The hotly anticipated dramatic biopic Straight Outta Compton, which chronicles the meteoric rise (and eventual downfall) of the legendary, influential L.A. hip-hop group N.W.A. in the 1980s and ’90s, is already poised to be one of the all-time great films about the genre. Featuring some amazing performances from relative newcomers like Corey Hawkins (as Dr. Dre) and O’Shea Jackson, Jr. (as his father, Ice Cube—they look startlingly alike), Straight Outta Compton serves as a history lesson for a generation of younger fans, as well as a thrilling throwback for those who grew up with N.W.A.
Directed by F. Gary Gray (Friday, Set It Off, The Negotiator) the film is already earning raves from critics, and audiences will no doubt agree. Hip-hop doesn’t always get the love it deserves on the big screen, but there are some groundbreaking, all-around great films to watch in addition to Straight Outta Compton. These are our picks—in no particular order—for hip-hop movies you have to watch.
Wild Style (1983)
A hip-hop movie list simply does not exist without Wild Style. It’s considered not only the first-ever hip-hop film, but also by many people to be the very best one. What’s now considered a time capsule and a cult classic, Wild Style—which follows the story of a graffiti artist in 1980s New York City—was as groundbreaking as it was relevant. The movie featured artists and personalities huge to the hip-hop scene at that time and place, including Fab Five Freddy and Grandmaster Flash.
Krush Groove (1985)
Much like Wild Style, Krush Groove not only serves as a blast from the past, but it’s also basically a guide to earlier influencers and game-changers in hip-hop. (Plus, the soundtrack is a must-have for any hip-hop connoisseur.) Following the tale of a record producer and his hot acts (it’s based on the rise of Def Jam Records), Krush Groove has appearances and performances from staples such as Run-D.M.C., The Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, The Fat Boys, and Shelia E.
Dave Chappelle’s Block Party (2005)
The comedian, who loves hip-hop, gathered some of the industry’s all-time greats (including Kanye West, Mos Def, The Roots, The Fugees, and Erykah Badu) to perform for the ultimate block party in Brooklyn. It’s part-documentary, part-concert film, and the tremendous talent and good vibes practically jump off the screen.
8 Mile (2002)
A critical and commercial success, this semi-autobiographical drama about an aspiring, young white rapper in Detroit (played by Eminem) not only gave us one of the greatest hip-hop songs ever (“Lose Yourself,” which won the Oscar for Best Original Song—a first) but also some of the most thrilling rap sequences ever captured on film. The rap battles that Jimmy “B-Rabbit” takes part in will still get your heart racing and all of the drama that unfolds off the stage is just as profound.
Hustle & Flow (2005)
The second Oscar-winner on this list (once again for Best Original Song, this time awarded to Three 6 Mafia for their track “It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp”) features none other than Empire’s Cookie and Lucious Lyon. And while Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard played very different roles in this hip-hop drama (the prostitute Shug and the pimp DJay, respectively), their chemistry and musical talents were just as thrilling 10 years ago as it is now.
Tupac: Resurrection (2003)
Arguably the best hip-hop documentary to date, this Oscar-nominated film gave stunning insight and depth (thanks to home videos and rare photographs, among other footage) to the life and death of Tupac Shakur. You can’t say you’re a Pac fan without seeing this one, but even if you weren’t all about the man, it’s a revelatory experience.
The Notorious B.I.G. was, and is, considered by many to be the greatest rapper of all-time. While covering the life and death of the hip-hop star was no small undertaking, this biopic pulled it off, thanks largely in part to the incredible lead performance by Jamal Woolard.
Beat Street (1984)
Another old-school classic, this drama allowed audiences into the world of break dancing, DJing, and graffiti through a group of talented friends living in the South Bronx. Like so many of the other earlier hip-hop films, this one also featured appearances by artists pivotal to the scene at the time, including Doug E. Fresh and Jazzy Jay.
A hilarious send-up of ’90s gangster rap culture, a young Chris Rock starred as an aspiring artist whose path to fame switches course when he and his friends start acting hard and find success as the hardcore hip-hop group called CB4 (short for Cell Block 4, because prison imagery).
Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo (1985)
Best movie title ever? Best movie title ever.