Rap is more than music; it reflects society, gives voice to marginalized groups, and serves as a cultural movement. These documentaries explore its style, politics and people that make hip hop such an extraordinary phenomenon.
Beats, Rhymes and Life takes an unconventional approach by exploring the complex relationships among A Tribe Called Quest’s members and providing an emotional journey into their story – one which elevates this documentary to legendary status.
1. Fight the Power: How Hip-Hop Changed the World
As its title implies, this PBS docuseries explores rap’s evolution from subculture to mainstream music genre. Tracing its roots from street life up, with interviews featuring Public Enemy members like Public Enemy’s Black Flag as well as members of Wu-Tang Clan; also depicting how MCs have become culture spokespeople through their protest anthems that raise social awareness and inspire activism.
This six-part documentary doesn’t shy away from the controversy surrounding rap music as it explores its development, while still upholding its streetwise aesthetic. Filmmakers use both archived footage and current filming to tell its tale, from its roots as a community fighting for survival and defiance to global industry worth billions of dollars today.
Fight the Power is an indispensable series for anyone wanting to understand hip hop music’s complex history, its modern manifestations and lasting effects on contemporary society. Though some topics could have been explored more thoroughly, this series remains outstanding viewing for any fan of hip hop genre.
While most may associate hip hop with its most famous rappers, this documentary reminds viewers that DJ Kool Herc was responsible for its birth at a party in Queens in 1973. From there it traces how young New Yorkers like Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Garcia brought beats to underground parties; eventually leading to new generations of rappers, including Jay Z himself! Additionally it spotlights producers Timbaland and Rick Rubin who revolutionised hip hop production, giving artists like Jay Z their initial break.
Organized Noize was one of rap’s under-appreciated trios and this documentary pays a loving ode to them with affection. These talented musicians from Atlanta formed some of the best gangsta rap in the ’90s; and this film celebrates their legacy by featuring some of their iconic tracks. While the music itself is stellar, what really stands out about this documentary is its insight into their creative process as it worked to craft these groundbreaking tracks.
2. The Show
Hip hop music documentaries should go beyond simply documenting performers talking about their craft; they should cover its history, culture and politics as well as offer an in-depth examination of this dynamic genre. Tommy Oliver’s portrait of late rapper Juice WRLD provides one such candid account; from unplanned verses to meeting idols backstage backstage meeting it captures all aspects of an emerging star that was taken too soon from us all.
Style Wars, another Sundance award-winning film that explores hip hop’s roots is another excellent example of using hip hop to shed light on its history, shattering taboos and dispelling misconceptions about it. While Charlie Ahearn’s Wild Style was fiction-based, Style Wars takes this topic directly into real life by featuring graffiti artists such as Kase 2 detailing their struggles within New York City subway art scene as well as street art scene. A remarkable and eye-opening documentary which shows just how far this movement has come since its origins!
Song of Solomon by Byron Hurt offers an insightful examination of violence and masculinity within hip-hop culture. Most documentaries shy away from such topics; instead, Hurt uses hip hop as a vehicle for conversation and social change.
This film provides an engaging and insightful viewing experience for those unfamiliar with hip-hop culture and its social challenges, whether old school head or just curious. For any hip-hop fans or those simply curious to experience its music, this is a must watch!
Fight the Power is one of our top rap documentaries, chronicling how hip-hop became a cultural phenomenon during an unrestful time in American history. It offers up-close-and-personal looks at some of hip-hop’s biggest players like Jimmy Iovine, Dr. Dre, 2Pac and 50 Cent; plus intimate interviews and archive footage which offer a fascinating account of its creation.
3. The Last Poets
This classic documentary on hip hop’s roots serves both as an educational experience and as an impassioned call against inequality. Beginning in 1968 in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park, a group of young poets formed The Last Poets as a vehicle to express themselves poetically while commentating on society through rhymed poetry or spoken-word rapping. Through jazz and funk music as their backdrop and words bursting forth like bullets from machine gun fire, they created an image of racism in America while at the same time offering hope and self-empowerment for change. Today, nearly four decades after their initial disbandment, Abiodun Oyewole, Umar Bin Hassan, Babatunde Lennon and Jamaladeen Tacuma reunite for this thrilling concert/documentary. Their voices still ring true whether chanting about slavery or singing of the rape of a black boy; many of their earlier tracks — such as “Nigga Are Scared of Revolution” and “White Man’s Got a God Complex” – have become iconic musical influences for modern rappers.
Kevin Fitzgerald focused his lens on hip-hop’s four founding pillars — emcees. Doug Pray’s documentary examines another one — deejaying. Filmed over seven years, this cult film offers an in-depth portrait of freestyling’s transformation from incipient genius into full maturity.
From West Coast G-funk to New Orleans bounce, this documentary provides a thorough account of decades of hip hop’s evolution – featuring interviews from some of its biggest names – making this must-watch material for hip hop lovers and those wishing to gain further understanding about its music’s roots. Also great as an opportunity to commemorate one of modern history’s most vital musical movements!
4. This Is the Life
Rap is more than a music genre; it is an ever-evolving reflection of society that resonates across time and cultures. Hip hop music documentaries capture its history, pioneers and impact; they depict backyard parties in Bronx to West Coast g-funk and New Orleans bounce, providing a comprehensive picture of this movement that is so central to contemporary life. These 29 essential films give a full account of this movement’s role within modern culture.
This 1986 documentary is both entertaining and informative, chronicling the birth of a vibrant genre that brought street cyphers to a wider audience and provided children an outlet for their anger. From Bedford Stuyvesant slums to heartland cities such as Cleveland or Pittsburgh – as well as iconic artists who contributed their sounds such as LL Cool J, Grandmaster Flash, Biz Markie or Schoolly D – viewers follow this captivating journey which introduces viewers to how rap has affected them personally.
Peter Spirer’s documentary on hip hop music culture “Beef” doesn’t shy away from exploring its darker corners; indeed it explores this promise ably. Focusing on how competition has long been an element of hip-hop culture – often to the point of turning into real animosity between rival groups such as 50 Cent and Murder Inc Records, Jay-Z and Nas, Tupac and Notorious B.I.G; this film serves as a timely reminder of just how powerful rivalries can be on industry growth.
Starting from backyard parties in the Bronx to nightmarish studio sessions that gave birth to Wu-Tang Clan, this Netflix documentary tells an epic tale of an underdog movement that rose to prominence and changed everything forever. Ava DuVernay’s inquisitive eye shines throughout this documentary made even more poignant by featuring interviews with former Wu-Tang members as well as associates – this captivating journey from Staten Island all the way up is truly mesmerizing.