While Hip Hop music might not have had the banner chart year that it has in previous years, the culture at large did show some promising representation on the small screen.
Hip Hop has always been filled with unique stories, angles and themes perfectly suited for television storytelling but hasn’t always received the support and investment it perhaps deserved. But in 2023, with a new streaming service popping up what seemed like every few months, more Hip Hop stories started making it past the pilot stage.
With that said, the Hip Hop TV landscape has diversified in a big way. Once solely compiled of gang-related documentaries, monotonous reality shows, and music video countdowns, it has since turned into a full-blown offering made up of thoughtful scripted television with compelling storylines and even more compelling characters.
The past 12 months brought about everything from scripted rap come-up stories and deep dive documentaries to podcast-style sports shows with rap veterans. That isn’t to say that shows like Love & Hip Hop are irrelevant or unwatchable – 2023 simply brought more variety for Hip Hop fans to consume like never before.
Below is a list of shows DX deemed to be the best to air in 2023, with one in particular standing out as HipHopDX‘s Best Hip Hop TV Show of 2023. Review all of our 2023 Hip Hop Award categories here.
Editors Note: Best Hip Hop TV Shows of 2023 selections were restricted to shows which aired — regardless of season — between December 1, 2022 to December 1, 2023. Nominees are listed in alphabetical order.
BEST HIP HOP TV SHOWS OF 2023 NOMINATIONS
- Dear Mama: The Saga of Afeni and Tupac Shakur
- It Is What It Is
- Ladies First: A Story of Women in Hip-Hop
- Rap Sh!t
The award for Best Hip Hop TV Show of 2023 goes to…
From the genius mind of Issa Rae, HBO Max’s Rap Sh!t follows Mia and Shawna, two old friends who reconnect to form a rap group with the intention of achieving mainstream global success. Set in present day Miami, the show takes viewers on the wild ride that is the Hip Hop come up; specifically from a female rapper’s perspective.
From the moment the two characters reconnect on the pilot episode, they are both bombarded with stigmas, barriers and their own varying versions of success. There are many moments in this show’s first season to get excited about, but it’s the second season (which began airing in November this year) that pulls the curtain back even more and dives deeper into the trials, tribulations and turn ups of the duo.
Really leaning more on the drama side of “dramedy,” both Mia and Shawna’s early lives are explored and begin to provide context for even some of Season 1’s behaviors. Although Season 2 focuses on the dark side of the music industry specifically, the topics revolving around drugs, past traumas and flying too close to the sun can relate to just about anyone, anywhere.
Now that Season 2 has wrapped, HBO better cut Issa a cheque and greenlight a third season.
At this point, Lil Dicky is better known for his hit FXX show than dropping music. DAVE (named after Lil Dicky’s government name, Dave Burn) has three 10-episode seasons, the third of which landed on screens in 2023. In short, the series is loosely based on Lil Dicky’s real-life rap come up. Of course, there are some exaggerations and embellishments but it really does showcase how a suburban white kid would/does attempt to make it big in the rap game.
There are plenty of laugh out loud moments, sentimental scenes and even some stellar original rap tracks used to soundtrack the show. In this third season, Lil Dicky departs on his first headlining tour across America in which sex (or lack thereof), drugs and rap music shape the wide-eyed Hip Hop hopeful. The most recent season features cameos from Jack Harlow, Drake, Usher, Machine Gun Kelly, Killer Mike, and even Hollywood A-Listers Brad Pitt and Rachel McAdams.
Dear Mama: The Saga of Afeni and Tupac Shakur
Every few years another 2Pac or Biggie documentary pops up in the Hip Hop zeitgeist, often telling the same story as its predecessors. This time around though, director Allen Hughes — who, alongside his brother Albert Hughes, directed ‘Pac’s first couple of music videos in the early ’90s — absolutely nailed a new version of the late legend’s story with Dear Mama.
The five-part FX series documents 2pac’s life through not only music but contemporary revolution. Furthermore, the docuseries focuses on his relationship with his mother, Afeni Shakur, who was, for all intents and purpose, the driving forced behind his deeply meaningful music. It is one of those binge-able documentaries that needs to be consumed in one sitting based solely on how captivating Afeni’s story is.
Despite the controversy surrounding Allen Hughes’ highly publicized love/hate relationship with ‘Pac, there’s a lot of honest moments throughout that show all sides of 2pac’s personal, professional and prideful life.
It Is What It Is
In 2023 it truly felt like every rapper and their cousin had a podcast they were peddling. Most of them can just be thrown into the proverbial pile of podcasts simply created in an attempt to get some ad money — but not when it comes to Cam’ron and Ma$e.
While some consider It Is What It Is a podcast, the two Harlem rappers — who were once longtime foes — will argue to the death that it’s actually a sports debate show. Available to watch on YouTube, the acclaimed show, which features famous guests, hella hot takes and a lot of self-officiated “pause” moments, recently inked an eight-figure deal with Underdog Fantasy.
With the help of Treasure “Stat Baby” Wilson, Cam and Ma$e talk shop around the world of sports (mostly NFL and NBA) but can quickly spiral into NSFW topics that viewers would never hear on the likes of NBC or TNT. From versatility alone, It Is What It Is provided some great candid commentary this year — from two Hip Hop legends who sound like they’ve been broadcasting for years.
Ladies First: A Story of Women in Hip-Hop
When talking about perspectives and stories that needed to be told — or told louder — in 2023, women in Hip Hop should have been the first to come to mind. Helping to push this forward, Netflix’s four-part docuseries Ladies First: A Story of Women in Hip Hop provided an in-depth look into the rise, ride and rollercoaster of women in the genre.
From the early days when MC Lyte and Queen Latifah were paving the way for what was to come, up to now, a time when women are hands down dominating the genre, the series — narrated by Rapsody — does a great job of telling a wide variety of stories from the ladies who continue to make an impact.
Although there are some tough truths to swallow when watching, the message that it leaves viewers with is that women in Hip Hop “are always stronger together than they are apart.”
Artwork and graphic design by JR Martinez.
Paragraphs written by Scott Glaysher.