Hip Hop has come a long way since its humble beginnings in the Bronx. From Run-DMC’s breakthrough hit “Walk This Way” to Kanye West and Cardi B selling out stadiums, the genre has become an international phenomenon. It has given people around the world a platform for self-expression and disrupted the industry with its unique sound, fashion, and language.

Hip Hop documentaries have played a crucial role in capturing the culture. They have provided a window into the past, chronicling the evolution from its underground roots to its global dominance. These projects include ppivotal moments, interviews with artists, and behind-the-scenes glimpses that helped preserve rap’s history and cultural significance.

Moreover, Hip Hop docs educated viewers about the genre’s origins, key figures, and social impact. They delved into the lives of artists, producers, and DJs, shedding light on their struggles, triumphs, and contributions. By exploring themes such as racism, poverty, police brutality, and inequality, they emphasized the genre’s role in addressing social issues.

REVOLT collected 20 documentaries – this included notable docuseries – that have made such an impact. Whether it’s the intimate glimpses into the lives of artists like Lil Wayne or the exploration of the late rapper XXXTentacion’s desire to bring attention to mental health, these works will surely inspire future generations to come. Check them out below.

1. Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap

Produced and co-directed by Ice-T, Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap focused on the importance of the verse and how different artists approached its creation. “This film isn't about the money, the cars, the jewelry, [or] the girls," he stated on NPR’s “Morning Edition” series. “This film is about the craft — what it takes to write a rap [and] what goes on inside the head of the masters.” In addition to prominent appearances from Grandmaster Caz, a wealth of legends and pioneers like Afrika Bambaataa, Common, and Joe Budden contributed commentary to the film.

2. Look At Me

Look At Me provided viewers with a look into the life of XXXTentacion, a rapidly rising star who was tragically killed at only 20 years old. What made the Sabaah Folayan-directed film unique was its full transparency about the Floridian rapper’s past issues with alleged domestic abuse and mental health, the latter of which was also meant to provide information and support for those in need of it. In addition to his mother, Cleopatra Bernard, collaborators like Ski Mask the Slump God, Kid Trunks, Cooliecut, and Bass Santana made appearances.

3. Nas: Time Is Illmatic

Brought to you courtesy of One9, Erik Parker, and Anthony Saleh, Time Is Illmatic celebrated the 20-year anniversary of Nas’ iconic debut album. The Queensbridge legend, members of his family, and other peers from the East Coast Hip Hop scene took part in the film, which provided a fresh look into Illmatic’s creation and success.

4. Rhyme & Reason

This “four-star, cool, crazy, and controversial party movie” was an unfiltered look into Hip Hop’s golden era. Rhyme & Reason explored the culture’s history and how it evolved to become a major cultural voice and a lucrative arm of the entertainment industry. Kurtis Blow, KRS-One, Chuck D, the Wu-Tang Clan, and – shortly before his tragic passing – The Notorious B.I.G. provided their personal takes throughout.

5. Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest

This Michael Rapaport-directed doc didn’t just cover A Tribe Called Quest’s accolades. Beats, Rhymes & Life covered the ups and downs of the legendary collective, including the relationship conflicts that led to the group’s highly publicized breakup. The movie is now truly bittersweet given the subsequent passing of Phife Dawg, who also provided viewers with some insight into his battles with diabetes at the time.

6. The Show

The Show provided viewers with a more blanket perspective of Hip Hop by keeping the focus on its overall success at the time – especially regarding live music -- and the many rock stars that existed in it. The documentary was directed by Good Burger’s Brian Robbins and starred Russell Simmons, who served as its narrator. The Notorious B.I.G., Diddy, the Wu-Tang Clan, Slick Rick, Snoop Dogg, and many more were interviewed in it, too.

7. Free Meek

Backed by Roc Nation, The Intellectual Property Corporation, and Amazon Studios, Free Meek spawned from an investigation into Meek Mill’s legal issues and jail stints throughout his career, as well as the many faults in the justice system that constantly hindered his progress. The Philly rapper sat down to provide commentary alongside JAY-Z, Van Jones, Tamika Mallory, Rolling Stone reporter Paul Solotaroff, and more. Quest Research & Investigations, a firm that collects and examines evidence for litigators, was featured in the five-episode docuseries after looking at the facts of Meek's case.

8. Style Wars

Style Wars was a truly pivotal documentary about Hip Hop culture – specifically regarding the subject of graffiti. Created by filmmaker Tony Silver and photographer Henry Chalfant, it contained interviews with legendary graffiti artists, breakdancers, and various residents of New York City. Those who watched also heard from then-Mayor Ed Koch, law enforcement, and the city employees responsible for maintaining the subway cars that many utilized as their canvases.

9. Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme

Being able to freestyle is arguably one of the most important aspects of being an emcee, and this documentary gives you the reasons why. Fans can also check out plenty of their favorite rhymers in their element, including Yasiin Bey, Black Thought, and decorated freestyle specialist Supernatural.

10. Travis Scott: Look Mom I Can Fly

As a description provided by Netflix read, “Travis Scott: Look Mom I Can Fly gave viewers ‘a front row seat of Scott’s life leading up to the release of his Grammy-nominated album ASTROWORLD and its aftermath.” The film was directed by White Trash Tyler and documented special moments of the Houston star, his family, and much more. Chase B, Mike Dean, Don Toliver, Kanye West, and more made appearances.

11. jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy

jeen-yuhs was an incredible three-part docuseries from filmmaker duo Coodie Simmons, who was responsible for much of the footage presented, and Chike Ozah. The two were able to provide a thorough look into Ye’s rise to power, beginning with his struggles in Chicago to his massive success as both a producer and artist. Simmons’ own life and situations received some attention in the movie, as well, especially when it concerned his changing relationship with the G.O.O.D. Music head honcho.

12. The Defiant Ones

The Defiant Ones was directed by Allen Hughes and focused on the careers of and partnership between Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre, who expanded from their success in the music industry to found Beats Electronics. Kendrick Lamar, Nas, Snoop Dogg, will.i.am, Eminem, and more contributed commentary to the four-part docuseries.

13. 808

This one was definitely for the Hip Hop beatsmiths. 808 was named after the Roland TR-808, a drum machine that had a profound effect on rap and the evolving production behind the words. While the film, which was narrated by Zane Lowe, addressed how the 808 wasn’t simply about a single genre, veterans like Lil Jon, Pharrell Williams, and Questlove did provide commentary on the technology’s impact on Hip Hop culture.

14. Wild Style

Directed by Charlie Ahearn, Wild Style was one of the earliest documentaries on the Hip Hop scene long before it became a global commercial powerhouse. Pioneers and early contributors like Fab Five Freddy, The Rock Steady Crew, The Cold Crush Brothers, Queen Lisa Lee of Zulu Nation, and Grandmaster Flash were a part of it, which was shot in NYC neighborhoods like South Bronx and cleverly blurred the lines between a documentary and a musical.

15. Fade To Black

Fade To Black documented JAY-Z The Black Album period from the creation of what was thought to be his retirement album to his iconic Madison Sqaure Garden performance in celebration of the release. The Patrick Paulson and Michael John Warren-directed film boasted additional appearances from Mary J. Blige, Foxy Brown, Damon Dash, Missy Elliott, Beyoncé, Usher, and more.

16. Reincarnated

Throughout his exceptional career, Snoop Dogg has managed to reinvent himself more than a few times. In Reincarnated, the Long Beach legend could be seen transitioning into Snoop Lion, which saw him delving into reggae and Rastafari culture in Jamaica. The film, directed by Andy Capper, was released alongside Snoop’s 12th studio LP of the same name, which merged Hip Hop with reggae and dancehall.

17. Juice WRLD: Into the Abyss

Directed by Tommy Oliver, Into the Abyss served as the sixth and final installment of the HBO Max series Music Box. With the aid of past footage and commentary from peers and loved ones, the film served as a tribute of sorts to Juice WRLD, who tragically passed from an accidental overdose when we was only 21 years old. G Herbo, Polo G, Cordae, Lil Bibby, Cole Bennett, and more contributed.

18. The Carter

The Carter, which was centered on the life of Lil Wayne, was directed by Adam Bhala Lough, and produced by Joshua Krause and Quincy Jones III. It delved into Weezy’s life before and after the release of the critically acclaimed Tha Carter III. Notably, the doc faced highly publicized legal hurdles, which led to Lil Wayne’s infamous deposition.

19. Dave Chappelle's Block Party

Sometime after walking away from his Comedy Central series, Dave Chappelle decided to throw a block party in Brooklyn. With help from Michel Gondry, he was able to document how it all went down, from the planning to the final event. Kanye West, Black Star, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, The Roots, Common, and many more joined in for the big celebration.

20. Backstage

When it comes to live music, Jay-Z, DMX, Method Man, and Redman’s “Hard Knock Life Tour” stands as one of the culture’s biggest. The Damon Dash-produced Backstage showcased everything that went down on stage and behind the scenes. Big names from the headliners’ respective camps also made prominent appearances, along with peers like Busta Rhymes, and Lyor Cohen.