5 rap biopics every music fan should have seen
Almost two years since Straight Outta Compton smashed box-office expectations, audiences have been hoping for another rap big hitter, and it looks like we’re finally getting it. Yes that’s right – after years of promises, holograms and numerous sightings of its lead, the much talked-about Tupac biopic, All Eyez On Me, is almost upon us. Here are the five best rap biopics to refresh your knowledge ahead of the movie’s global release.
You don’t need to know about NWA to enjoy the best biopic in rap history. Focusing on one of the genre’s most influential groups and the pioneers of gangsta rap, the film goes beyond music to document a turbulent period in LA history – everything from problems with the LAPD to race issues, riots and class tensions – that spawned the group. And for all their faults, you can’t help but sympathise with the characters, largely due to some great acting and directing. It also crosses over into Tupac territory, so it’s a must-see.
If Straight Outta Compton is a prequel of sorts to All Eyez On Me, then 8 Mile is the next chapter post Tupac. Discovered by Dr.Dre and featured in the end sequence of Straight Outta Compton, Eminem plays a fictional version of himself in 8 Mile, a based-on-true-events film that’s more semi-autobiographical than a direct biopic. Nonetheless, the coming up of a white rapper in a Detroit scene dominated by black rappers and the vicious battles that ensue make for compelling viewing. Like Straight Outta Compton, the story is intriguing enough to make it required viewing for anyone who enjoys good storytelling. Rap knowledge not necessary.
One of the most memorable scenes in Notorious – the story of the rise and fall of Brooklyn rapper Notorious BIG – is when he’s confronted by a furious and animated former friend-turned rival Tupac in front of a large crowd, the latter yelling slurs while Biggie plays it cool. It will be interesting to see the parallels between Notorious and All Eyez On Me, as there we’re likely to see a new take on a story that’s notable for its major misunderstandings and their consequential fall-outs. It’s well worth watching Notorious for context, even if it is a little cheesy and glossy, and then playing a game of spot the difference, as it actually portrayed Tupac in a positive light – suggesting he was a victim of manipulation by people trying to start a war between the pair.
Likely the least known on this list, Krush Groove is probably the first of the rap/hip-hop biopic genre, telling the story of the burgeoning days of Def Jam Recordings and Russell Simmons, a consultant on the film. Like 8 Mile, it has fictional elements and Simmons’s surname is swapped for Walker. But it’s basically true to life, with Walker’s label signing Run-DMC and being forced to borrow money from loan sharks to distribute what he’s certain is a hit record. There’s a load of cameos from the Run crew, LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys, too. This movie is now 30 years old and the acting and directing can appear erratic at times, but the dialogue is on the nose and it’s worth worth just to gain a lighthearted look at the stories behind the music.
TLC made a massive contribution of the hip-hop scene in the 1990s and this 2013 film had a big impact even though it never reached the big screen because it was a made-for-TV biopic by VH1. With the help of some insightful narration, it tells the story of how Tionne ‘T-Boz’ Watkins, Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes and Rozonda ‘Chilli’ Thomas came to prominence in a male-dominated scene, and charts the personal and public adversity they were forced to overcome before becoming a hit group. Like NWA, they were taken advantage of by record company executives and the story follows their entire career span before culminating with Left Eye’s shocking death in 2002.
OK, so they’re not a real group and it’s a parody of NWA and and the rap scene at the time. But Cell Block Four did release original music for this film’s soundtrack, and it’s definitely worth checking out this movie just to see Chris Rock and some classic 1990s nostalgia, with cameos from Ice Cube, Ice-T, Flavor Fav and the late Easy E – what’s not to like? Also starring a young Charlie Murphy, some 10 years before he became a household name on The Chappelle Show, there are plenty of laughs to be had. But beware: there are equal parts cringe, too.