The music video began to reach its full potential in the 1990s. With new technology emerging and a decade of familiarity with the format in the bank, expressing a song's concept via the relatively young visual medium was just starting to hit its stride.
This growth was especially notable in rap music. As the genre moved from urban niche to mainstream phenomenon, the music videos got more thought out, more expensive, and, in many ways, a lot better. Sure, Ready To Die sounded amazing banging out of car speakers, and Dr. Dre's production on Doggystyle ruled the headphones of many a listener, but the reigns of those artists and so many others was about so much more than simply hearing the music. The '90s brought a visual element to the culture in a major way, allowing for a greater avenue for self-expression and cultivating superstars off presence and personality alone.
While there's a certain appeal to the "anyone can do it" mantra of today's YouTube-uploading youth, the exact opposite is what was so staggering about rap videos in the '90s. Everyone couldn't do it. The guys and girls up on the screen during Rap City, TRL, and The Box marathons were heroes. Hip-Hop Gods. You didn't know what they had for lunch because of social media. The only glimpse you had into the lives of the people making your favorite music was these videos.
We watched a ton of classic clips from the '90s and we've come up with a list of the very best. From Public Enemy calling out 911, to the Beastie Boys in Japan, to Hype Williams and Director X giving the jiggy era an identity. These are The 50 Best Rap Videos of the '90s.
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DMX f/ Sheek Louch "Get at Me Dog" (1998)
50. DMX f/ Sheek Louch "Get at Me Dog" (1998)
Director: Hype Williams
This is the moment rap got gritty again. No shiny suits. No more Cristal popping. No fly honeys. Shot in NYC's infamous and legendary nightclub, The Tunnel, Irv Gotti saw DMX as a return of cruddy, low-down, dirty hip-hop and gave the song a video to match. There's live performance footage filtered with a visually stunning black and white color scheme. DMX brought an epic amount of new, rawer bravado to the set, and the descent of the jiggy era began in one fell swoop.
The Notorious B.I.G. f/ 112 "Sky's the Limit" (1997)
49. The Notorious B.I.G. f/ 112 "Sky's the Limit" (1997)
Director: Spike Jonze
After The Notorious B.I.G.'s untimely death rocked the hip-hop nation in March 1997, director Spike Jonze came up with the idea to use adorable young look-a-like actors to play the roles of Biggie, Puff Daddy, Lil Kim, and even 112, in the video for "Sky's The Limit." Watching the child stars living the good life as Biggie would have if he were alive made for the perfect, feel-good visuals to go along with the most uplifting song on Life After Death. It was fitting too, considering that on the song he reminisces about his days as a kid growing up in Brooklyn.
We were heavy-hearted, and still trying to process the fact that Biggie was gone, but the images in the "Sky's The Limit" video made us smile, like seeing a young B.I.G. rapping in the jacuzzi, or a mini-Puffy hopping out of his Mercedes. It was innocent, clever, and kept our dreams alive for the future.
Onyx "Slam" (1993)
48. Onyx "Slam" (1993)
Director: Parris Mayhew
The boys of Onyx had an unlimited amount of energy and the "Slam" video was their medium for expressing it. It didn't take a lot to get the point across either. There's some crowd surfing shots, a little moshing, and a lot of screaming at the camera. Simple enough, at the end of the clip, you had no question about who these guys were and what their purpose was. America ate it up, and "Slam" went on to peak at No. 4 on the pop charts.
Warren G f/ Nate Dogg "Regulate" (1994)
47. Warren G f/ Nate Dogg "Regulate" (1994)
Director: Cameron Casey
Spliced together with footage from the film Above the Rim-"Regulate" made an appearance on the (incredible) soundtrack-the video was a literal reading of the song's scenario. They really do take Warren G's rings and Rolex, and Nate Dogg does indeed whip it over to the Eastside Motel.
Fugees "Ready or Not" (1996)
46. Fugees "Ready or Not" (1996)
Director: Marcus Nispel
The third and final single from The Score also got the biggest, most expensive video. The visuals fit right in with the over-the-top action sequences popular in '90s films, and also made it clear that the Fugees were now superstars. You don't get helicopters and motorcycle chase scenes added into the budget for any other reason.
Dr. Dre f/ Snoop Dogg "Still D.R.E." (1999)
45. Dr. Dre f/ Snoop Dogg "Still D.R.E." (1999)
Director: Hype Williams
At one time, Dr. Dre needed no introduction. When it came time to drop his second album, he definitely did. Sure, Eminem's sudden success was what ultimately guaranteed Dre's return to the pantheon, but it was "Still D.R.E." that established the link between Dre's past and future. Snoop was back in the 'lac, the low-riders were still on Crenshaw. Only now, Hype WIlliams, rather than Dre himself, was behind the lens. The West Coast swagger remained.
Ol' Dirty Bastard f/ Kelis "Got Your Money" (1999)
44. Ol' Dirty Bastard f/ Kelis "Got Your Money" (1999)
Director: Nzingha Stewart, Scott Kalvert, Hype Williams, D'Urville Martin
Can you imagine trying to manage ODB during a video shoot? The always idiosyncratic rapper is missing from most of this video, which is mostly footage from the blaxplotation film Dolomite with ODB's face planted over characters here and there. It was so absurd and unexpected, that it came off as fairly brilliant.
Digital Underground "The Humpty Dance" (1990)
43. Digital Underground "The Humpty Dance" (1990)
Director: Dan Rodriguez
According to Rolling Stone, it was the song that saved the summer of 1990. But it was the video that turned it up. Digital Underground leader Shock G had already appeared as an eyebrow-raising character in a previous clip for "Doowhatchalike," but the name of Humpty Hump or his dance still hadn't burned through American pop culture until the clip for this song emerged. The Groucho Marx glasses with the fake nose. The white fur hat with the tag on it. The women who gravitated towards him not in spite of, but-mystically-because of his "looks." And that dance. That dance. It wasn't just the kind of hilariously, not-even-remotely-self-conscious, absurdly fun rap moment you don't see anymore (as gangster rap's self-seriousness had already started the obliteration of this kind of thing in contemporary hip-hop), but it was also and still remains a visceral, brilliant piece of pop art with an indisputably positive message: Just do you, no matter how freaky. And if that's not enough to convince you how fly the "Humpty Hump" video is, a young Tupac Shakur is visibly dancing in the background. It doesn't get any more classic than that.
Cypress Kill "How I Could Just Kill a Man" (1991)
42. Cypress Kill "How I Could Just Kill a Man" (1991)
Director: David Perez Shadi
Cypress Hill repped the West Coast to the fullest, so it's especially significant that they shot this music video in NYC. They hit the city as crew, from Times Square to Astor Place to Harlem. Some mayhem even goes down on the city's famous subway system, and the whole thing just feels like a really cool, powerful, important moment in rap. And it was. Bonus points are awarded for the Ice Cube cameo, too.
2pac f/ Snoop Doggy Dogg "2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted" (1996)
41. 2Pac f/ Snoop Doggy Dogg "2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted" (1996)
Director: Gobi M. Rahimi
Of all the "rappers in the courtroom" videos that exist, this has to rank as the greatest. Shots at Bad Boy notwithstanding, this clip is special for a few reasons, most notably for featuring one of the earliest reveals of Snoop Dogg's silky smooth perm. His chemistry with the late 2Pac was uncanny, too. From their epic last meal to an unforgettable takeover of the courtroom, it's engaging from the first shot to last.
Sir Mix-a-Lot "Baby Got Back" (1992)
40. Sir Mix-a-Lot "Baby Got Back" (1992)
Director: Adam Bernstein
No question, it is one of the most beautiful and inspired openings of any short-form visual feature in human history: Two white girls (one in a fringe jacket) staring down a hallway at one fine video vixen rubbing on her assets. And when the beat drops and Sir Mix-A-Lot begins to declare his unabashed love for the female derriere, you quickly realize that he's standing on top of, let's call them buttock pyramids. Two, tan cheek pyramids and Sir Mix-A-Lot rapping behind ladies in gold ensembles isn't all-flashes of words, fruit posed like a butt, tiny fake cheeks everywhere, measurements, a mermaid, and a female in a skirt made of bananas-it literally doesn't stop. It's a four-minute ride of absolute obsession with curves that will leave you looking differently at pears for months.
De La Soul "Ego Trippin' (Part Two)" (1993)
39. De La Soul "Ego Trippin' (Part 2)" (1993)
Director: Frank Sacramento
Everyone makes a big hoot about the Roots' "What They Do" video, and perhaps it was a better executed parody of contemporary rap visuals, but the concept belongs to De La Soul, who riffed on their gangster rap counterparts first in the clip for "Ego Trippin' (Part 2)." Subtitles and all. It was a moment of self-aware genius from the often out-of-the-box thinking group, and years later its reappropreation would prove that imitation is, in fact, the sincerest form of flattery.
Ultramagnetic MCs "Poppa Large" (1992)
38. Ultramagnetic MCs "Poppa Large" (1992)
Rap videos hadn't really started to breach the avant garde in '92 quite yet. Out comes the Bronx's Ultramagnetic MC's with the video for "Poppa Large," like a dish using a new type of meat: An odd, off-center, black-and-white distortion shot. Kool Keith, hanging upsidedown in a doorway by his ankles, with a birdcage on his head, in a strait-jacket, having experiments performed on him by white-coated scientists. The entire thing was an odd and uncomfortable metaphor for what it felt like to be making the kind of tracks that Keith and crew were bringing to the table at that time, but one that seared itself into the brains of anyone who saw it.
Redman "I'll Bee Dat!" (1998)
37. Redman "I'll Bee Dat" (1998)
Director: Director X
This video is a classic off one scene. You know what we're talking about. Hot girl rides her bike, waves at the homies, the homies wave back, and--BOOM--she runs into a parked car and totals her bike and face. Not a good look for the cyclist, but an unforgettable and hilarious moment in rap video history. Beyond that, Redman dancing with big girls, stealing a BMW, and pumping his own brands of cereal and cola all contribute to the sheer awesomeness of this clip.
DMX "Ruff Ryders Anthem" (1998)
36. DMX "Ruff Ryders Anthem" (1998)
Director: J. Jesses Smith
A virtual army appears behind DMX in this testosterone-driven classic. Between the introduction of minibikes and four-wheelers into the national rap lexicon and some prison yard-like weightlifting scenarios, the "Ruff Ryders Anthem" video captured the song's relentless aggression, even if it took a more rehearsed tack to portray the adrenaline rush that defined DMX's earlier "Get At Me Dog." At this moment, the Ruff Ryders movement had its most visceral visual accompaniment.
Tha Dogg Pound f/ Snoop Doggy Dogg "New York, New York" (1995)
35. Tha Dogg Pound f/ Snoop Doggy Dogg "New York, New York" (1995)
Director: Darius Henderson
Welcome to the East Coast, Tha Dogg Pound. At the time, "New York, New York" was thought to be a diss track during the ever intensifying East Coast/West Coast rivalry. The video shows Tha Dogg Pound touching down early in the morning EST-and follows with a larger-than-life rapping around skyscrapers.Tha Dogg Pound raps in front of now, very obvious green screens, and on snowy stoops. Beanies tight on their heads and cigs hanging from behind their ears, Tha Dogg Pound and Snoop kicking down buildings in New York was, at the time, a very risqué move.
Beastie Boys "Intergalactic" (1998)
34. Beastie Boys "Intergalactic" (1998)
Director: Nathanial Hörnblowér (Adam "MCA" Yauch)
How did the Beastie Boys come back to MTV after an extended absence post-"Sabotage"? With one of the most hilarious-and downright hysterically fun parody music videos of all time, "Intergalatic" and its Giant Robot v. Giant Octopus Head showdown makes for one of the greatest videos of the decade. Plus, watching a humongous robot doing B-Boy pop moves will never be forgotten. The video was directed by Nathanial Hornblower aka MCA aka Adam Yauch-who is dressed alongside Ad-Rock and Mike D in Japanese street construction worker suits, doing the cosmically insane stop-motion triangle dance.
Das EFX "They Want EFX" (1992)
33. Das EFX "They Want EFX" (1992)
Before "California Love," or before "Get at Me Dog," there was a DNA strand of any literally subterranian video born in the clip for "They Want EFX." To have gritty underground scenery lit with torches is one thing, their faces covered in masks, holding giant hammers in what looks like some kind of engine room. Of rap? Of a boat? Who knows. But what people did know was that it takes an extra something else to fly past this cliche video trope. For 'Pac, it was George Clinton and multi-million dollar budget. For DMX, it was sheer, unfiltered energy. But for Das EFX, it was charisma, unfiltered, and unforgiving, along with a single iconic image, the one that you'll see around the 2:09 mark: A speaker, literally blowing up.
Public Enemy "911 Is a Joke" (1990)
32. Public Enemy "911 Is a Joke" (1990)
Yes, kids, the star of Flavor of Love was a very, very important rapper/hypeman once. Flavor Flav might not have been the best bar-for-bar rapper (though he didn't need to be, since he spent most of his time in this era in close proximity to Chuck D) but he was, if anything, undeniably entertaining. The loud outfits in in this video and bursting out of a coffin? He's Flavor Flav. Ask no more questions, and yes, that is Samuel L. Jackson in the clip.
A Tribe Called Quest "Check the Rhime" (1991)
31. A Tribe Called Quest "Check the Rhime" (1991)
Director: Jim Swaffield
The first single off the second Tribe album needed to have something special for the clip, and you know-just like you knew listening to any Tribe song-you were in for something so radically different and utterly brilliant from the rest of rap the moment the clip starts: The negative-color shot of Tribe dancing. After that, Tip and Phife representing for the Yankees, the Cleveland Indians, the Braves: Huh? The intercut Poloroid photograph in motion. Tip pumping up a crowd from a rooftop during an improptu show, in the style of The Beatles. Just rapping in the neighborhood, having fun, getting shut down by girls, hosting a block party: It was, quite simply, everything rap aspired to be-fun, and smart. What else do you need?
LL Cool J "Mama Said Knock You Out" (1990)
30. LL Cool J "Mama Said Knock You Out" (1990)
Director: Paris Barclay
LL is known for having a crazy physique, but compared to his later days, LL doesn't look like a bodybuilder in this video. None of that matters, though, since his bars are in top shape and this clip-one of the most crucial links in establishing the cultural bridge between boxing and rap-is more about his presence and confidence than anything else. Rappers have done the "rapping into the mic" things in plenty videos, but here, with LL's rugged rhymes placed in the context of a boxing ring, at the time of its release, it meant so much more.
Xzibit "What U See Is What U Get" (1998)
29. Xzibit "What U See Is What U Get" (1998)
Director: Gregory Dark
This absolutely classic video helped Xzibit establish himself as a premier West Coast rapper. The video appears to be shot in one take (it wasn't and if you look closely you can see where they change shots) and features all sorts of choas happening while Xzibit raps rather nonchalantly into the camera. It's the kind of relatively big budget video a rapper who isn't a huge star could shoot back in the days. Nowadays, an act akin to Xzibit would have to either get really creative or just shoot something really cheap. Sigh.
Method Man & Redman "Da Rockwilder" (1999)
28. Method Man & Redman "Da Rockwilder" (1999)
Director: Dave Meyers
Sure, this video had a lot going for it: Some cool special effects, explosions, and the always animated Red and Meth doing, well, rambunctious rapper things, in an post-apocolypic sewer-factor-empty-strip-club type-joint. But the video also featured a memorable "WHUH?" moment as it broke between Meth and Red's verses, to cut into a parody of those '90s Gap ads, one of the most successful marketing campaigns ever. We can totally see a movie executive hesitating at the idea of casting Red & Meth in How High only to see this video and the phrase, "Everybody In Stank Butt Jeans," laughing out loud, and saying, "Greenlight it." The video then cuts back in, and Red and Meth are now strolling through the factor-strip-club-nuclear-warhead-storage-facility, except they're tethered together, doing a proto-Jerome Robbins dance routine together unlike anything two straight male rappers have done quite since. It's weird as shit, and fun, and brilliant.
2Pac f/ Shock-G & Money-B "I Get Around" (1993)
27. 2Pac f/ Shock-G & Money-B "I Get Around" (1993)
Director: David Dobkin
What would you do if given the keys to a mansion for a weekend? Because in the "I Get Around" clip, it's clear that the place isn't 'Pac's: You can see the way the interior was essentially gutted for the shoot in the few shots inside the house. But who gives a shit when you have an answer as resounding as Tupac's: (1) You invite all of your friends in Digital Underground (but make sure Shock G-and not Humpty Hump-shows up). (2) You invite all of your friends who aren't in Digital Underground. (3) You invite a bunch of women. (4) When you wake up after a threesome with those women, you have a backyard BBQ and a pool party. And that's it. The entire forumla for this video, a mile-marker for that turning point in rap when this kid, the Digital Underground roadie-turned-crew-member, started to throw the party, one that was a radical departure from "The Humpty Hump"-one with hints of sillyness, but for the most part, one that was exponentially more hedonism-driven-and the first true sign of what was to come from Tupac Shakur: Escapist thug fantasies, unlike any the world had really experienced before.
Outkast "Elevators" (1996)
26. Outkast "Elevators" (1996)
Director: Michael Martin
The video for "Elevators (Me and You)," the lead single off Outkast's sophomore album ATLiens was the first inclination that the group was maybe getting a little strange. In it, Andre 3000 and Big Boi graduate from high school, after which Andre trades his cap and gown for a turban, and the group drops out of society at large, fleeing the city for a woodland spiritual cult sojourning toward a pyramid-entrenched promised land. It was a radical shift away from the fun-loving teenage wrecklessness of their early years and the first step toward the oddball Southern mysticism they'd come to be known for.
Artifacts "Wrong Side of Da Tracks" (1994)
25. Artifacts "Wrong Side of Da Tracks" (1994)
Director: Charles Stone
A song that's primarily about-among other things-grafitti (by a group who knew a thing or two about it) better have a solid video for it. And Artificats wasn't the kind of group with the kind of money behind them that could finance some truly cutting-edge shit. But watch the video, and you'll see both (A) one of the truly if not the truly crucial rap video clip about grafitti and (B) the first seeds of technological innovation in videos being sewn, even if it was on the lower-budget end of things: Not just guys tagging, and tagging well, but an intercut animated motion-feature of a tag being built, which still looks awesome to this day. If any clip on this list is massively underrated for how it holds up today-and needs to be recognized more for that-you're watching it now.
GZA f/ Method Man, Ghostface Killah, Killah Priest & RZA "Shadowboxin'/4th Chamber" (1996)
24. GZA f/ Method Man, Ghostface Killah, Killah Priest & RZA "Shadowboxin'/4th Chamber" (1996)
Director: The Genius (GZA)
The split video is so commonplace in rap now, but when GZA's "Shadowboxin" transitioned to "4th Chamber," the concept was revolutionary. Maybe that's why Wu-Tang went so hard with the war imagery in the clip. It's a dark, muddy, rainy night, and the clique has their Wu-Tang flags raised high. There's no question as to who wins the battle.
Dr. Dre f/ Snoop Doggy Dogg "Dre Day" (1993)
23. Dr. Dre f/ Snoop Doggy Dogg "Dre Day" (1993)
Director: Dr. Dre
Oh, man. It's a classic clip, but it's also one that gets harder to watch over the years. The video, which featured a character Dre dubbed "Sleazy-E" getting a record deal from an evil sleazeball exec (played by none other than Interscope marketing honcho Steve Berman). Sleazy-E's adventures are intercut, of course, with Dre and Snoop having a banging part. And by the end of the video, Sleazy-E's been shot and is homeless and hungry, holding up a sign by a freeway: "WILL RAP FOR FOOD." Shortly after that, a title card on black: "This video is a work in [sic] fiction. The characters, incidents & plot are a product of the creative imagination of the artist. Any resemblance to any persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental." Except: like hell it was. Eazy-E and Dre's fued continued to play out in public (and in the video space) again in the "Real Muthaphuckkin G's," but Dre's clip dropped first, and dropped stronger. Eazy-E would make amends with Dre and Snoop shortly before he died two years later, but-despite being a great video, and a great song-it's still a reminder of the kind of creative brilliant could've-been output that beef so often kills.
Mobb Deep "Quiet Storm" (1999)
22. Mobb Deep "Quiet Storm" (1999)
Director: Joseph Kahn
Mobb Deep emerged as a duo representative of NYC's gritty, mid-'90s hip-hop scene. By the time their third LP, 1999's Murda Musik, rolled around, they were still embroiled in their grimy roots, but getting the point across was to be a big budget affair. In spirit, the music video for first single "Quiet Storm" was like a culmination of the decade's action flicks. Prodigy and Havoc star as the visual's anti-heroes, thwarting their SWAT team assailants with missiles, backflips, and an overall impentrenable sense of cool (i.e. penning lyrics under a desk, under machine gun fire)--even in the face of a squad of armed assailants.
Method Man "Bring the Pain" (1994)
21. Method Man "Bring the Pain" (1994)
Director: Diane Martel
Method Man's debut solo single from Tical is a weird, menacing, girtty-like-nothing-before it affair. But how to portray that subtly intimidating sound in a video? Try Meth rapping about an inner-city bus with whited-out eyes, and his crew just wil-wait a sec, did Meth just steal someone's cell phone? Yes, this was the Method Man that Method Man wanted to get America to know: Not a blinged-out rapped who'd made it, intent on stunting around New York as its new reigning rap king, but as a guy who will still get on the subway, looking like shit, and steal your cell phone. It's weird, and amazing, and nobody else but Method Man could have pulled it off.
Craig Mack f/ The Notorious B.I.G., Rampage, LL Cool J & Busta Rhymes "Flava In Ya Ear (Remix)" (1994)
20. Craig Mack f/ The Notorious B.I.G., Rampage, LL Cool J & Busta Rhymes "Flava In Ya Ear (Remix)" (1994)
Director: Hype Williams
Before legendary rap video director Hype Williams would helm the $2.7 million production of Puffy's "Victory" video, in 1993, he was still only three years into his career. That's not to say he hadn't directed a fair share of notable clips by then: He had. But none of those clips expressed an idea or an aesthetic-be it his or his artists'-quite like the "Flava In Your Ear (Remix)" clip did. Just forget, for a second, that this was the monumental moment that Big was introduced to the world. And even forget the infamously as-absurd-as-it-is-hilarious-as-it-is-brilliant opening shot of Diddy snapping two glass bottles together a la The Warriors, letting everyone know that Bad Boy was about to drop some really, really crazy shit. With the two most memorable facets of this video put aside, what's left? A crystalline, minamilist moment of moxie and genius, an entirely black-and-white video unlike any clip that had ever been in rotation, one that oozed charisma out of every single frame, a bold, ballsy, and defining statement for New York, for hip-hop, for pop culture: We don't need anything else in our video. Not even color. Just watch these guys rap. And everyone did.
Jay-Z "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)" (1998)
19. Jay-Z "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)" (1998)
Director: Steve Carr
The video for "Hard Knock Life" isn't particularly complicated or flamboyant, as no video about growing up in poverty should be, but it's not a trite account of "the struggle" either. If anything, the video that made Jay-Z a superstar was refreshingly honest-a low-frills joyride in an era exploding with over-the-top visuals. It's the video that added a welcome new dimension "hanging out in my old hood" clips, and made putting little kids in rap videos a thing for a couple years after. From the moment Hov cracks open that quarter water in the bodega to final shot of children perched on his blue Bentley, it gets an even more classic sheen on each viewing.
Eminem "My Name Is" (1999)
18. Eminem "My Name Is" (1999)
Director: Philip Atwell
It opens on an everyday, white trash, presumably suburban living room, with a couple watching shitty TV. And then: The Slim Shady Show-a twisted take on Leave It To Beaver-comes on, drawing their attention (and ire). And then Eminem proceeds to literalize most of the lines in the song, going through, count 'em, fifteen different setups and/or costumes, which include Marilyn Manson and then-president Bill Clinton emerging from behind a podium pulling up his pants, with a Monica Lewinsky lookalike following in his wake. It was a brilliant clip, aimed squarely at the attention spans of an attention-span lacking generation, that was equal parts stunningly current, shocking, weird, and hilarious (especially Dr. Dre playing a doctor, calling his rapper a "basehead" on MTV). Parody needs to work really hard to become iconic; director Phillip Atwell and Eminem somehow pulled it off, and as dated as the clip is in 2013, it's still a blast to watch today.
The Roots "What They Do" (1996)
17. The Roots "What They Do" (1996)
Director: Charles Stone III
Rap seemed larger than life in the late '90s. With superstars like Puff Daddy and Will Smith spending millions of dollars on music videos came plenty of impostors trying to emulate the hyper-flashy lifestyle. Someone had to offer commentary on a scene that was spiraling out of control, and who better than a rap group already pigeonholed as "conscious," The Roots? "What They Do" was already a critique of new hip-hop that was straying away from the genre's roots, and its video pushed that notion even further. The clip was full of rap video cliches, and the version with sarcastic subtitles exposing the false realities too often depicted in music videos was a hilarious, landmark moment. But it was also one that found one of their rap idols, The Notorious B.I.G., taking offense to. Needless to say, Biggie had bigger problems, and extravagant rap videos still popped up after "What They Do," but they were never watched without some degree of "psh"-style skepticism in the wake of this one.
Puff Daddy f/ The Notorious B.I.G & Ma$e "Been Around The World" (1997)
16. Puff Daddy f/ The Notorious B.I.G & Ma$e "Been Around The World" (1997)
Director: Paul Hunter
"Been Around The World" plays out like another average day in the life of Diddy circa 1997: Show up to the airport in a Mercedes. A single white dove emerges as you exit. Click your spurs on the way over to the private jet on which your BFF Mase is waiting for you. Lift off and narrowly escape unidentified assailants who were chasing you. Sip a little champagne before making an emergency parachute landing when the pilot, who happens to be Wyclef, jumps ship. Land safely in the sands of the Middle East and dance a bit-on top of sand dunes-before being greeted by military personnel who transfer you to a royal party in a Hummer. At that party, you'll dance with Jennifer Lopez, and then, save her life. No big deal.
Master P f/ Fiend, Silkk the Shocker, Mia X & Mystikal "Make 'Em Say Uhh!" (1998)
15. Master P f/ Fiend, Silkk the Shocker, Mia X & Mystikal "Make 'Em Say Uhh!" (1998)
Director: Michael Martin
It was one of those videos that stood right at the apex of unabashed, unreserved rap crew stunting, and total, complete madness. It was also the video that announced No Limit records, Master P, and the New Orleans rap scene to the world at-large, or at least, the non-rap listening world who had no idea who these guys with the gold tank were. But there it was, impossible to ignore: Not just the gold tank (rolled out on the basketball court, of course), but the lob-hungry gorilla, the ring girls, the crowd so hyped it looked like they might spontaneously combust. Like an MTV Rock and Jock game dipped in gold and finished in lean, or the closest to reality Space Jam would ever get, the entire thing was as hypnotic as it was utterly effective, both in making America say "Ughh (UGHHHH)" and in creating one of the most undeniably brilliant tethers between two worlds that have so long operated in cultural tandem with each other: Hip-Hop and Basketball. To this, we can only add: Na na, nana.
The Notorious B.I.G. "Big Poppa" (1995)
14. The Notorious B.I.G. "Big Poppa" (1995)
Director: Hype Williams, Puff Daddy
If only all of our weekends were like this. Depending on how you look at it, "Big Poppa" is either the gold standard or the cliche "rap video in a club." There's a million of these, sure, what with the cool lighting, people dancing, and celebrity cameo appearances. But who cares? Puffy finally shot the scene he was destined to shoot, one that had been shot before, but this well, never. And the scene? Oh, you know: Just Puff, sipping champagne in the hot tub with four girls, in doing so, inspiring a bazillion other clips like it. How you living Bigge Smalls?
Geto Boys "Mind Playing Tricks on Me" (1991)
13. Geto Boys "Mind Playing Tricks on Me" (1991)
Director: Richard Hunt
If the budget had been any higher for the video for this Geto Boys classic, its impact wouldn't have been the same. As it stands, the clip comes off like a creepy noir thriller--a perfect fit for the song. Scarface's paranoia is put on full blast, Willie D masterfully plays to his delusions, and the video climaxes with Bushwick Bill truly losing it after sever hallucinations. It's impeccably shot, with incredible attention to tone and mood. There couldn't be a better visual representation of this video than the ones that already exists.
Wu-Tang Clan "Triumph" (1997)
12. Wu-Tang Clan "Triumph" (1997)
Director: Brett Ratner
The release of Wu-Tang Forever may have been the culmination of RZA's five-year plan, but we get the feeling the video for "Triumph" is what The Abbot thought it would look like. This six minute Brett Ratner epic is as silly as it is dead-serious: In 1997, America was scared of a lot of things, killer bees and mean rappers among them. Put those two things together in a War of the Worlds-esque fake news report, and you have paranoia-inducing genius. And it doesn't even look like just one long rap video, it looks like several different videos, as the visuals-much like the song's instrumental-adjust slightly for each verse.
The video's low-budget effects (or, low-budget in 2013) inadvertently work in the Wu's favor: The video looks as cheesy today as some of those kung-fu flicks the boys from Shaolin love so much. It's one that shouldn't have aged gracefully, but instead, aged brilliantly: If you want to know what it was like to love Wu-Tang in 1997, watch this clip, and you'll share the sensation of utter, joy-driven madness.
Snoop Doggy Dogg "Gin and Juice" (1994)
11. Snoop Doggy Dogg "Gin and Juice" (1994)
Director: Dr. Dre
It was all so simple-Snoop Doggy Dogg aka Home Boy Alone made a few phone calls to his friends-some were in bed, others on the toilet-and while scenes of him being pegged around on a bike and on expressway overpasses flow throughout the entire video, the real scenary is in his parents' house. After a brief stint at the drive-in, Dr. Dre brought a gang of Tanqueray to the already-poppin' house party that Snoop had all set up. It's a party anthem, it's a fun song about drinking gin and juice and smoking weed-and the video just shows that, until, of course, his parents come home.
The Pharcyde "Drop" (1995)
10. The Pharcyde "Drop" (1995)
Director: Spike Jonze
Easily one of the most brilliant hip-hop videos of all-time, The Pharcyde's "Drop" was a bit of a head-scratcher when it was first released. It popped up on the weekly rap video countdowns, and most viewers couldn't help but say, "How'd they do that?"
Basically, the whole video was filmed backwards, in sync with a version of the song that had the lyrics also playing backwards. The group literally learned how to say the lyrics to the song backwards for the video shoot, with the help of a for-hire linguist. And when Spike Jonze finally reversed the footage and played it forward with the proper version of the song, well, The Pharcyde was walking towards us, but there were group members with clothes flying back onto them, basketballs bouncing up flights of stairs, water shooting up into the sky, and many more puzzling, reversed images that made us wonder, "Is this real life?" It wasn't iconic like some of the other videos on this list, but what it didn't make up for in image-driven legacy, it does for the fact that it brought an unprecedented level of sheer, balls-out creativity to the music video-making process that it'd be a harbringer for in the future.
Juvenile "Ha" (1998)
9. Juvenile "Ha" (1998)
Director: Marc Klasfeld
New Orleans had little national profile as a rap scene when Juvenile's groundbreaking "Ha" video appeared in 1998; No Limit was breaking through around the same time, and Cash Money was already preparing to carry the torch. "Ha," though, put together a new geography for the genre by showing a side of New Orleans that seldom, if ever, got airtime outside of news programs. For a rap video, it was oddly mature. Hell, for Cash Money-not a group of people known for conscious rap-it was an undeniably conscious video: The images tell a day in the life of the New Orleans hood, tick-tocking times during the day, flashing at a rhythm at odds with the beat's stone-scraping production, gave multiple angles of the city that truly reinforced the notion that an image is worth a thousand words. A picture of children playing on a dirty mattress; an image of young children watching someone hauled off in an ambulance. Images from the inside of the Magnolia Projects. Of men being arrested. Of tires squealing against pavement. Of an ambulance crew. Rundown buildings. A police chase on foot. The graveyard. It represented a real side of the hood that pop culture was genuinely afraid of, and managed to get it on MTV. That, in and of itself, is still a pretty stunning accomplishment.
Nas f/ Puff Daddy "Hate Me Now" (1999)
8. Nas f/ Puff Daddy "Hate Me Now" (1999)
Director: Hype Williams
The late 90s were crazy, sure, but this? This? Utter fucking madness. No words could ever do this video justice quite like those do except for maybe "Hype Williams, on dust," but, well, here: It opens with a black title card, warning in red gothic text that "Nas believes in the lord Jesus Christ" and that "this video is in no way a depiction or portrayal of his life or death." Then: Nas on a cross. Nas being stoned by angry white people, as he drags the cross to a crucifixion. Totally arbitrary explosions. Diddy screaming "DIE MOTHAFUCKA, DIE" from the top of a bodega over a crowd going nuts, in the middle of the night, in the middle of Linden Boulevard. in Jamaica, Queens, which they shut down for the shoot, and which-as you can see in the video-almost exploded into a full riot-mode during the shoot. More explosions. More fire. More crane shots over Linden Blvd. going apeshit. Nas walking into a strip club in a floor-length white chinchilla coat (and hat), with a censor blur over a clearly buttassnaked stripper, shot from below. Nas rapping on top of a cage. Nas rapping in front of the cage, inside of which was a goddamn white tiger. Diddy doing a variation of the funky chicken, while holding a champagne bottle, which also happens to be one of three instruments he would later beat Nas's manager Steve Stoute with after bursting into Stoute's office with several bodyguards, furious that despite his demands to the contrary, the version of the video that premiered on TRL featured Diddy-who is Catholic-perched on a cross (the other items used: a telephone and a chair). Like we said: Utter fucking madness.
A Tribe Called Quest "Scenario" (1992)
7. A Tribe Called Quest "Scenario" (1992)
Director: Jim Swaffield
The video for "Scenario," the legendary posse cut off A Tribe Called Quest's Low End Theory, features the group and their guests from Leaders of the New School performing the song, with cameos from Redman, Spike Lee, Native Tongues affiliates De La Soul and Brand Nubian, and more. Only: They're performing inside of a computer screen while someone adjusts screen filters and artist outfits like a video game create-a-player sequence, echoing a message that was oh-so-distinctly Tribe: Look at the way people want to play with rap, and rappers, as if we can be sequenced. The politics of it aside, it's still all fun: The scene with Phife Dawg trying on different hair styles is pure comedy, but more importantly, this was the moment of "holyshitwhoisthatguy?!" when Busta Rhymes, came on screen, and delivered his show-stealing verse, in a flurry of undeniably magnetic presence, gone in a flash..
2Pac f/ Dr. Dre "California Love" (1996)
6. 2Pac f/ Dr. Dre "California Love" (1996)
Director: Hype Williams
Shot on the same set as Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (and set in the year 2095), the video includes cameos from Chris Tucker and Roger Troutman (of Zapp and Roger, performing the song's hook through a talkbox). After an introductory skit in which costumed 'Pac and Dre (wearing an eyepatch) free some imprisoned women, the song starts to play out in the Thunderdome, then in jeeps riding across the desert. Fire, explosions, George Clinton. It was one of the most offbeat and weird videos ever turned into a hit: How could these two gangster rappers play dress-up in the desert and pull it off? The formula doesn't seem right, and yet, it was awesome, and still is. Hype Williams would go on to do a lot of things with a lot of money, but other than a certain video features rappers rapping alongside elephants, this continues to be one of the most creative uses of an absurd amount of record-label scratch.
The Notorious B.I.G f/ Puff Daddy & Ma$e "Mo Money, Mo Problems" (1997)
5. The Notorious B.I.G f/ Puff Daddy & Ma$e "Mo Money, Mo Problems" (1997)
Director: Hype Williams
Puff Daddy and Mase are in this video wearing matching yellow shiny suits and FLOATING in a nondescript silver space tube while Kelly Price wails a Diana Ross interpolation on a flat screen television behind them. Is there anything else to discuss? Actually, yes, there is: The duo parody Tiger Woods and Bryant Gumble, casually coast in front of cash explosions, and wave their Rolex watches side-to-side better than anyone in history. "Mo Money Mo Problems" is actually Biggie's record, and his verse is still the best thing about the song, but the video is when Puffy officially took on the burden of being an artist, in a massive way, and it worked.
Missy Elliott "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)" (1997)
4. Missy Elliott "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)" (1997)
Director: Hype Williams
The garbage bag suit, maybe the most iconic thing worn by anybody in any of these videos. See: Missy Elliott's music was surreal and quirky, full of lyrics that seemed almost plucked from the clouds rather than written out, as if she realized going in the complete opposite direction from Illmatic could pay even more creative dividends. And it was this weirdly loose lyrical approach that proved a perfect match for one of Hype Williams' most creative videos, the cartoonish cheekiness of "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)." With the aforementioned inflatable garbage bag suit, Missy became an unlikely style icon, transforming the jiggy era's shiny suits into even more exaggerated dimensions. The video is packed with cameos, from producer Timbaland to Puff Daddy, 702, Total, Yo Yo, Da Brat and Lil Cease, accompanied by dancers, multiple abstract set-pieces, shifting costumes and colors, all viewed through the rounded raindrop of Williams' fisheye lens, and Missy's ethereal music. This song wasn't born to be a single, but the video lifted it to the level of a hit.
The Notorious B.I.G. "Hypnotize" (1997)
3. The Notorious B.I.G. "Hypnotize" (1997)
Director: Paul Hunter, Puff Daddy
There were ostentatious videos before, and there certainly were ones after, but Biggie's "Hypnotize" is the prototypical Jiggy Era music video. The shit legitimately looks like a Michael Bay film, and by the 30-second mark, you've already seen helicopters, a speedboat yacht, beautiful women, Cristal, Versace, and piles of cash. The narrative is decidedly ambiguous--we don't know where the hell Big and Puff are going or what they're doing--but (like a Michael Bay movie), who gives a shit? It looks incredible. Like, is it even possible for a 24-year-old rap legend being driven in a Mercedes, backwards, while being chased by motorcycles and a Hummer to not look cool? Then they threw mermaids in there just to fuck with you. Looking back, it doesn't even seem real, but there it is: The most umimpeachably perfect use of an absurd amoung of stunning resources to make a music video.
Busta Rhymes "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See" (1997)
2. Busta Rhymes "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See" (1997)
Director: Hype Williams
According to Busta, the entire time "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See" was being recorded, Coming to America was playing, muted, in the background. He told XXL, "The record sounded like some African shit, and the movie was some African shit." No wonder it became the inspiration for one of Hype Williams' most legendary videos; not only did it run with the African motif, but gave it an abstract, artful start-stop quality that seemed to synch perfectly to the music. And sure, other videos might have had more explosions, more bling, more money put into them. But Busta had an aesthetic that went beyond eye-catching: It was African-royalty glory rap opera, stunning in every possible way. With Williams' fisheye lens technique-also used around that time on Missy Elliott's "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)"-the director used iridescent body paint, some adventurous costuming and ambitious choreography that, if not masterfully executed, would've been a joke to the streets. Instead, he created a video that was one part homage and two parts DMT trip. Coming to America may have been the inspiration, but "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See" was and remains in a league of its own, and doesn't just deserve to be seen on an MTV that should still play videos, but probably a few museums' permanent collections, as well.
Dr. Dre f/ Snoop Doggy Dogg "Nuthin' but A 'G' Thang" (1992)
1. Dr. Dre f/ Snoop Doggy Dogg "Nuthin' But a 'G' Thang" (1992)
Director: Dr. Dre
RELATED: The 25 Best Dr. Dre Beats
"Nuthin But a 'G' Thang" was ground zero for reinventing the rap video, but more importantly, inventing the rap video's place on this planet. What did it take? Not flashy gimmicks, or dance numbers, or an oversized budget. It took an element that's drenching pop culture right now, before anyone even realized what was happening: Proto-reality television. A seemingly "real" glimpse of a culture and way of life. Voyeurism and mystique, with two of the most charismatic people on the planet (one of whom could barely look up at the camera) as your tour-guides. From the moment Dre rolls to Snoop's house and we meet his extended family-with some fantastic amateur acting-to the footage at the barbecue, where the chef has a gun in his waistband and where no girls' bikini tops are safe, it's a snapshot of a lifestyle in all of its (seemingly) unrehearsed glory. Snoop and Dre, meanwhile, look nervous on-camera; Snoop seems unable to make eye contact with the lens, hiding behind the brim of his hat. It was a video that embodied all the contradictions of gangster rap itself: at once real and performed, documentation and glorification. But most of all, it set the scene for the sound: When you heard this song, you knew what you were hearing, you saw what Dre wanted you to see in your head: A monumental set-piece of 'G' life that nobody could or would ever replicate, or break ground like quite since.
RELATED: The 25 Best Dr. Dre Beats