To celebrate the release of Art Of Rap coming out on DVD and again continuing the survival of Hip Hop in mainstream culture, at Urban Kingdom we are counting down our top 20 films every rap fan / aspiring artist should be watching. We have missed out some obvious ones and included some wildcards in place, enjoy.
20. ENTER THE VOID
Everyone thought that was genius what Hype Williams did with the flashing text on Kanye West ‘All Of The Lights’ video right? Well everyone who hadn’t seen Enter The Void did, the Gaspar Noe 2009 trans-national film which created this format for it’s opening titles. That is just the beginning of an increcible film though, this film based around drugs and death uses mood lighting that is very hip hop music video esque and is perhaps the most groundbreaking film of the new millenium. Lots of new music videos such as Nas ‘Daughters’ and Wretch 32 ‘Hush Little Baby’ have imitated the editing/first person perspective combination.
19. FADE TO BLACK
Admittedly watching this in 2012 doesn’t have the same effect it did if you watched it in 2004, Jay-Z has not only come back from retirement since but has added a new meaning to his dynasty and his art. However, this remains a very nostalgic watch to reflect on the more positive times of Roc-A-Fella and potentially captures the height of commercial Hip Hop in its freedom to the audience before the inevitable spiral.
The latest buzz word reference in 2012 thanks to Jay-Z and Kanye West and their recently advertised love of ‘Art’.
Jean – Michel Basquiat was the first African American artist to get great prominence, taking street art to another level when becoming friends with Andy Warhol in the 1980s and becoming part of the neo-expressionism movement. Another great artist that was misunderstood and lost, something you can currently see Kanye attempting to imitate. (Side Note: Basquiat had Madonna, Kanye has Kim).
17. THE DOORS
Not Hip Hop but a brilliant reference point to a genius lyricist and great rock star, something the best of rappers would aim to recreate. From setting wardrobes on fire, to getting arrested live on stage for swearing, Jim Morrison was the rapstar of his time. This film is directed by another no holds barred artist of reference, Oliver Stone.
16. LIFE + LYRICS
Unfortunately the only British film on the list, which I hope will be changing for years to come. A decent account of British urban lifestyle with a realistic performance by Ashley Walters.
This is for me the most honest creation to come out of British urban cinema thus far.
15.DAVE CHAPPELLE BLOCK PARTY
On paper a music documentary film by a comedian that had his breakthrough film debut with a stoner comedy, ‘Half Baked’, it doesn’t seem like there would be much depth in it.
However, if anyone has seen Dave Chappelle on Inside The Actors Studio you will know there is a lot of integrity and honesty to his personal that extends further than Rick James skits. This film features a lot of the 2000 Rawkus records backpacker crew like Mos Def, Talib Kweli etc. but is more impressive for the ground nature and humility of the show effort.
Rap is often about reflecting poverty and street mentality and accounts of poverty don’t appear on film often to be as real and disturbing as this, a brilliant and rare Oscar nominated documentary that is filmed in 1980’s Seattle, following a bunch of homeless teenagers, prostitutes and pimps. Will definitely change your opinion next time you walk past a homeless person in the street.
The term gangster rap seems more mocking than as fearful as its supposed to be, and things like Chris Rock’s comedy CB4 doesn’t help the thoughts that street rappers are all fake. The film entertains a copycat and sellout representation of rap music and street culture and the characters in this film still have relevance in today’s rap music which is shameful almost 20 years on. (It is of course fine to occasionally parody and that is what this film does best, the energy and fun element of the art is a powerful foundation in the success of Hip Hop.)
12. TALK TO ME
The character of Petey Greene is an idol to the lower class culture. A real radio personality that helped present in the mainstream a natural and reputable urban lifestyle of Washington D.C. – a city that has a lot more layers to it than first meets the eye. This true story based film will definitely inspire you to present an honest approach to your communication, of course it has had the Hollywood treatment, but the scene with the riots makes me wish our outcry in London was as strong as this was.
11. HUSTLE AND FLOW
Terrence Howard undoubtedly has shone in the last ten years to be one of the greatest actors in Hollywood and the role of DeeJay is as iconic as it gets. What on paper is a complete Southern cliche is portrayed as a inspirational tale of unlikely ambition. Ludacris also plays potentially the best role a rapper has played today, mocking what Hip Hop was/is becoming.
10. BOYZ N THE HOOD
Of course everyone has seen Boyz N Da Hood, the supreme of the Gangster rap film with a heart. In one scene John Singleton didn’t tell the actors that a gun was going off to get an honest reaction because of course we know that when guns and hip hop collide it can become a bit obvious sometimes. The scene where Ricky is killed has to go down as one of the most powerful moments in 90s cinema history.
9. UP IN SMOKE / BACKSTAGE
Two films that remind you of how Hip Hop used to rock the main events and get away with anything they wanted. If this doesn’t make you want to say fuck trying to abide by rules and lets just make music then nothing will. Nothing more to say on this, no depth, just raw entertainment.
8. HOOP DREAMS
‘I seen Hoop Dreams deflate like a true fiends weight’ H to the Izzo, Jay-Z
Filmed over 5 years this is one of the most powerful documentaries you will ever see and really puts into consideration how tough ambitions of getting out the hood is and how many place all their bets on sport and fail. A very sad but real film depicting problems with street life. A must watch.
7. BEATS, RHYMES AND LIFE
At first we feel here we go another film about the foundations of Hip Hop celebrating the success of legends, but as the film carries on we start to understand the reality behind the project and a recent question on whether Hip Hop music can be continued to be made in this market in the traditional form. Life battles are addressed in unison with the industry, health and friends in a daring exploration of one of Hip Hop’s biggest brands.
6. BIGGIE AND TUPAC
It’s always great when a filmmaker away from the culture decides to make a film discussing a Hip Hop related issue. With ‘Biggie & Tupac’ we witness a true honest depiction of an outsiders impression of the troubles regarding the sad murders of Tupac and Biggie Smalls; a situation that has overshadowed Hip Hop in the last 20 years. Nick Broomfield is amongst the gutsiest filmmakers out there and this really does examine closely the deception which many are curious of.
Note: Check out Nick Broomfield’s documentary on Kurt Cobain ‘Kurt and Courtney’ equally as skeptical and brutal.
I had to go with the cliche choice here because it is so true and needs to be continually spoken about to keep the reference alive. Scarface is the greatest idol of 90s Rap, the self gained voice that got all the power by speaking his mind and destroying all competition. First you get the money, then you get the power, then you get the respect. Unfortunately a lot of the rappers that imitated Scarface died out when the greed came and forgot to watch the end of the film.
4. STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN
Everyone should know their heritage, and more importantly everyone should know the truth behind their heritage. This film looks at the decision that a group The Funk Brothers were fundamental factors in making the music that represented an era and made stars out of Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and more. This is an interesting watch in a revelation of art over celebrity.
3. LAST DAY’S HERE
A brilliant and surreal indie documentary depiction of what happens if you believe your own hype, following an ageing rocker who tried to live the hype of a rockstar, ending up with no job, addicted to crack and just a few hardcore fans trying to revive his career and his life. Not a Hip Hop story but I know a lot of rappers in danger of this in 20 years – tale of warning.
2. BLACK AND WHITE
What happens when you take a ‘white’ Hollywood director (James Toback) known for his insane art pieces and mix that with the Wu Tang Clan – you get one of the most, and at the same time less, cliche hip hop race orientated films of all time. An inside look at the rap industry and its audience told by a registered filmmaker and a real rap team. Features a brilliant yet bizarre performance by Mike Tyson as well as roles for Ben Stiller, Raekwon, Method Man, Claudia Schiffer, Elijah Wood, Brett Ratner and Robert Downey Junior.
One of the most credible fiction films in Hip Hop crossover.
1.RHYME AND REASON
Structured over interviews like Art of Rap does this 1997 piece is hip hop superstars at the most direct you will ever see them. Features interviews with Art of Rap director Ice T as well as Art of Rap mirror interviews with Dr Dre, Raekwon, KRS One and the many expected names. There are also some very interesting youthful thoughts by 21 years old Nas and a Lauryn Hill still in the music business. This is the realest Hip Hop has ever been on film as it touches on race, money, art form and social structures.
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Sub Note – I was SO tempted to include in the list BOSS PLAYA starring SNOOP DOGG…
Send us your top 20 Hip Hop films to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will add them to this post.