The 2015 NWA movie ‘Straight Outta Compton’ has already become one of the biggest (and most controversial) films about hip hop – but is it one of the best rap movies ever? We’ve checked out the competition to put together this countdown of the greatest films documenting hip hop music and culture. Together they prove that the art of rap on screen goes way deeper than ‘Love and Hip Hop’.
The five best rap movies
A hip hop spoof in the vein of ‘Spinal Tap’, ‘CB4’ has never been more relevant – or at least that’s what the purists would say. It follows four friends who decide to form a gangsta rap group loosely based on NWA. There’s just one problem: they’re not gangstas! Starring Chris Rock as MC Gusto and with cameos by Ice Cube, Eazy-E, Flavor Flav and Shaquille O’Neal, ‘CB4’ hilariously proves that you don’t need to be ‘real’ to rap or have any musical talent to be a musician.
‘Brown Sugar’ (2002)
‘So, when did you first fall in love with hip hop?’ asks Sanaa Lathan as XXL editor Sidney Shaw in this coming-of-age love story. With appearances by some of hip hop’s elite (De La Soul, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Common), ‘Brown Sugar’ looks at real-life relationships through the prism of rap’s struggle for integrity – something all fans of the culture can understand. Clever, warm and charming, this is hip hop’s ‘(500) Days of Summer’.
‘8 Mile’ (2002)
Shining a light on battle rap and the ’90s Detroit scene, ‘8 Mile’ brought Eminem’s humble beginnings to the big screen. Great things were expected from the moment ‘LA Confidential’ director Curtis Hanson got involved, and ‘8 Mile’ delivered some serious box office numbers. The drama of Em’s trailer park upbringing and his troubled relationship with his mother, broken up by his hilarious crew of misfit friends, builds to an epic battle finale.
Imagine the concept of ‘Save the Last Dance’, but flipped on its head and 17 years earlier. This showcase for the four classical elements of hip hop – MCing, DJing, breakin’ and graffiti – was also the acting debut for both Ice-T and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Okay, so ‘acting’ is a questionable term – but that actually doesn’t take much away from the film, and there’s nobody on the planet that doesn’t wish they could dance with a broom like Michael ‘Boogaloo Shrimp’ Chambers.
Introducing legendary rapper Tupac Shakur to the world as a serious actor, ‘Juice’ sets the art of DJing against street life. It’s the story of four inner city youths who enjoy stirring things up in the neighbourhood until a corner store robbery goes wrong; Pac’s famous ‘I just don’t give a fuck’ line still sends a chill down the spine. A gritty soundtrack featuring Cypress Hill, EPMD and Eric B & Rakim completes this dramatic hip hop masterpiece.