DAR Films: 8 Important Hip Hop Documentaries

By @TrueGodImmortal

The hip hop culture in a way is cinematic in its own right. Over the years, we've seen some amazing examples of how documenting what goes on in the genre can be great for visual and nostalgic purposes even. There have been hip hop related films, hip hop related miniseries, but for me, my favorite thing about covering hip hop on the screen are the documentaries. Honestly, documentaries are one of my favorite genres of film, so when you mix that together with hip hop, you are sure to get something special. Today, I wanted to take a look back at 8 of the best hip hop documentaries. Which documentaries make the list? Read on to find out.

*Fade To Black: Jay-Z (2004)

-I remember seeing this one in theaters when it first came out. I was excited. There was nothing quite as interesting as the Jay-Z retirement and prior to this, I had never seen an actual hip hop documentary that showcased a solitary content as well as the making of an album, but this was one for the ages. With the presumed end of Jay-Z's career coming and his final concert at Madison Square Garden, there was a lot to be accounted for her. We got the making of The Black Album, we saw the creative process, and we witnessed the live concert at MSG. For me, Fade To Black is an inspiring documentary in the sense that it shows the journey that Jay went through to get to that point.

*Dave Chappelle's Block Party (2006)

-While some would consider this more of a comedic documentary due to Chappelle being the focus, this is 100% the epitome of a classic hip hop documentary just told through the view of Dave. The film centers around an epic hip hop event set up by Chappelle, and by epic, I mean it was a massive list of performers.  From the return of The Fugees to the rising star of Kanye West to Jill Scott and The Roots, this is a dream concert for many. What elevated this higher than your average documentary is seeing Chappelle bring his comedic genius to the forefront and the performances. It didn't feel like a show done for the labor of the industry, but rather just for the fun and love of the music and with the crowd being soaked by the rain that fell upon them, it adds an extra element to the intimacy of the concert. On a Brooklyn night, Chappelle made history and seeing that documented is excellent. Plus, once again, the reunion of The Fugees courtesy of Dave Chappelle is amazing to watch and a bit emotional for the group itself on stage visibly.

*Nas: Time Is Illmatic (2014)

-Of course, one of the most engaging documentaries in hop hop history has to be the look into the classic album by Nas some 20 years later. This film takes a look back at the journey that led Nas to become one of the best rappers in the game and his crafting of one of the greatest debuts in hip hop history. The documentary flows rather smoothly, and as we see the footage and reality of what Nas faced growing up in Queensbridge, we gain more appreciation for his artistic journey. For me, this is a slept on documentary that should be mentioned more with hip hop documentaries, but I would also love to see one on the transition of Nas from his Illmatic period to the It Was Written and The Firm days. Still, Time Is Illmatic is a true gem.

*Beef (2003)

-There were multiple editions of this documentary, and while the first one is the most notable, my favorite edition is the third. Still, covering the first is mandatory, as it set the tone for what was to come. So many legendary beefs and their origin are discussed here, from the Busy Bee vs Kool Mo Dee beef to the Nas vs Jay-Z situation, all the way to the 50 Cent vs Ja Rule and Murder Inc beef. It was interesting to see the background of so many issues in hip hop, and the infamous scene of Nate Dogg fighting on a golf course is still interesting to see. Perhaps the most memorable part of this documentary comes courtesy of 50 Cent and his discussion on his beef with Ja Rule. 50 pulls no punches and tells it like it is, and for me, that is the scene in this documentary that sums up what makes it so special. The artists are direct and honest, and whether some of them are lying or not, this makes for a very entertaining watch throughout.

*Beats, Rhymes, And Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest (2011)

-I was told by someone to watch this one, but I admit I was hesitant to watch it for a few reasons. One, as much as I loved A Tribe Called Quest, I was not a big fan of the documentary having Michael Rapaport as a vital piece of it. I didn't really want to support it for that reason alone, but once I got beyond that, I was pleased with the final result. It was a real and raw documentary that followed the group on their 2010 Rock The Bells tour, getting the real info on their internal strife, their breakup and some unclear thoughts on their reunion. This was a precursor it seems to their eventual reunion to make an album, which makes more sense now looking back. This was a documentary that aired the dirty laundry between the crew and started the road of healing. If anything, this Tribe documentary was one of the first to showcase a reconciliation in the infant stages, and seeing what it grew to later makes this special in retrospect.

*Backstage: Hard Knock Life (2000)

-This is one of my favorites without question. I remember being younger and watching this for the first time a few months after it came out on video. I knew leaving Hollywood Video that I would end up seeing something here that perhaps would impact my desire to become an artist, but I had no idea how inspiring this raw and straightforward documentary could be. Whether it was watching Dame Dash berate the Def Jam staff for short changing his artists on jackets, seeing Busta and Jay-Z show love to each other, watching DMX and Jay-Z freestyle with a security guard (I assume), or watching each artist perform and explore the tour life (why was DMX comparing toes with a woman?), this documentary has everything, including showcasing the women the artists encounter on tour. This documentary showed you that tour life wasn't as pretty as you'd expect or hope it would be, but that the experience itself is hip hop personified. I don't think we've ever seen a documentary that chronicled a tour like this one, with DMX, Jay-Z, Method Man and Redman all in their prime.

*Tupac: Resurrection (2003)

-There have been about 100 documentaries on Pac since his death. While I could have placed the underrated Biggie and Tupac documentary on this list, I decided to go with the most notable documentary on Pac, that was essentially narrated by Pac in a strange way (he mentions leaving Death Row at one point..... but.... there are no interviews where he says this in the archives, so that makes you wonder). This film takes you through the life and times of Pac, from his infamous interviews to the experiences he went through in the public eye and everything in between. It doesn't show us much that we haven't seen before, but it does give us a larger glimpse of the legend and the artist that Tupac was. There was a weird feeling about the documentary honestly, mostly from conspiracy theorists, but it was eerily executed. Still, Tupac Resurrection is a great documentary that gives you a mainstream look into Pac while delving deep enough to not alienate his core fanbase.

*Rhyme And Reason (1997)

-A gritty look at the hip hop world at the time, Rhyme and Reason is a classic in its own right. The film takes an in depth look at the culture of hip hop and everything in between. They interview so many artists and capture what it is about hip hop that makes the world love the genre. The roots of hip hop, the street tales, the nostalgia, everything in between is captured here and the honest interviews really drive it home. Of all the documentaries I wanted to put on here that didn't make it, it came down to this one and The Show for the list. Rhyme And Reason is a notch above The Show, which is a classic in its own right. It also comes with a solid soundtrack, which puts it in supreme documentary company.



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