The Top 10 Essential Hip Hop Documentaries For Upcoming Rappers and Fans
These days it seems like everyone wants to try their hand at rapping or at the very least be apart of the culture. Hip hop has grown to influence the lives of many and it’s power is only spreading larger.
One of the key elements of Hip Hop has always been being real, and nothing’s realer than these documentaries that bring you closer to what life is really like for your favorite artists. Whether it be the process of recording, breaking down the art of rap, or them simply ‘living’ documentaries have always been a favorite amongst hip hop fans for their non-scripted approach to connecting the fans with artists that they relate, bringing them much closer to the action while adding layers to culture and lifestyle.
If you’re a fan who wants to put a friend up on the culture or even a rapper who just wants to brush up on their history, these documentaries will start you off on the right foot as the cover important aspects of all parts of the culture in different eras from past to present and beyond.
Rhyme and Reason – The Big Bang
This documentary tops it off as it is a full-proof guide to the culture of hip hop and all things that represent it to its core. Appearances from rappers from all coasts and cites, expose’s of unique styles, commentary on everything from clothes to the art of free-styling, rappers bringing us into their neighborhoods, the perspective of how hip hop from those outside of the culture, the first talk of owning entities rather than just being signed – everything you need to know is right here and much of what’s talked about in Rhyme and Reason is still in effect today. The names change, but the game remains the same.
Art of 16 Bars – Becoming a Master of Ceremonies
The original “Art of Rap,” the Art of 16 bars is another documentary in which some of our favorite rappers break down their unique styles. As KRS One narrates, he gives us a fresh perspective in analyzing a rapper’s style. Redman delivers an animated verse as only he can do during his segment in the film and KRS breaks down his hand movements and tones as if he was an NFL coach watching film, giving us a deeper understanding of how artists deliver their messages. There are plenty of notes to pick up here.
Something From Nothing: The Art Of Rap – Becoming a Master of Ceremonies Pt. 2
Every up and coming rapper needs to watch this. An updated version of the Art of 16 Bars, Ice Tea traveled the nation and chopped it up with the like of Eminem, Kanye West, Bun B, Joe Budden, Dr. Dre, Ras Kass — Just a taste of all the artists he touched base with in this one. This doc features rappers speaking about their own unique styles and giving you insight into their thought processes when creating their rhymes and what artists they draw inspiration from, some of them being featured in Art of 16 Bars. Highly recommended for anyone who puts the pen to the pad professionally or for fun.
Scratch – Give the DJ Some
Scratch documents the origins of another part of the culture, DJ’ing. The film starts from the very beginning with Grand Wizard Theodore telling the story of how his mother and an accident invented the art of scratching turntables. Cameos from notables ranging from DJ Premier to DJ Qbert relaying their stories make this documentary an interesting watch for aspiring DJ’s and producers alike.
Beef Series – Competition
One of the films on this list that we’ve all probably seen is the Beef Series. The popular documentary goes over the origins of competition and Hip Hop from the early battles for crowd supremacy scene to the highly involved rap beefs where fists flew and guns were drawn. Quincy Jones III or QD3 brought legends such as Ice Cube and Common to the table to discuss their sides of their famous battle, brought 50 Cent to the table to discuss his beef with Murder Inc, and of course Beef gave us the inside scoop on the East Coast/West Coast “Beef.” Beef showed us that confrontation in hip hop can arrive from anything as simple as a battle for bragging rights to real problems that started in the streets. Most importantly, it taught us the role that the media plays in everything.
Tupac: Ressurrection – What Legends Are Made Of
This documentary about the most polarizing figure in hip hop history covered all sides of the Gemini that penetrated pop culture past the microphone. Resurrection covers everything from Tupac Shakur‘s humble beginnings growing up as a student of the arts born into a family of Black Panthers to his untimely death in 1996. Resurrection also showcases Tupac’s different personalities from peaceful to perilous and touched on the many moments that made the man a legend. One of the key things that should be picked up from this documentary is Tupac’s relationships with people and the world in general. He was a man of the people who even made his so-called enemies fond of him.
Fade To Black – Going Out On Top
How fitting for Jay-Z to be the first hip hop artist to document the recording process of an album. In between takes of his legendary “last performance” at Madison Square Garden. Jay Z brings listeners inside the booth for the recording process where he works with the likes of Timbaland, Just Blaze, Kanye, Pharrell, and Rick Rubin, among others. Apart from the music, the documentary also gives us some key moments for upcoming artist. One scene in particular stands out where a young unnamed artist sits in a room with the likes of Jay Z and Young Guru and elaborates on his struggle with having to conform to the ‘gun talk’ that was popular at the time despite that not being what he really wanted to do. Jay Z then turns to the camera and uses this to make a Public Service Announcement about what perceptions have done to aspiring artists’ content. Overall if there is a perfect way to go out this is it.
Tha Carter – Modern Day Rockstar
Tha Carter documentary followed Lil Wayne at the height of Weezymania. During the documentary’s filming between 2007-2008 Wayne was on a meteoric rise to the top of the world. Filled with tattoos, weed smoking, syrup sipping, and Weezy being Weezy, the documentary was a favorite amongst fans as it brought them closer to the lifestyle of the new-age American rockstar. While that alone was enough to keep you watching, the one thing that really stood out about this documentary was Wayne’s work ethic. A lot of people wish for his success, but think it’s all smoke (literally) and mirrors. This man’s work ethic is unmatched. Nothing embodies that more than the scene where Wayne receives the news that he sold 1 million copies of Tha Carter III. You would think that after releasing an album like Tha Carter III Wayne would take a break, but no. When Cortez delivered the news, Weezy was on a tour bus — RECORDING. What else do you need to know?
Tanning Of America – Big Business
The latest hip hop documentary on this list gives us an updated point of view of what most of the other documentaries on this list touch on. The four part series captures hip hop’s effect on pop culture as a whole since its inception. The shell-toed Adidas of the 80’s, the endorsement deals that set off the 90’s, and the combination of style and culture that took hip hop to new heights in the 2000’s are all captured in advertising guru Steve Stoute’s series. Hip hop has influenced this generation more than any subculture in the world. When rappers started wisening up they found ways to monetize the culture and bring a new meaning to the phrase “get it how you live.”
Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest – All Good Things Must Come An End
Not every great story has a happy ending. That’s the basis of Beats, Rhymes, and Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest. The Michael Rapaport directed film documented the rise and fall of the legendary group. The film touched on their legacy and influence, but the real story was that of the Q-Tip and Phife Dog’s ongoing rift with Ali speaking as the voice of reason. Beats Rhymes & Life revealed sad truths about the ugly side of success from a group standpoint. Albeit a great film, the fact of the matter was that fans who were wishing for new music from one of the most legendary groups in hip hop got the confirmation that they will never get that. All good things must come to an end.
These 10 documentaries lament different aspects of hip hop culture from different styles to different approaches to different eras. These films will also help anyone who wants to learn more about hip hop whether it be for their artistry or to simply join the conversation.
Take a look at some more below: