Picture 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 title track, 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 just 25 years old.

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 just the latest in a slew of hip-hop films dealing with the life, work, and death of Tupac Shakur. “All Eyez on Me” explores Tupac’s childhood in the 1970s, his early musical successes, his big break, his legal troubles, and the East Coast versus West Coast conflict that may have 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 rap film. The hip-hop film follows the story of three young friends, Tré, Ricky, and Doughboy, who grow up in an urban Los Angeles ghetto and end up going down very different paths. Yet Boyz N the Hood paints an unusually realistic picture of gang violence and life in the hood much sung about in hip-hop – so director John Singleton insisted on shooting exclusively on original locations.

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This, coupled with the phenomenal ensemble cast of Laurence Fishburne, Cuba Gooding Jr., Ice Cube, and Angela Bassett, made this film a highly acclaimed 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 covers 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. This follows Notorious B.I.G. Biggie’s beginnings as a hardworking student and drug dealer through his early success as a rapper to his breakthrough, friendship, and enmity with rapper Tupac.

The actor from Notorious B.I.G., Jamal Woolard, reprised the role in 2017 in the hip-hop film “All Eyes on Me” about Tupac Shakur. The soundtrack is mainly composed of tracks by Biggie himself; in addition, there are guest contributions from rappers Jay Z and Mary J. Blige to listen to.

7. Friday (1995)

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

Craig Jones, who has just been 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 at the heart of this rap film, which incidentally is the origin of the Internet meme “Bye Felicia.”

8. Office Space (1999)

A film about office workers and programmers with Jennifer Aniston in a leading role on a list of hip-hop films, is that supposed to be a joke? It’s not at all. Mike Judge’s hilarious comedy about the daily madness in the office is funny.

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It features Michael Bolton (a hip-hop-loving character who sings along to Gangsta Rap on his morning commute but closes the door when an African American flower vendor passes by). Also, the soundtrack to one of the greatest hip-hop tracks, whose passion and fire beautifully comment on the mundane office scenes.

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.

This 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 movie, with Jada Pinkett Smith and Samuel L. Jackson in supporting roles, was nominated for a Golden Camera at Cannes in 1993. By the way, Tupac Shakur was supposed to be in “Menace II Society,” but he was canceled after a dispute with one of the directors.

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 movies and romantic comedy, in this warm-hearted hip-hop film. The young woman Sidney is the editor of a hip-hop magazine and has been friends since childhood with Dre, who works for a record company. While their shared love of hip-hop unites the two, their love and personal lives are initially neatly complicated by some misunderstandings. In the end, love for each other and rap win!

Not only does the saccharine rap film star Queen Latifah, 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 to watch, you’ll definitely find what you’re looking for among these ten hip-hop films.

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