16 best hip hop and rap documentaries portraying hip hop history

We here at whatsgood. are in the hip hop and rap documentary mood and the reason for this is the documentary that we just released. We highly suggest you watch it, not only because we worked hard on it, but because it also has English subtitles.  If it’s not your thing, that’s cool, continue scrolling past it to find our list of the 16 best hip hop and rap documentaries ever made and learn a bit of hip hop history.

Licht In Het Donker (Light in the Dark) follows Dutch hip hop collective Zwart Licht (Black Light) for two years as they produce and record their latest album ‘Bliksem’ (Lightning). This documentary traces a line through the beginnings and promising debut of Zwart Licht, to their struggle to reclaim their promised glory from their debut album with their new album and lays out the concerns of an older generation of hip hop artists to remain relevant in the modern landscape of Dutch hip hop and rap today.

Just as 16 bars is the standard for rap we present to you 16 of the best hip hop and rap documentaries to serve as the standard of hip hop influence and history. There are dozens of documentaries that could be mentioned, but this list was narrowed and curated to present hip hop and rap documentaries that we felt showed some of the foundational elements of the hip hop scene and factors that contribute to issues that we see today.

Get comfortable because you have a lot of documentaries to watch. Enjoy!  P.S. where possible, we will try to provide links to where you can watch the documentaries.

1. Beat This: A Hip-Hop History (1984)

Director: Dick Fontaine

Including legends like Afrika Bambaataa and DJ Kool Herc, Beat This provides a history lesson into the hip hop world of 1984 at a time when hip hop was loosely designed and still finding its way. Aside from this “origin story” of hip hop, the docu does a great job as providing context to the origins of hip hop thanks to footage of a graffiti-covered New York. Speaking of graffiti, check out another excellent docu from this time, Style Wars

2. Uprising: Hip-Hop & the L.A. Riots (2012)

Director: Mark Ford

Uprising is another documentary that is relevant given the racial tensions in the US at the moment, despite the events of the documentary having taken place over 20 years ago. Will we ever learn? Snoop Dogg narrates this glimpse into the events that lead to the 92’ South Central L.A. Riots and explain its importance to hip hop and even how hip hop may have helped motivate the civil unrest which sparked it off. The end of docu alludes to whether these tensions will rise again. I guess, 20 years on, the answer is yes.

3. And You Don't Stop: 30 Years of Hip-Hop (2004)

Perhaps a little difficult to watch because of the lack of narration, And You Don’t Stop provides a nearly complete history of early hip hop, via the “ah ha” moments of innovation and the tough times in the Bronx which influenced the beginning of hip hop and its culture. Originally brought out as a VH1 mini-series, it’s very long and almost impossible to find in its entirety.

4. 40 Years Of Hip-Hop (2013)

More of a lecture than an actual documentary, this video features KRS-One explaining the connection between, slavery, education, spirituality, society, war, to the meaning, history, and philosophy of hip hop. This speech was held during the Hip Hop appreciation week at Amsterdam proving again the Hip Hop has a home in the Netherlands.

5. Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap (2012)

The Art of Rap explores the history of rap and its rise to global prominence with interviews conducted by Ice-T. The documentary explores that influences of the communities and culture that surrounded rap in the beginning and explored the art and craft of rap.

6. Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes (2006)

Director: Byron Hurt

Especially relevant in today current climate of sexism in media, Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes provides a stunning glimpse into the sexism, homophobia, violence, and notions of masculinity in the hip hop culture. Featuring rappers such as Busta Rhymes, Mos Def, and Jadakis, director Byron Hurt challenges the music industry to take responsibility for glamorizing such destructive behaviors and stereotypes. It is looking back on the history of hip hop and rap that we can begin to see the trajectory that the future will take.

7. Wu: The Story of the Wu-Tang Clan (2007)

Director: Gerald Barclay

Wu tells the story of the birth, rise, fall, and rebirth of one of hip hops greatest acts Wu-Tang Clan. This look at Wu-Tang also includes looks at some of the solo careers it launched as well as the clothing line and video games associated with the all and powerful Wu.  We are big fans of Wu-Tang so there is a little bias in this entry to the list.

8. Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme (2000)

Director: Kevin Fitzgerald

Shot over seven years, Freestyle portrays the roots of freestyling based on influences from preachers and jazz solos, as well as explaining it as a modern-day storytelling tradition.  While analyzing just one section of hip hop and rap the docu help you root freestyle in cultural influences past and present.

9. Tupac Shakur: Thug Angel (2002) and 10. Notorious B.I.G: Bigger than Life (2007)

In order to not take a position on the Tupac/Biggie debate, we are presenting both of these documentaries in one place.  

Thug Angel looks at the music, life, and politics of Tupac by including interview material of him. Bigger Than Life, presents the life of Notorious B.I.G. including never before seen interview footage as well as footage of the night of his death. Both thee documentaries are well worth watching for the beef factor alone but also because these were and still kind of are the biggest names in hip hop.

11. Beef (2003)

Director: Peter Spirer

Beef goes in-depth into the history of hip-hop feuds starting in hip-hops infancy and ending in the more notorious feud ending with the deaths of Biggie and Pac. The documentary was partly born out of the idea of producer Quincy Jones that “Beefs are killing hip-hop”. Important personalities like Russell Simmons, Snoop Dogg, Kool Moe Dee, Jay-Z, KRS-One, DMX, and Ice-T are present in the docu.

12. Rhyme & Reason (1997)

Director: Peter Spirer

By interviewing over 80 artists, director Peter Spirer explores the history of hop hop music by looking at its cultures, the evolution of rap to a major cultural voice and business, and artists opinion on raps and hip hops controversial reputation. This docu has a lot of big names in it.

13. Big Fun in the Big Town (1986)

Made by Dutch VPRO in 1986, Big Fun in the Big Town covers Iggy Pop and the Stooges, and the American Hip Hop scene in two parts. Very much a cult classic among hip hop fans and is often cited as inspiration to for many Dutch rappers and artist. The documentary features pioneers such as Run- D.M.C., LL Cool J, Grandmaster Flash and many others.

14. Founding Fathers: The Untold Story Of Hip Hop (2009)

Flipping the established history of The Bronx in 1975 as the birth place of hip hop, Founding Fathers takes a look at influential players and founders of parties in Brooklyn and Queens about 5 years before what is commonly cited as the beginning of hip hop.

15. Planet Rock: The Story Of Hip Hop And The Crack Generation (2011)

Pretty evident in the title, Planet Rock looks at the rise of crack cocaine in 1980’s urban America and its influences on hip hop music and its culture. Try counting the time crack is mentioned in hip hop and you will understand the impact that the drug played in the culture.

16. The Art Of 16 Bars (2005)

Director: Peter Spirer

Another documentary from Peter Spirer, The Art of 16 Bars gives a glimpse into what makes MCs legendary by following some of the biggest MCs of our time to figure out how they achieved success.


You made it to the bottom did ya? You reward? More hip hop related posts. Enjoy!