6 must-see Hip Hop documentaries

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A series of documentaries capturing Hip Hop in its rawest form

Hip Hop and cinema have been closely linked for decades. It began in 1982 with the film “Wild Style” produced by Charlie Ahearn, who will be the first of its kind to document a so vibrant culture. It will include, for the first time on screen, the 4 major elements that made the Hip Hop culture what it is today, namely: Dj, emcee, b-boy and graffiti. Will follow a long series of films on the subject, in random: Juice, Tougher Than Leather, Above the Rim, Boyz N The Hood, The Warriors, Breakin’, Krush Groove, Notorious B.I.G., etc., the list goes on and on !

Hip Hop didn’t invent anything, Hip Hop reinvented everything
Grandmaster Caz, The Art Of Rap, 2012

But today we will focus on the documentaries which were able to brilliantly highlight this long overlooked and misunderstood culture. In the genre, documentaries were more consistent, surely because the Hip Hop is a culture that celebrates individual expression, it draws its strength from originality and honesty. Moreover, it is difficult to divert the authenticity of this culture when the documentary captures the Hip Hop in its rawest form!

hip hop crew, run dmc
© Janette Beckman

Without further ado, this is our selection of the best documentaries on Hip Hop!

1 – Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap

The Art of Rap is probably one of my favorite documentaries. Directed by Ice-T and released in 2012, the documentary follows the latter in is journey in order to meet the greatest across the USA. Here no past interviews with dead rappers, no archival footage, no, just Ice-T talking with the artists; from the founding members in the 70’s / 80’s to current rappers. Staring in the documentary: Melle Mel, Grandmaster Caz, Afrika Bambatta, KRS-ONE, Doug E. Fresh, NWA, A Tribe Called Quest, Wu-Tang, Chuck D, Common, Mos Def, Eminem and many more. Beyond Hip Hop and its history, all tell their personal experiences, their passions, their influences, etc., in the simplest way. In short, a great Art!

2 – The Hip Hop Project

Released in 2006 and directed by Matt Ruskin, The Hip Hop Project is a very moving documentary. It follows a group of suburban teenagers from New York, led by Chris “Kharma Kazi” Rolle, through a powerful project, using Hip Hop as a way for self-development. A poignant and inspirational documentary made with hope and dreams. Not to be missed!

3 – Scratch

Mainly designed for Djs, Scratch is a documentary directed by Doug Pray and released in 2001. It puts the biggest DJs in light and exposes the turntable as a fundamental instrument of the Hip Hop culture. The documentary traces the way DJs have developed their techniques, from small parties to Hip Hop music production through the mix, the beatmaking, scratching, etc. Are interviewed lots of Djs such as Q-Bert, DJ Babu, Mix Master Mike, Jazzy Jay, DJ Premier, Dj Shadow, etc. Pure happiness for vinyl fans and crate diggers!

4 – Dave Chappelle’s Block Party

An excellent documentary directed by Dave Chappelle. Released in 2006, Dave is trying to organise a block party in New York and trying to gather for the occasion and on the same stage artists such as the Fugees, Talib Kweli, Common, Mos Def, Big Daddy Kane and The Roots. It’s very funny, the show is magic and the block party successful. We just regret that we weren’t there!

5 – Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest

Fans of the band will tell you that this documentary directed by Michael Rapaport and released in 2011 is outstanding. This documentary takes its title from A Tribe Called Quest’s fourth album and traces the biography of the group, from their beginning until their split-up. An intense documentary to watch with passion and interest especially since Phife Dawg has left us! RIP 🙁 Also making an appearance in the documentary, artists such as Beastie Boys, Mary J. Blige, Common, etc.

6 – Proper Bristol Hip Hop

Hip Hop in UK is widely misunderstood. Yet it really does not have to blush compared to French Hip Hop or US Hip Hop. To catch up, the documentary Proper Bristol Hip Hop tells the story of the Bristol Hip Hop scene, from 80s to 2000. Many interviews, lives and testimonies of those who experienced the emergence of Hip Hop in the city, etc. Just everything you need for your education and Hip Hop culture.

What about you, what are your favourite documentaries?
Any advice on other documentaries to watch?