Ever since the early days of hip-hop, rappers had the innate desire to become movie stars. Films like Wildstyle, Krush Groove, and Beat Street chronicled the birth and expansion of hip-hop as a preeminent cultural expression.
As time went on, hip-hop evolved into a national phenomenon. Rappers from all regions of the country began to express themselves by telling their stories in their music. And they also started producing their own films, creating another outlet for content that their respective fan bases consumed in abundance.
Movie buffs talk about the explosion of independent films in the early ’90s. But around the same time, this was also happening with rappers. Flesh with cash from hand-to-hand sales, indie rappers took those profits and started making lo-budget, hood-approved genre films. While rappers on majors started taxing their label’s marketing department, making hip-hop movies that would feature songs from their latest release or artists on their label. The best part was this was the vision of the rappers themselves: these rappers were writing, directing, and starring in these films. While some movies made it to the big screen with theatrical releases, most of these hidden gems could only be found at barbershops, salons, or someone’s trunk.
During the late ’90s and early 2000s, we saw bigger, more respectable hip-hop movies like Belly, 8 Mile, and Notorious, become the norm. But how could we ever forget about the good ol’ fashion, platinum-in-the-hood B-list hip-hop movie?
Here are the 20 best B-list hip-hop movies of all time.
20. Urban Menace (1999)
Even before Snoop Dogg dropped his gospel album, The Gospel of Love, “Uncle Snoop ” had ties to the church. In his 1999 horro film Urban Menace, Snoop takes vengeance in his own hands and leaves his enemies at the altar praying for forgiveness and mercy. Urban Menace is the story of a church burning that tragically took the lives of a minister and his family. But for a dramatic plot twist, the preacher’s insane ghost, Snoop, starts killing off the members of the gang responsible. Having Snoop come after you as a ghost? That’s some spooky shit. Urban Menace proves that hip-hop movies can work with basically any genre.
19. Blame It On The Streets (2014)
Blame It On The Streets is an account of YG’s life coming up on the streets of Compton before his rise to fame. Co-written by YG himself and Darryl “Lucky” Rodgers, the short film was inspired by two of the rapper’s album cuts: “BPT,” a song about YG’s initiation into the infamous Piru Bloods gang, and “Meet the Flockers,” which details his days as a house burglar. Over the last decade, hood hip-hop movies went out of vogue. So it was cool seeing a throwback like this released from a major label artist.
18. Conflicted (2021)
If Griselda plans to release films at the same rate as they drop music, their filmography is going to be enormous. After gaining a reputation as leaders of the new wave of gritty, hardcore, boom-bap hip-hop, Buffalo’s favorite sons took their talents to the big screen as actors with Conflicted, which dropped on January 15th. The plot follows Hunt, an ex-con, who attempts to dodge the lure of the streets following his release from prison. Can Griselda bring B-list crime hip-hop movies back?
17. I Got The Hook 2 (1999)
Twenty years after releasing his hood classic I Got The Hook (more on that later), Master P got the gang back together for the long-awaited sequel. In the movie, Black (Master P) and Blue’s (Anthony Johnson) restaurant gets shut down. Black finds himself hard-pressed for cash. When Blue’s son, Fatboy (Fatboy SSE), and his main-man, Spyda (D.C. Young Fly), bring him a gang of stolen cellphones, Black decides to sell the cellphones on the street — again. But, of course, there’s a snag in their plan: The boxes with the phones also contain a Colombian cartel’s stash of Molly, which Spyda decides to sell. What could go wrong?
16. Thicker Than Water (1999)
Mack 10 and Fat Joe were proof that the East and West Coast beef was finally over. In the late ’90s, while hip-hop fans were still mourning the deaths of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G., the two MCs made a movie together called Thicker Than Water. The movie is about two rival gang leaders, DJ (Mack 10) and Lonzo (Fat Joe), who are trying their hand as music producers. Instead of being rivals, the two join forces, which causes a ceasefire between gangs. With backing from a drug kingpin named Gator (CJ Mac), DJ and Lonzo start dealing, organizing their gangs into pushers. The movie also features appearances from Big Pun, Ice Cube, and Kidada Jones. Thicker Than Water is definitely one of the better hip movies to drop in the late ’90s.
15. Choices: The Movie (2001)
Before they snagged an Academy Award for “It’s Hard Out Here For Pimp,” Three 6 Mafia had already produced their own independent film, Choices: The Movie. Released in 2001, the plot follows the life of a returning citizen from prison, Pancho (Rodney Wickfall), who is attempting to stay on the right path despite all of the temptations that seek to draw him back into his old life. The film stars all of the Hypnotize Minds artists from DJ Paul to Juicy J to Project Pat to La Chat.
14. Baller Blockin (2000)
When Juvenile boldly proclaimed that “Cash Money was taking over for 99 to 2000” he meant more than music. The Cash Money conglomerate attempted to cash in on their success as a label with their release of Baller Blockin’ in 2000. Baller Blockin’ tells the story of the early life of Tanut (Juvenile), growing up in the mean streets of Magnolia, New Orleans. Tanut joins forces with Beatrice (Baby), Iceberg Shorty (Lil’ Wayne), and Teke (Turk) to meet with representatives of a drug cartel and purchase a large quantity of cocaine. The movie also features cameos from comedians Anthony Johnson and T.K. Kirkland.
13. The Eastsidaz (2000)
Snoop Dogg developed as an artist on Deathrow, but he became a businessman at No Limit Records. In 2000, he copied Master P’s playbook and starred in his own film, featuring his crew, The Eastsidaz (Tray Deee and Goldie Loc). This under-the-radar gangster tale navigates the hierarchy and street ethics of gang life. When drugs, gangs, money, and territory all come into play, you can believe that gangsters will do what gangsters do.
12. Streets Is Watching (1998)
After a lukewarm response to his sophomore album In My Lifetime Vol. 1, JAY-Z, was forced to go back to the drawing board. Plotting his next move, Jigga took a page out of Master P’s playbook and financed his own hip-hop movie for a straight to video release. An innovative approach, Streets Is Watching is a musical film that compiles several of his unreleased music videos into a continuous film. Directed by Abdul Malik Abbot, the hour-long film depicts JAY-Z and his crew on a constant paper chase in the Marcy Projects of Brooklyn.
11. I’m Bout It (1997)
While Percy “Master P” Miller didn’t invent the independent hip-hop film lane, he perfected it quite like none other. Throughout the zenith of No Limit’s run, Master P was the mastermind behind several films that featured the label’s immense roster (In fact, they almost have enough films for their own list). Released in 1997, I’m Bout It is a semi-autobiographical tale about P’s journey on the streets of New Orleans and how he maneuvered through all the pitfalls of the hood. His deceased brother Kevin Miller was played by Anthony Boswell. Master P wrote, directed and acted in the film. Accompanied with a multi-platinum selling soundtrack, the film itself was an underground sensation, transcending New Orleans, selling copies nationwide.
10. Brooklyn Babylon (2001)
Black Thought will go down as one of the greatest lyricists in the history of hip-hop. But even he couldn’t quell the magnetic attraction of being bitten by the acting bug. He made his debut as a leading man in Brookly Babylon. Set against the backdrop of the Crown Heights riot, Black Thought, aka Tariq Trotter, stars as Solomon, an up-and-coming rapper who falls in love with a Jewish woman named Sara (Karen Starcwho) is struggling with the confines of her strict religious background. The film deals with the intersection of race, ethnicity, religion, and, yes, hip-hop.
9. Murda Muzik (2004)
Fresh (Rapper Big Noyd) is a rapper who grew up in the gritty environment of the Queensbridge Housing Projects. Fresh’s tight flow and street-smart rhymes have earned him a powerful local reputation, and he has signed a seven-figure deal with a major record company. Dealing with his new-found fame and fortune while trying to stay true to the street, however, isn’t easy, and Fresh’s tightrope walk between the two sides leads him down a dangerous path with violent consequences. This one was written by the late, great Prodigy, who would also go on to write a couple of hood books. You get the feeling P had a couple of good hip-hop movies in him.
8. Paper Soldiers (2002)
A Roc-A-Fella film production, Paper Soldiers marks the debut of a pre-Soul Plane Kevin Hart, who stars as Shawn, a broke parolee who convinces an older thief (Derrick “Capone ” Lee) to train him in the art of stealing. Shawn soon finds himself caught between his angry girlfriend (Tiffany Withers), his foolish friends, and a neighborhood gangster named Beans (Beanie Sigel). Almost everything that can go wrong does go wrong for Shawn in this cult classic.
7. State Property (2002)
Beanie Sigel aka Beanie Mac solidified his reputation as the “Broad Street Bully” on wax and on film with his State Property movie series. Frustrated with being broke, Beans (Beanie Sigel) decides that the only way to grasp the American Dream is to take it. The film follows Beans and his crew, the ABM, as they take over Philadephia, creating mayhem as their empire builds. Beans struggles to maintain his family life while bumping heads with opposing gangsters and police. It all comes to a head when he cannot surpass the city’s most notorious crew, run by the Untouchable J (JAY-Z) and Dame (Dame Dash).
6. Who’s The Man? (1992)
For years, Doctor Dre and Ed Lover were the faces of Yo! MTV Raps. The dynamic duo took the leap from the small screen to the big screen with the release of Who’s The Man? in 1993. The film follows Doctor Dre and Ed Lover as two grossly inadequate barbers in a Harlem barbershop. Their boss threatens to fire them if they don’t take the police entrance exam. After purposely trying to flunk the test, they, amazingly, both pass and become officers. The film features cameos from Salt n Pepa, Busta Rhymes, Bushwick Bill, Guru, Eric B., House of Pain, Ice-T, Queen Latifah, KRS-One, and other hip-hop legends.
5. Prison Song (2001)
Prison Song is a film about a young boy named Elijah Butler (Justin ‘DJ’ Spaulding) who spends his youth in and out of the system. He is also a talented artist and when he gets older, adult Elijah (played by Q-Tip) has the opportunity to enter a prestigious art school. His life gets flipped when he accidentally kills his foster brother (Fat Joe) during a fight. He gets hit with second-degree murder charges and sentenced to fifteen years to life. This coming of age story explores the difficulty of trying to stay alive and then survive all the after-effects of the criminal justice system.
4. Killa Season (2006)
Without a doubt, Cam’ron’s hood classic Killa Season is one of the foulest, most flagrant hip-hop movies ever. The film, which was written, directed, and edited by Cam’ron, tells the story of Flea (Cam’ron, again) a high school basketball star who turns into a violent drug kingpin. This movie features appearances from all the Dipset members, and some of the wildest scenes ever put to film. This includes scenes like Flea peeing on a dude during a dice game and Flea spitting on a young child after shooting at her father. (We’re not making any of this up.)
3. I Got The Hook Up (1998)
Two hood hustlers, Black (Master P) and Blue (Anthony Johnson), sell radios, broken TVs, and other janky electronics from their van at the parking lot. When, by mistake, a shipment of cellular phones gets to them, it doesn’t take long before FBI gangsters are hot on their trail. Unlike his other early forays into hip-hop movies, this No Limit Film production was not released straight to video; the movie, which had a budget of 3.5 million, was released in the theaters and went on to gross over $10 million at the box office.
2. Carmen: A Hip-Hopera (2001)
As Beyoncé began to take over the world, she made her acting debut in 2000, co-starring opposite Mekhi Phifer in the MTV film Carmen A Hip Hopera. Based on Bizet’s classic opera and its all-African American musical counterpart Carmen Jones, Carmen A Hip-Hopera is a modern retelling of the story of the tragic gypsy. Directed by the legendary Robert Townsend, the movie stars Bey as Carmen Brown, an aspiring actress with big dreams. She’s involved with the devoted Hill (Phifer), a cop who is pulled into more trouble than he can handle. But when Carmen becomes infatuated with an up-and-coming young rap star, things start going downhill for everyone. Yasin Bey (Mos Def), Joy Bryant, Wyclef Jean, Da Brat, Jermaine Dupri, Shad Moss, Rah Digga, Fred Williamson, and many more make cameos in the greatest “hip-hopera” ever.
1. How High (2001)
Hip-hop’s Cheech and Chong, Method Man and Redman channeled the success of the classic collaboration into a classic feature film entitled — you guessed it — How High. Redman and Method Man portray two cannabis users who are visited by the ghost of a deceased friend after smoking his ashes. The ghost helps them with exams, and they receive full-ride scholarships to Harvard University. (Somebody had to be high to come up with that one.) Two of the greatest MCs of their generation made the seamless transition into film by starring in a movie with one of their favorite pastimes. The movie is such a classic it was remade in 2019 with Lil Yachty and D.C. Young Fly.
Rashad Grove is a writer from NJ whose work has appeared on BET, Billboard, MTV News, Okayplayer, High Snobiety, Medium, Revolt TV, The Source Magazine, and others. You can follow him at @thegroveness for all of his greatness.
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