This past year felt like a rebound year for the movie industry. For the first time in a long time, big-budget, non-superhero movies transcended niche cinephile circles and crossed into the mainstream, namely Martin Scorsese’s epic Killers of the Flower Moon and the dual-feature cultural phenomenon that was Barbie and Oppenheimer. Beyond the box office breakthrough, though, was a treasure trove of movies serving all types of niche interests.
This year, Hip Hop celebrated its 50th anniversary. The genre has come a long way from 1520 Sedgwick, earning high praise and cultural tributes throughout the year across all artistic mediums, and movies proved no exception.
Every year, the HipHopDX staff comes together to submit its own year-end list for music, TV, and movies — and there was a plethora to choose from in 2023.
Below is a list of movies DX thought were the best to be released over the past 12 months, with one in particular standing out as HipHopDX‘s Best Hip Hop Movie of 2023. Review all of our 2023 Hip Hop Award categories here.
Editors Note: Best Hip Hop Movies of 2023 selections were restricted to movies which were released between December 1, 2022 to December 1, 2023. Nominees are listed in alphabetical order.
BEST HIP HOP MOVIES OF 2023 NOMINATIONS
- All Up in the Biz
- May the Lord Watch: The Little Brother Story
- Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
The award for Best Hip Hop Movie of 2023 goes to…
May the Lord Watch: The Little Brother Story
Hip Hop documentaries have been a favorite among music fans for years now, but nothing encapsulates the advanced age of a once-young genre than a documentary about a North Carolina rap group that didn’t even release music until after the turn of the century. Little Brother were underground legends, favorites of today’s generation’s favorite rappers, and now they’ve released a documentary, an ode to the nostalgia and impact of early 2000s rap.
The best aspect about May the Lord Watch lies in its limpidity. While there may be a documentary renaissance going on, savvy public relations mavens have used their rise in popularity as a tool to push narratives. Many of the most popular documentaries this year have been from the perspective of who the documentary is about — Urban Meyer seemingly ghost wrote Swamp Kings, for example — turning an otherwise cool story into a piece of propaganda.
May the Lord Watch, by contrast, comes from an outside perspective (director Holland Randolph Gallagher has no affiliation with the group outside of being from North Carolina as well), taking an objective stance as fans learn the surprisingly raw trials, tribulations, and grudges held to this day by Phonte, Big Pooh and 9th Wonder.
All Up in the Biz
All Up in the Biz, a documentary by filmmaker Sacha Jenkins about the dearly departed Biz Markie, plays more like a celebratory montage at a memorial than it does a tragic lamentation of a life cut too short.
The one-and-a-half hour documentary is ripe with appearances from other Hip Hop legends (Rakim, Doug E. Fresh, Fat Joe and more) honoring Markie’s unquantifiable impact and legacy, capturing his jovial and innovative spirit. Even some of the heavier moments in the documentary, like when Markie’s widow discusses taking care of him later in life, are lightened in mood by zany creative choices, like instead of footage of a sickly Biz Markie, they use a literal puppet.
One of the best honors you can bestow upon a tribute documentary is that it expresses the spirit of the subject without seeming contrived, which All Up in the Biz has down-pat. It’s not outlandish to think that Biz Markie himself would’ve appreciated this documentary.
A documentary about one of the genre’s most beloved mediums/formats told through the lens of institutional adversity and the cultural importance of music communities, Mixtape feels like the most on-brand film on this list that encapsulates the spirit of Hip Hop’s 50th anniversary.
Hip Hop has always been defined by more than just the music; you have to really be outside to understand, enmeshed in the culture with all its knots and wrinkles. Mixtapes were a proverbial playground and marketing tool for burgeoning artists and kings of the genre alike, especially at the turn of the century and into the early 2010s. They were an exercise in ability and a precursor to the internet takeover, now replaced by YouTube, SoundCloud and TikTok.
Mixtape explores the anthropology of rap through some of mixtapes’ greatest champions — 50 Cent, Lil Wayne and DJ Clue, just to name a few — in a prescient ode to Hip Hop’s cultural roots and its still-bright future.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
If mixtapes came about when Hip Hop was still a fledgling genre geared towards those on society’s fringes, Spider-Man: Across the Spider Verse can serve as the genre’s official entry into the mainstream lexicon of American culture. It’s been like that for awhile, obviously, but to have one of the biggest-budget movies of the year soundtracked by Metro Boomin, a young superstar producer, is an outward sign that Hip Hop has defined this era and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Sure, the movie is fan service material, but it’s the best yet in the Miles Morales era of the movie franchise, a newly appointed Spider-Man, but it moves at a ripping pace, pulling the heartstrings and repeatedly paying homage to the comics of the ’80s and ’90s, which many newer superhero films throw by the wayside.
The real highlight of the two-hour epic, though, is the Metro Boomin soundtrack, a larger-than-life album meant to be played at parties and arenas featuring a cacophony of his best friends: A$AP Rocky, Lil Wayne, Swae Lee, Coi Leray, Don Toliver and more. The synthetic sound hearkens back to a dark club somewhere in a vaguely alternate universe, an extraterrestrial score for a surreal film.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are synonymous with the cultural zeitgeist of the 1990s, much like Hip Hop. The two, ultimately, are as inseparable as the Turtles are with pizza, so it stands to reason that avowed 1990s lover Seth Rogen made a concerted effort with Mutant Mayhem to intertwine the New York dungeon vibes with the grimiest hits of ’90s East Coast boom-bap throughout the film, even comparing the soundtrack to that of one from a Tony Hawk pro skater game. It also stars Ice Cube, Post Malone, and sometimes rapper John Cena.
A film about staying course in the face of madness, the importance of family, and beauty of self-expression aside, this movie takes place in the shadows and underground of New York, and the gritty aesthetic permeates the music choices as well, which can be found on this Spotify playlist (the actual score is an array of orchestral pieces by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor).
From absolute hits of the era, like Blackstreet’s “No Diggity,” to deeper cuts such as “2 Cups of Blood” by the Gravediggaz, Rogen and director Jeff Rowe curate a playlist truly reflective of the plucky and resolute nature that initially endeared the Teenage Mutant Turtles to a massive young audience.
And, just to pay a tongue-in-cheek homage to the older generation watching the movie (perhaps in the throes of childhood nostalgia), they even included “Ninja Rap” in the film, a dated and otherwise uninspiring track laughably caricaturistic of the early ’90s that Vanilla Ice made exclusively for the second-ever movie in the Ninja Turtles franchise, The Secret of Ooze.
Artwork and graphic design by JR Martinez.
Paragraphs written by Jameson Draper.