With the progressive commandeering of hip-hop in the music scene, it has become an integral part of the industry. According to a recent study by Viberate, it is the most listened-to genre on Spotify. Moreover, its influence has gone beyond music to other industries like fashion.
Another significant influence is in the movie industry. Through its impact, hip-hop-inspired movies have successfully found their way to the big screen. Although they are only starting to gain global recognition, Hollywood's annals account for several culturally significant smashes.
Hip-hop may not be everyone's favorite, but it's yours—and that's fine. If you're looking to get into the system, this list of movies has tried to reinvent and appraise the formerly marginalized, historically misappropriated trope – with 13 out of 15 featuring well-known icons.
1. Love Beats Rhymes (2017)
Not everyone is into esoteric hard-core rhythms. Like a few movie characters, some prefer rap (originally a fusion of rhymes and poetry) more on the poetic belt.
However, this one-size-fits-all movie appeals not only to true hip-hop heads but also to folks who enjoy spoken-word poetry with that extra “oomph” in it. Love Beats Rhymes is everything from poetry to romance to battle rap to searing drama.
Notable players include Azealia Banks, Jill Scott, John David Washington, and Common, and it is directed by RZA (co-founder of Wu-Tang Clan). t follows the story of the intransigent Coco (Azealia Banks) as she strives to make it as the only female rapper in her freestyle group.
At her mother's behest, she returns to college to get her degree, despite her aversion to school. Not long after, Coco gets kicked out of poetry class by Professor Dixon (Jill Scott) for her flagrant disregard for poetry. Things become unhinged as she determines to prove to everyone that her rhymes are just as good as their snobby poetry.
Despite the spasmodic clichés and predictability, Love Beats Rhymes makes for a reasonably entertaining flick.
2. 8 Mile (2002)
Eminem's movie debut, directed by Curtis Hanson and written by Scott Silver, includes stellar performances from Anthony Mackie, Mekhi Phifer, and Brittany Murphy, amongst others.
The movie is named after an actual highway in Detroit and adopts autobiographical details from the rapper's life. 8 Mile portrays Jimmy AKA B-Rabbit (Eminem) as he tries to launch a career in the predominantly Black-owned genre.
Nothing can deter the young rapper — not a rough break-up, family crisis, or even a notorious rival gang. As B-Rabbit works to earn a name and reputation, he must tear down his limitations at plot peaks to free his full potential.
Viewers love 8 Mile for its inspirational, impactful tartness and Eminem's cinematic approach to self-reinvention and expression through his partial biopic. And if you're looking for spoilers, the soundtrack “Lose Yourself” pretty much sums up the major themes.
3. Straight Outta Compton (2015)
Straight Outta Compton is a biographical crime drama, one of the highest-grossing by an African-American film director (F. Gary Gary). The story depicts the formation of a gilt-edged hip-hop group in the late 80s. N.W.A. consists of notorious rappers Dr. Dre and DJ Yella, MCs Ice Cube (played by his son), MC Ren, and Eazy-E.
Out of one of the most vicious cities in America, this gangster group of rappers, consistently being racially profiled and harassed by the police, navigate their way through street violence to superstardom.
With their music, stirred in chaos and filled with brutally honest rhymes, they spark a revolution through rebellion and implant a legacy for themselves before their collision.
The biopic tale co-produced by Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, major movie characters, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. No big surprise.
4. Bodied (2017)
This Eminem co-produced film, directed by Joseph Kahn, featuring real-life battle rappers may have a couple of controversies but is an absolute gem.
Protagonist Adam Merkin, a Berkeley graduate student, goes to an underground rap battle alongside his girlfriend, Maya, for his graduate thesis on the poetic use of the “n-word” in battle rap. He meets Grym, a revered icon, who becomes impressed by his lyrical skills.
The unlikely liaison allows Adam to stay in his home while being mentored by him. But, as his newfound obsession with rap changes him, Adam's father, a celebrated Berkeley university professor, kicks him out, and his girlfriend dumps him, yet he doesn't give in.
Obsessed by his reckless desire to prove his expertise to the other underground rappers, he betrays Grym by agreeing to battle him for $5,000. He uses a mechanism Grym hates and hardly preaches against.
Despite its highly satirical connotations and cultural appropriateness, Bodied is reputable for its playful humor and energy.
5. Get Rich or Die Tryin' (2005)
50 Cent's film acting debut, which shares the same title as his debut album, shares a similar narrative to Eminem's 8 Mile sharing autobiographical details of the young MC's life. After his mother's death, Marcus (50 Cent) is left to a life of crime, dealing drugs for a big-shot drug mogul.
His life soon takes a quick spin when he decides to give up his criminal ways for his one true passion, music.
The story is an easy recycling of the same old hood-kid-to-stardom tale and performed poorly at the box office. Still, it's a sheer representation of 50 Cent‘s life portrayed over the years through his music. For example, the dramatization of when 50 Cent was famously shot nine times at close range, is seen through flashbacks in the movie's first act.
There are many things to love: the soundtrack, for one. Also, the troubled family dynamics; pining for his mother, staying with his doting grandparents, and searching for his father.
6. Roxanne Roxanne (2017)
Roxanne Roxanne focuses on the life and events of one of the first female MCs ever to make a mark, Roxanne Shanté.
RZA, Nia Long, Mahershala Ali, and Pharrell Williams are a few of the stars associated with the riveting biopic, with Pharell Williams being a co-producer and Michael Larnell as the movie's director.
Roxanne, a young scrappy MC from New York (where hip-hop is known to have been born) eager to be in the spotlight, must go through many hurdles to get there. Some of these include family obligations and the strained relationship with her mother. Roxanne literally has to battle to become a force in the hip-hop world while at the same time protecting herself from a sexist society.
While the plot may be rocky and underdeveloped, the story remains an inspiring, relatable truth-hinged tale.
7. Patti Cake$ (2017)
Patti Cake$ is the story of Patricia Dombrowski, an aspiring rapper, tired of her menial job and the throes of life, ready to spread her wings.
Despite being fat-shamed and told off in highly sexist remarks that she can never make it as a white female rapper, she struggles to define herself. Finally, she decides to move out of her hometown in New Jersey to chase her dreams in hip-hop.
She has nothing but the support of her best friend – her grandmother – who later becomes a member of their music band and a stranger, the only one who truly acknowledges her genius.
The movie, written and directed by Geremy Jasper (who is also highly responsible for the soundtrack), is light-hearted in a way that prevents it from being sedate. It may be about music, but one of the major selling points is the drama and thrilling relationships between goofy characters.
8. Brown Sugar (2002)
Brown Sugar is the story of two childhood friends as they mature, only to be led down their different paths in life but reunited through their shared love of hip-hop . Hip-hop plays from a different, more endearing outlook.
It becomes definitive of the romance between rap-music record producer Dre (Taye Diggs) and XXL editor-in-chief Sidney (Sanaa Lathan), even as they both have other romantic relationships.
For Sidney, the question, “When did you fall in love with hip-hop?” was way back in 1984 when she and her best friend, Dre, heard a group of teenagers freestyling.
Brown Sugar, which also passes as a romantic comedy, is one of the several gems that set the bar for movies produced in the early 00s. It was co-produced by Magic Johnson and Peter Heller and directed by Rick Famuyiwa.
9. Dope (2015)
Here is another coming-of-age drama written and directed by Nigerian-American director Rick Famuyiwa.
Life changes for Malcolm (Shameik Moore) and his friends, who share a similar love for hip-hop music after a night party in Los Angeles ends with a brief run-in with a dangerous gang and the police.
Malcolm is a geeky teenager who is studying to get into Harvard. Unfortunately, he gets caught up in a thrilling adventure when he finds himself possessing illegal, unknown items that may ruin his chance of getting into his dream university.
The movie title is reflected in its silly, humorous scenes, the dealings with drugs, and its bustling action. It features famous rapper ASAP Rocky, The Batman star Zoë Kravitz, with Forest Whitaker as the narrator.
10. Who's the Man? (1993)
You would probably remember Ted Demme's Who's the Man for the astounding number of celebrity cameos from notable 90s MCs. which perhaps is one of its most amazing attributes (and the reason it's on this list).
Two lousy barbers, Ed Lover (Ed Lover) and Doctor Dre (Andre Romelle Young), forced to leave their jobs and try out at the New York City police force, surprisingly make it in. But unfortunately, things turn for the worse with the tragic loss of their friend.
As rookie cops, they are determined to follow whatever leads they can find to uncover the truth of their friend's death, which they believe was a murder. The only problem is there aren't many plausible clues to be found—not with the sergeant breathing down their necks every minute.
Who's the Man is easily one of the most hilarious movies ever made.
11. Juice (1992)
Four Black men sick of being harassed and oppressed by the police and a local gang in Harlem decide to go all out to earn themselves respect and power. Their first task is robbing a local store. Although one of the four, Q (Omar Epps), is reluctant, Bishop (Tupac Shakur) insists that it is the only way out of the constant oppression.
During the robbery, something goes wrong, as Q had feared. The other gang members indulge in an altercation with Bishop, launching the ill-seated dilemma between the four friends.
Director Dickerson makes his debut in the crime thriller Juice, with Tupac Shakur, also in his acting debut. It touches on gang rivalry, police harassment, and betrayal in the eternal pursuit of power.
12. Boyz N the Hood (1991)
Boyz N The Hood, referencing a song written by Ice Cube for fellow MC, Eazy-E, follows the life of childhood friends, individually and altogether caught up in intricate crime webs.
Tre (Cuba Gooding Jr.) returns to Crenshaw to live with his father, where he reunites with Doughboy (Ice Cube), Ricky (Morris Chestnut), and Chris (Redge Green). Unfortunately, Doughboy and Chris spend seven years behind bars for robbery.
Still, it does little to rehabilitate them as they revert to street violence. While Tre is being rehabilitated by his authoritarian father, Doughboy is driven by a quest for vengeance when his only brother, Ricky, is killed by a notorious gang. Even though he knows the deadly repercussions it would bring, he doesn't stop until he exacts his revenge.
The star-studded commercial success draws parallels in the lives of the young boys caught in the snare of life in the hood. John Singleton directed the movie, which is memorable for its stirring plot.
13. You Got Served (2004)
You Got Served doubles as a dance drama and a musical, directed by Chris Strokes. David (Omarion) and Elgin (Marques Houston) lead the best dance crew in the area and deliver drugs for a baron to afford to compete in contests.
They hit the jackpot when a rich kid, Wade, challenges them to a battle for five thousand dollars. Even though their friends find it ridiculous that Elgin accepted the challenge, his ego pushes him further from reasoning, knowing the money involved.
Betrayal, bad blood, and rivalry come with each crew trying to best the other. The movie is a clear-cut juxtaposition of the competition between street battle performers and teammates double-crossing each other for their own selfish gains.
Aside from being exhilarating, the movie's soundtrack makes it very enjoyable. In 2011, Stomp the Yard‘s Robert Adetuyi wrote and directed the sequel; You Got Served: Beat the World.
14. Poetic Justice (1993)
Written and directed by John Singleton, this romantic drama tells the story of a young woman, Justice (Janet Jackson), along her journey as she grieves the loss of her boyfriend. To help her deal with the depression, she writes eloquent poetry. Justice then has the displeasure of meeting Lucky the day he walks into the salon she works.
Lucky hardly regards himself as that, having been through many unfortunate experiences in his past relationship and life. But then he meets Justice, and even though the two fight to deny it, they share a connection that blossoms on their joint trip to Oakland. However, the connection becomes threatened when, after many drags, they finally arrive in Oakland, and Lucky learns tragic news.
The cult classic also features performances from Regina King and Maya Angelou. It is regarded as one of the genre's most influential and significant movies and won four of the nine awards for which it was nominated.
15. Beats (2019)
August (Khalil Everage) stops school after becoming overwhelmed with guilt, anxiety, and depression after losing his sister in a shoot-out (shortly after his father died of a heart attack). However, he meets a struggling producer, Romelo (Anthony Anderson), and they form an unlikely pact, bonding over their love for music.
Even though Romelo has his hidden motives, together, they navigate through their past trauma. Still, there are other worries: his mother's overprotective nature and his best friend is in love with the same girl he has a crush on.
The soundtrack is mainly composed of upcoming stars to drive the narrative of a young producer trying to emerge into the music world. Chris Robinson directed the film, which Miles Orion Feldsott wrote.
Honorable Mention: Step Up (2006)
This dance musical is the first installment in the film franchise directed by Anne Fletcher. Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan are the stars of the movie who move from a hate-to-love relationship when they have to work together for an important showcase. Step Up, being a commercial success, is followed by four sequels.
Honorable Mention: All Eyez on Me (2017)
All Eyez on Me is an autobiographical film that follows the life of the legendary rapper, poet, and actor Tupac Shakur in his early days and rises to fame before his untimely death in 1996. Benny Boom directed it.