Since the dawn of the hip-hop genre in the early 1970s, the world has been fascinated by the lives of rappers. The art form came from humble roots but quickly became synonymous with displays of extravagant wealth. From Slick Rick wearing enough gold necklaces to give him irreversible spinal problems to 50 Cent’s iconic episode of MTV Cribs in which he shows off his 52-room mansion, the hip-hop genre has become as much about the lifestyle as it is the music. In fact, rapper 6ix9ine seems to be more famous for his outlandish social media stunts than he is for his records.
Yes, us normal folks are intrigued by the fabulous lives of rappers (as well as hip-hop producers such as Dr. Dre or DJ Khaled). And, from this fascination, the head honchos of Hollywood have noticed an opportunity. Over the years, the lives of rappers have been dramatized and turned into blockbuster films time and time again. Many of these films are true underdog stories, depicting the rise of a rapper from down-and-out beginnings to international superstardom. And many of these hip-hop flicks have done extremely well at the box office and on streaming platforms.
There have been a ton of movies made about rappers, especially with the recent rise in the amount of content that production studios are churning out. There are major films about Yung Lean, Juice WRLD, XXXtentacion, Lil Peep, 6ix9ine, and several other rappers who have come on the scene within the last decade or so. However, in the history of hip-hop movies, some films stand out above the rest. Here are the 5 best hip-hop movies of all time in no particular order.
1. 8 Mile
The 2002 film 8 Mile follows the story of an aspiring rapper named Jimmy who goes by the stage name B-Rabbit. Jimmy lives in a trailer with his mom and younger sister and works at a car factory in a derelict neighborhood of Detroit. Jimmy struggles against stage fright, his depressing living situation, and a group of rival battle rappers as he tries to break into the world of hip-hop. He also becomes the butt of everyone’s joke as a white guy trying to break into a traditionally black cultural movement.
While this movie is about a guy named Jimmy from Detroit, it’s widely understood 8 Mile is based on Eminem’s real life. Eminem, who plays the lead role in the movie, really grew up in Detroit near the historic Eight Mile Road that divided the upper-class white neighborhoods from the poorer black neighborhoods. This film is an interesting take on the history of hip-hop as well as the racial tension that has long persisted in the city of Detroit. Its cast featured Hollywood elites such as Mekhi Phifer, Anthony Mackie, Kim Basinger, and Michael Shannon. At the time it was released, 8 Mile was the second-highest-grossing R-rated movie ever in the United States.
The 2009 film Notorious stars Jamal Woolard as Christopher Wallace, better known as The Notorious B.I.G. or Biggie Smalls. This movie sheds an interesting light on the “East Coast vs. West Coast” beef that ultimately led to the unfortunate deaths of both Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur. It also shows Biggie’s rise from being a drug dealer in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood to being one of the biggest stars in the music industry. The soundtrack is filled with some amazing music from Biggie himself as well as some of the other biggest acts of his era.
While Notorious didn’t garner the greatest critical reception, it’s still a good introduction to one of the most infamous periods in hip-hop. The film gives viewers an insight on Biggie’s rise to stardom and the events that led up to his death. And, while most consider this movie to be fairly accurate, one person who questions its veracity is Lil’ Kim. The female rap star has openly criticized how the movie portrayed her as overly promiscuous.
3. Get Rich or Die Tryin’
The 2005 American crime drama Get Rich or Die Tryin’ stars New York rapper 50 Cent as a character named Marcus Greer who turns away from a life of selling drugs to pursue his passion as a rapper. However, in a moment of weakness, Greer is shot several times but rescued by his grandparents. After that, his focus on his rap career gets even sharper and his ascent to stardom begins. This film is loosely based on the life of 50 Cent himself, who really was shot nine times (including in his face and chest) outside of his grandparents’ home in South, Jamaica, Queens, New York. 50 Cent was 24 years old when the incident occurred.
The film was originally going to be called Locked and Loaded; however, just before its release, the name was changed to Get Rich or Die Tryin’, the name of 50 Cent’s debut album. Interestingly enough, parts of the movie were actually filmed in Ireland, which seems odd for a movie about a gangster from New York City.
4. Straight Outta Compton
The 2015 biopic Straight Outta Compton details the intertwined lives of MC Ren, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, and DJ Yella. known collectively as N.W.A. Many of the group’s original members were involved in the production of the film, and its story is believed to be very similar to the real-life events. This film even stars O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ice Cube’s real-life son, as Ice Cube himself.
Straight Outta Compton tells the story of a group of youngsters living in Compton, California, in the late 1980s and early 1990s at a time when crime and poverty were rampant in the community. These youths use hip-hop as a way to get themselves out of a bad situation. However, even at the height of its fame, N.W.A. feels the negative effect of the AIDS epidemic and gang violence.
5. All Eyez On Me
All Eyez On Me, which came to the silver screen in 2017, is named after the fourth studio album of Tupac Shakur, one of the most interesting figures in the history of hip-hop. Shakur was not only a rapper, but also an actor, poet, activist, and revolutionary. The film begins with Tupac sitting in Clinton Correctional Facility in 1995, speaking to an interviewer. In a flashback, he speaks about his father’s involvement in the Black Panther Party, his journey into the arts, the beginnings of his music career with Digital Underground, his friendship with Jada Pinkett, his acting roles, and his solo music career.
Unfortunately, things take a bad turn in Tupac’s life when he gets beaten by police for jaywalking, gets arrested on allegations of rape and harassment charges, and is attacked and shot at Quad Recording Studios in Brooklyn. Unfortunately, things continue to spiral out of control in Tupac’s life until he’s shot at a red light, leaving him dead. This film is a true homage to the complex character that Tupac was. Demetrius Shipp Jr. stars as the late rapper and Jamal Woolard once again shows up in the role of Biggie Smalls. While this film wasn’t loved by critics, it’s definitely still worth watching for those who are interested in Tupac’s story.