10 Essential Hip-Hop Films



The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of AllHipHop.com


I was watching Paid in Full for the approximately 200th time when a thought occurred to me: They don’t make “hip-hop/hood”  movies any more do they?

When it comes to “black” movies in today’s market place there’s pretty much Tyler Perry and that’s it. And yes, I’m aware of Ice Cube and all of his works but he hasn’t made a “hip-hop” movie in awhile. And by hip-hop I don’t mean a movie about hip-hop music. This isn’t Krush Groove or Russell Simmon’s The Show or Rhyme and Reason I’m talking about. I also don’t mean those vanity projects designed specifically to sell CD’s. So that excludes Cash Money’s Baller Blockin, Death Row’s Murder Was The Case, Rocafella’s Streets is Watching and State Property.  I mean an actual viable movie that just happens to be marketed to the hip-hop nation with an accompanying epic soundtrack. Hollywood inundated us with these movies in the 90’s and early 2000’s and while all of these movies weren’t classic there’s something to be said for a time when movies were made for black people. Because outside of Tyler Perry and some art house stuff that will never see wide release. We just don’t see young black voices in our movie theaters anymore.  So while they all aren’t cinematic masterpieces here are 10 movies (in no particular order) that embody what is missing in today’s theaters.


This movie needs no introduction. For the five people who haven’t seen it and don’t understand why it’s great I urge you to take a look. Many of the cameos would probably be lost on the younger generation from Queen Latifah dissing Flex’s mix to Special Ed stealing Raheim’s girl. But nobody can deny the Oscar-worthy performance of Samuel L. Jackson as aspiring pedophile/ high-school age speakeasy proprietor Sweets. Bonus Fact: This is the movie that made me want to be a DJ.

Boyz N The Hood

I confess every time I see Morris Chestnut in a movie I’m secretly afraid that just when something great is about to happen to him a car full of gang members will pull up and shoot him in the back. Based on the way his agent picks scripts though that scenario would probably improve most of the movies he’s starred in recently. But this is the movie that had Lawrence Fishbourne, Angela Basset, Cuba Gooding Jr, Nia Long, and Ice Cube. Sometimes you look at a cast of a movie and you’re amazed at all the talent combined. Also remember when John Singleton was relevant?

New Jack City

Nino Brown and G-Money are the most iconic crime duo in the history of black film.  This movie was released in 1991 and tells a cartoonish and simplistic version of the story of crack.  It’s a great movie that helped launch Wesley Snipes and Ice-T into stardom. (There was a time when putting Ice-T in your movie as streetwise cop was not a no-brainer).   And while over the top by today’s standards, Mario Van Peebles never completely veers into the Blaxploitation turf that his father helped establish. If anything this movie reminds us  of a time when crack was super scary.

Paid In Full

The only film in this list that wasn’t released in the 90’s. This is like the unofficial sequel of New Jack City telling the story of Harlem’s crack trade in the 80’s and the legendary story of Rich Porter, Alpo and AZ (here rechristened as Mitch, Rico, and Ace). Some details have been changed to protect the innocent. This is one of those movies that was bootlegged years before it’s official release and it’s easy to understand the streets impatience. The quality of this low-budget film and the performances of everyone involved make me wonder if Roc-A—Fella could have become as big a name in movies as it was in music. Hell Cam’ron wasn’t just passable in this film he was a bonafide actor.

Menace II Society

Speaking of classic movie characters. Kaine and O-Dog are two you can’t forget. The ending of this movie was my first “Sixth Sense” moment. Before this the idea that a movie could have a “bad” ending was foreign to me.  In retrospect Kaine was a degenerate who probably wasn’t bound for greater things. But his chances for redemption were cut short regardless.  The Hughes Brothers made you feel compassion for characters that moments earlier had committed a robbery/murder.

South Central

O.G. Bobby Johnson and Ray-Ray yes the trend of classic characters continue. This movie had more than a few shades of Boyz N The Hood as O.G. Bobby Johnson fights for the soul of his son. Watching it again recently and seeing the desperate situation of the characters involved makes me wonder about how little progress is being made. Why are there still so many poor people in America and why are minorities still relegated to second class citizen status?

Above The Rim

You forgot about Pac’s only truly gangsta role? Yeah I know he was a little crazy in Juice. But Roland Bishop was just a crazy confused kid who was probably in the beginning stages of becoming a thug. Birdy the character that Pac played in this film was an actual thug and I believe the basis for the post-prison version of Tupac that he presented to the world until his tragic demise. But I could spend days deconstructing Tupac I’ve had 17 years to think about it.

Tales From The Hood

You might think I’m  bugging by putting this movie on the list of essential cinema for the hip-hop generation. But you have to look at what this is. It’s probably the most exploitative film on the list. The one that cares the least about the plight of black people in America. And yet it’s horror/comedy vibe makes it entertaining and certainly less cheesy than other lame attempts like Leprechaun In The Hood. What this movie does though isn’t really a mockery of our culture. It’s social commentary disguised as pulp horror comic schtick. And Clarence Williams III’s black interpretation of the Crypt-keeper from Tales From The Crypt is more than worth the price of admission.


Finally a comedy. I’ll probably be crucified for saying this but the very first Friday probably isn’t the funniest one in the series. But it’s still the best one. The other movies in the Friday series take the original concept and pervert in ways to shamelessly milk the laughter out of the audience. This Friday in it’s pacing and characters that feel genuine with just a touch of the comedic effect was a lot more believable. A character like “Money Mike” could never exist in the universe of the first Friday Film he would stick out like sore thumb. And Chris Tucker’s role as Smokey is a lot more endearing than the obtusely crass Mike Epps in his portrayal of Day-Day. Go rewatch all three films in the series if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

New Jersey Drive

Probably the least recognizable name on this list New Jersey Drive is probably remembered more by hip-hop heads than any other group of people because of it’s epic two volume soundtrack. Featuring songs from Lost Boyz, Outkast, and Redman to name a few. I didn’t see the movie for years after it’s release. But one day I was up at like 3 in the morning and it was on TV. I watched it and enjoyed it. It’s a small movie and sometimes small movies are the best. It tells a very simple story of some misguided youth who live in North Jersey and steal cars. That’s it. It doesn’t turn into Fast and The Furious. It doesn’t turn into a convoluted social studies exercise. It stays in its lane (pun intended) and you ultimately feel satisfied with the story it tells.

Those are my 10 essential hood movies. But of course there are more. If you want to get at me for not including your favorites remember the criteria. No straight to dvd rapper vanity projects. No documentaries. No movies that don’t directly deal with people in the hood.  Dis-Honorable Mentions: Dead Presidents (more of a Vietnam movie), Love Jones ( black women love this movie like black men love Scarface), Soul Food (I’ve grown to hate that movie though), Sunset Park (I forgot what the movie is even about), and that movie where Usher and Fredro from Onyx hold their school hostage (actually that movie sucked).


E. Knight lives in Philadelphia. Check out his blog boxingwithgod.com. Read more of his AHH Blogs HERE.

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