The 5 Best Hip-Hop Movies

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All Eyez On Me was not screened for critics this week, its release this Friday signals another movie in the hip-hop genre, but the refusal to have critics review the film before its opening is already cause for concern, the stuff of impending doom for its box-office prospects. A few years ago, Straight Outta Compton‘s success stunned the industry as a whole. Its $60 million opening weekend defied all predictions and dethroned "Mission: Impossible" at the top of the box office. A wave of industry pros were left scratching their heads and rethinking what the winning formula of a summer blockbuster can be made of. Compton was 150 minutes long, had a mostly black cast and an R rating. Perhaps summer blockbusters can be more diverse than we previously thought? This wasn’t the first time a hip-hop themed movie became a blockbuster of this magnitude: 8 Mile had a 51 million dollar opening weekend back in the fall of 2002. But for the most part, hip-hop themed movies have generally been more of a niche affair. Critics haven’t been any kinder, but there are exceptions: Here are five movies that have justly been hailed as breakthroughs in the hip-hop filmmaking. 

8 MILE (2002)
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In 2002, Eminem sought to make a movie loosely based on his life. He was just coming off the whirlwind of The Marshall Matters LP and was the most popular hip-hop star in the world. He got L.A Confidential and Wonder Boys director Curtis Hanson to bring realism and grittiness to the movie. The film stars Eminem as Jimmy “B-Rabbit” Smith Jr., an aspiring rapper whose life reflects that of the man playing him. Growing up, Marshall “Eminem” Mathers didn’t have the easiest life, and neither does Rabbit. Living in inner city Detroit with the dream of one day becoming a well-known rapper, Rabbit has to deal with issues such as an alcoholic mother on welfare (Kim Basinger), her abusive live-in boyfriend (Michael Shannon) and being a white rapper in a field dominated by black artists. The movie justified the hype and the rapper himself proved his worth as an actor. The rap battle that closes the movie is the clear highlight and showcases just how poetic and musical the genre can be.


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“It’s hard out here for a pimp” is the catchy phrase from this movie’s Oscar winning song by Three 6 Mafia. That perfectly describes Hustle and Flow‘s Memphis hustler DJay (Terrence Howard), an unhappy pimp who wants to make it big in hip-hop. He brings on a high school friend for sound mixing, his pregnant girlfriend (and prostitute) Shug (Taraji P. Henson, who later reunited with Howard on the TV hip-hop saga Empire) for backup vocals and records indelibly catchy songs such as the aforementioned “Hard out here for a Pimp” and “Whoop That Trick,” all in the hope of selling them to a local rapper (Ludacris) who made it big. Artfully directed by Craig Brewer, the film features an intense Oscar-nominated performance from the underrated Terrence Howard as a man so sick of his life that he’d lie, cheat, and steal just to oust himself from the game.

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This film features an irresistibly upbeat block party that you just wish you were a part of. In the summer of 2004, Dave Chappelle decided to throw a surprise block party in a Brooklyn neighborhood. It featured some of the biggest names in hip-hop, soul and RnB: Kanye, Mos Def, John Legend, and even a reunion of The Fugees, who have been feuding pretty much non-stop for the past decade and a half. Chappelle also hired wizard filmmaker Michel Gondry, fresh off his Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind triumph. The result? An infectiously surreal fiesta that had the whole block bouncing to the best beats the genres had to offer. Gondry shot the whole thing with an abundance of colors and the flair he learned from a career in music videos. The clear highlight is Chappelle interviewing the neighbourhood people stunned at what was happening in their own backyard, but wait until you see Kanye West with a marching band showcasing his ego in brilliant glory.

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Eazy-E, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube epitomized gangsta rap in the late ’80s as the West Coast gangsta rap group NWA. They brought it to the centerfold of the American conversation with songs such as “Gangsta Gangsta” and “Boyz-n-the-Hood”. In this summer’s surprise hit movie, Straight Outta Compton, their story is told with such in-your-face vigor and bravado that it almost feels like a gangsta rap companion piece to Goodfellas. Directed by F. Gary Gray, who directed some of Ice Cube’s most famous ‘90s music videos, the film recounts the day when the trio we’re the talk of the nation, eluding questions about police brutality and black poverty. Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) was the founder, Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ice Cube’s son) was the lyricist and Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) had the sick beats that nobody could touch. They eventually all went their separate ways, but not without making a mark in music forever. The centerpiece of the film is a concert in Detroit where the group is threatened by Detroit Police not to play “F*** Tha Police” under threat of arrest. Guess what they do?

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Tupac had the lyrics and Biggie had the flow. Biggie & Tupac, directed by documentarian extraordinaire Nick Broomfield, has an abundance of rich material to work with. The story of Biggie and Tupac’s rise as friends and fall as sworn enemies is the material that Shakespeare would have died to write about if he had lived in the 21st century. Broomfield doesn’t shy away from anything regarding the story, with a clear condemnation of the way the LAPD handled the case of both artists. The East Coast/West Coast rivalry is given a lot of attention, but so are particular suspects. The highlight is a behind-the-bars interview with Suge Knight, the head of Death Row Records, who some suspect played a role in the murders of both artists.