We’re currently in the midst of a renaissance that sees more unconventional narratives and left-of-center stories making it to the mainstream lens. Naturally, this opens lanes for more hip-hop-inspired stories to make their way to a wide audience. While the inclusivity has only become a recent zeitgeist in Hollywood, the proof that it ought to be has existed for decades. Films like Boyz n the Hood and Menace II Society educated many about the unforgiving backgrounds and the fatalistic worldviews that inspired some of music’s most memorable lines. They are some of American pop culture’s biggest hallmarks, even the ones that have not yet been recognized by the United States Library of Congress like the former was.
The catalogue of silver screen classics from hip-hop culture made over the last 30 years includes introductions to graffiti culture, closer looks at the lifelong adjacence to violence that birthed some of the genre’s most tragic figures, and pimp-to-hitmaker narratives powerful enough to get Three 6 Mafia an Oscar (actually, there’s just one instance of the latter happening).
Despite its troubled production, Straight Outta Compton broke new ground because it ended up being a hit. As a result of the movie’s success, including an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay, studio executives are welcoming hip-hop stories with open arms. They don’t always work—that Tupac biopic really had Maino shooting at the legend—but sometimes we get stories like that of legendary rapper Roxanne Shante. Now that hip-hop is officially the most popular genre in America, perhaps hip-hop-inspired films will reach the same level of inescapability as superhero flicks.
From Wild Style to Roxanne Roxanne, from Public Enemy theme songs to an old white guy asking, “Is you a real n***a?”, these are the best hip-hop movies. RIP again to Radio Raheem, and to gangster rap legend MC Gusto’s rap career.