Lets be honest, what constitutes to be a Hip Hop film now-a-days is nothing more than urban narrative becoming mistakenly synonymous with Hip Hop. Aside from documentaries and biographical films the number of truly Hip Hop themed films is far too scarce. Though I am always down to watch a documentary about something I love, sometimes I don’t want to be taught and just want to be entertained. That being said, I give to you the top 7 truly Hip Hop themed movies of the past 25 years.
To exclude the all too commonly mentioned films of the 80s (Breakin, Beat Street, Krush Groove, etc.) this list includes films released after 1990. Also, to avoid the debate of fictional over non-fiction, this list excludes all documentaries and biographical films (Notorious, 8 Mile, etc.).
Bomb the System; Homage – Graffiti Writer
The film follows a 19-year-old graffiti writer, Blest, as he tries to find his way through life in the streets of New York. This is my favorite film on the list. Not only does it express the life of a writer in theatrical truth but it does so in a compelling manner. What many other Hip Hop themed films have done is made the plot of the film Hip Hop while Bomb the System places it in the backdrop while remaining true to the theme.
Battle of the Year; Homage – Bboy (or the gender neutral Bkid… we need to get a panel for a neutral term)
The premise of this film was the creation of a U.S. Bboy team to face off in the frequently Korean dominated Battle of the Year. Despite the largely unbelievable background story and presence of Chris brown the film wasn’t half bad. It contained the common struggle of morality and team struggle one might see in sports movies, along with some (albeit forced) Bboy related topics. Though Battle of the Year as a sponsor of the film is more than evident (just like Planet Bboy) the amount of product placement, or lack thereof, is respectable.
CB4; Homage – MC
A mock-umentary of sorts the film follows the fictional gangsta rap group CB4, parodying N.W.A., as their falsified persona begins to crumple. The film is Chris Rock’s first starring role and one of his funniest (in my opinion). Unlike the other films it largely magnifies the negative gangsta image of mainstream Hip Hop and places it under scrutiny, in a comical fashion.
House Party; Homage – MC (little bit of DJ)
This iconic film centers around high school kid, Kid, as he sneaks out to his friend Play’s house party. It is the first in the line of films by acting Hip Hop duo Kid’N’Play. The film barely made the list since it was released in March of 1990 and almost doesn’t fall under the criteria. However, just as Bomb the System does House Party sets Hip Hop in the backdrop in all but subtle way. The Rapping and DJing are not the focus of the film but neither does it seemed forced into the film, instead its integrated into the film as natural as the comedy.
Juice; Homage – DJ
Another iconic film about 4 inner-city teens getting caught in the struggle of life in the ghetto. This films theme borders on afrocentrism and Hip Hop but due to the main character Q’s DJ pursuit tips the scale (it introduced me to DJ battles). It showcases an array of cameo appearances from Queen Latifah to Fab Five Freddy and is credited as Tupac’s first film (actually Nothing But Trouble but he plays himself).
Brown Sugar; Homage – Hip Hop head (MC and all the people behind the scenes)
This romantic comedy is a story of a lifelong friendship that stumbles into romantic territory. Through its symbolic characters the film depicts a love story between Hip Hop and the people who have fallen in love with the culture. Starting with the iconic interview question “when did you first fall in love with Hip Hop” the film uses an array of cameo appearances by Hip Hop Pioneers to more blatantly interweave the symbolism and build a bit of legitimacy.
Life & Lyrics; Homage – DJ (mostly MC to be honest)
This British film plays out with the leader of Motion Crew, DJ D-Biz, falling for the cousin of one of their rival crews members pitting loyalty against love (as any would expect from a Romeo & Juliet variant). The film’s climax is the freestyle rap/dj competition which helps drive the plot line, as it has for many a Hip Hop film. Aside from the occasionally hard to understand British slang and the all to common bring it on at the competition climax, the film’s use of subplots is what makes the film enjoyable.
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