After years of promises, holograms and numerous sightings of its lead, we finally have a confirmed date for the highly anticipated Tupac biopic, with All Eyez On Me to drop in June and kick-start the summer season. Almost exactly two years since Straight Outta Compton smashed box office expectations, audiences have been demanding more of the same. And we finally get it this summer. But in the meantime, here are the five best rap biopics to get you primed and refresh your knowledge on all things rap nostalgia.
You don’t need to know about N.W.A. or have listened to them before to enjoy the best biopic in rap history. Focusing on one of the most influential groups in rap history and the pioneers of gangsta rap, the film goes beyond music to document a turbulent period in LA history that spawned the group - born from race, political, police and class tensions. And for all their faults, you can’t help but sympathize 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 SOC - which insiders suggest will lead to a sequel - 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 slender white rapper in a Detroit scene dominated by black rappers and the vicious rap battles that ensue make for compelling viewing. Like SOC, the story is intriguing enough to warrant being watched by anyone who enjoys good storytelling. Rap knowledge not necessary.
This will be interesting … the parallels and the differences between the 2009 Biggie biopic and that of his former friend turned rival Tupac’s when it hits screens in June. One of the most memorable scenes in Notorious - the story of the rise and fall of Brooklyn rapper Notorious B.I.G - is when he’s confronted by a furious and animated Tupac in front of a large crowd, the latter yelling slurs while Biggie plays it cool. It’s shortly before Biggie’s murder that same night and after a major misunderstanding allegedly led to their fall-out. So it’ll be interesting to see the other side of the story. 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’ 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 bunch of cameos from the Run crew, LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys to name a few. It’s 30 years old and the acting and directing is erratic by even those standards. The dialogue is on the nose and there are countless contrivances, but it’s all done lightheartedly and worth it for insight and music.
It never made it to the big screen because it was a made-for-TV biopic by VH1, but that doesn’t lessen the quality of the 2013 film nor the contribution of TLC to the hip-hop scene in the 1990s. With the help of some insightful narration, it tells the story of the women coming together in spite of the male-dominated scene that wouldn’t let them in individually, and the personal and public adversity they were forced to overcome before ever becoming a hit group. Like N.W.A., they were taken advantage of by executives and the story follows their entire career span before culminating with Left Eye’s shocking death.
OK, so they’re not a real group. And it’s a parody of N.W.A. and and the rap scene at the time. But Cell Block Four did release original music on the film’s soundtrack, so that’s gotta qualify them, right? 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 equal parts cringe.