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The 150 Greatest Hip-Hop Videos of All Time

From Run-D.M.C. to Doja Cat, from Missy to Busta, and beyond

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HIP-HOP WAS BORN IN the Bronx in the summer of 1973. To celebrate the music’s 50th anniversary, “Rolling Stone” will be publishing a series of features, historical pieces, op-eds, and lists throughout this year.

From the moment Run-D.M.C., clad in all-black leather and fedoras, emerged from the Cadillac in the “Rock Box” clip, the music video was turning hip-hop artists into icons. Then and now, rap videos serve as ambassadors to sound, fashion, art, and emotion, transforming localized subcultures into vital elements of Planet Rock. The world could now visit Grandmaster Flash’s New York, Dr. Dre’s Compton, Juvenile’s New Orleans, Mike Jones’ Houston, and Chief Keef’s Chicago. Kids from every corner of the globe could learn to scratch or do the Humpty Dance.

The rap clips of the early Eighties, like those of Roxanne Shanté, were triumphs of creating a big impression with practically zero budget, mostly shown on Ralph McDaniels’ pioneering New York public television show, Video Music Box. Soon the undeniable force of artists like Run-D.M.C., the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, and DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince would knock down the segregated walls of MTV airplay. A pilot for a show called Yo! MTV Raps would do bonkers ratings numbers for the channel in 1988, and soon suburban living rooms across America could be bum-rushed by the righteous anger of Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, and Ice Cube. The pay-to-play jukebox channel the Box would show the videos they wouldn’t touch. BET’s Rap City took the message to other parts of our cable network.

By the Nineties, hip-hop was America’s pop music, and filmmakers like Hype Williams, Paul Hunter, Spike Jonze, Sanji, and Diane Martel began tweaking and rethinking the visual language of the genre, bending it prismatically toward their visions. Directors like the Hughes Brothers, Michel Gondry, Antoine Fuqua, F. Gary Gray, and Brett Ratner caught early breaks from rap videos. Artists like Busta Rhymes, Missy Elliott, Lil Kim, and Puff Daddy were almost inseparable from their larger-than-life video personae.

As the video age gave way to the YouTube era, blockbuster stars like Kanye West, Jay-Z, and Drake did their best to keep grand (and expensive) artistic statements alive in a period where budgets were shrinking exponentially. However, the democratic nature of the internet meant that anyone with access to a camera could find a way to ensnare millions and millions of eyeballs, whether that means the shock of Odd Future, the hyper-local intimacy of Chief Keef and Bobby Shmurda, the arthouse fury of Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino, or the deeply charismatic presence of Ice Spice and GloRilla.

Our list of the 150 greatest hip-hop videos was compiled by the editors of Rolling Stoneand a panel of music critics. It’s a celebration of hip-hop’s incredible history of making a big impact on small screens.

From Rolling Stone US


Busta Rhymes, ‘Gimme Some More’

There’s a reason Busta Rhymes has been nominated for an impressive 16 MTV Video Music Awards during his nearly three-decade solo jaunt. The irrepressible Dungeon Dragon was born for the short music-film medium. None are as infectiously bonkers Hype Williams-stamped joy ride “Gimme Some More.” Here, the director’s trademark fish lens captures Busta as an off-the-wall cartoon come to life: a googly-eyed blue monster chasing a ‘50s sitcom house wife, a pistol-toting nod to Looney Tunes character Yosemite Sam, an exaggerated muscle suit-wearing body builder. It’s Busta Rhymes taking the unserious very seriously. —K.M.


Digital Underground, ‘Doowutchyalike’

The presence of LL Cool J, Eazy-E, MC Lyte, Too $hort, D-Nice and Biz Markie in the visuals for DigitalUnderground’s first single put hip-hop on notice that the funk-inflected Oakland outfit consideredthemselves a major new addition to the culture, soon to be as vital as anyone making a cameo here.“Doowutchyalike” introduced Humpty Hump (D.U. rapper Shock G “disguised” as a hip-hop lounge lizard, complete with Groucho Marx-like nose and eyeglasses): the jokey, pleasure-driven id that gave the group a distinct visual hook. As Digital Underground’s mastermind, Shock introduced his group by directing their debut video himself—full of underwater swimming pool shots, bikinis, and a festive California house party vibe that summed up the D.U. aesthetic in five minutes flat.—M.M.L.


Method Man feat. Mary J. Blige, ‘All I Need (Razor Sharp Mix)’

“I fought that ‘All I Need’ shit. I fought it. I didn’t wanna put it out,” Method Man told podcaster Math Hoffa. “‘Cause it was at a point now where, when we were doing these shows, Wu-Tang together, I would come out and there would be girls screaming. Now for me, I’m grimy, same-clothes-three-days-in-a-row n***a. Who wanna go the sex symbol route at this point?” Luckily for Meth, director Diane Martel kept a gritty edge in this much-adored love letter with Mary J. Blige. Showing off some of the acting chops he would display in Belly and The Wire, Meth enters a family drama and dodges the police when not rapping in front of a gorgeous tableau atop a Harlem rooftop. Director of photography Lance Acord would go on to do cinematography for films like Lost in Translation. Martel would eventually direct discourse-disrupting videos for Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus, and Meth became a sex symbol regardless.–C.W.


Juice Wrld, ‘Lucid Dreams’

No director has informed the look of SoundCloud-era hip-hop like Chicago’s Cole Bennett, who turned his Lyrical Lemonade blog into a studio that pumped out quirky, colorful, videos for Lil Pump, Famous Dex, Lil Xan, Smokepurrp and many more. His most acclaimed work is perhaps Juice Wrld’s smash hit “Lucid Dreams,” a trippy, deeply emo horror-noir where Juice bares his emotions while poking his head through a hole in the floor. Although Bennett had been filming and uploading music videos since 2013, “Lucid Dreams” was the first time he had a budget —$5,000 — instead of just his usual “run-and-gun, point-and-shoot-style.” Five years later, the video is close to one billion views. “The video is very all-over-the-place in a sense ’cause it came out of nowhere,” said Bennett. “It was just an idea randomly. … I think it’s funny that it’s the biggest video on the channel today.”–C.W.


Lucas, ‘Lucas With the Lid Off’

White Danish rapper Lucas didn’t make too much of a splash in the States, but the director of his lone hit certainly would. The wildly ambitious one-take clip for “Lucas With the Lid Off” was an early success for French director Michel Gondry, who would unleash his mazelike vision on films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep. Inspired by 1920s rent parties and Singin’ in the Rain‘, Gondry, Lucas and about 16 film projectors went through 17 takes of a mind-bending performance — the final take was the only usable one. “When [singers] have to do something physical it’s a relief because they don’t have time to worry about who they are or what they are doing and they can be completely natural,” said Gondry, who filmed the video as Lucas ran around him. “I get the best performances when I do this because they are participating and they see they are achieving something that is not easy.”–C.W.


Missy Elliott, ‘Get Ur Freak On’

The first collaboration between hip-hop futurist Missy Elliott and director Dave Meyers—who would go on to direct a slew of Elliott clips, including the similarly mind-bending “Work It” and the feisty “Gossip Folks”—was the result of a movie date turned brainstorming session. “We both flip out over wild visuals and have a similar sense of humor,” Meyers told Fortune in 2019. “We’re different types of people but our harmony was in that, and our collaboration is a result of our differences.” Meyers and Elliott matched the song’s next-generation sonics with a clip that felt beamed in from a post-industrial future, complete with dancers—coached by choreographer Nadine “Hi-Hat” Ruffin—who threw down pugilistic moves while Elliott swung from a crystal-covered chandelier.–M.J.


M.I.A, ‘Born Free’

French director Romain Gavras took M.I.A.’s hectic, up-in-your-grill song and upped the ante, delivering a nine-minute movie about a dystopia where redheads are rounded up and shot. The concept started off as a goof, with the Tamil rapper’s producer Christopher “Rusko” Mercer recalling “how people would beat me up because I was a ginger.” The end result, however, is anything but a joke — it’s graphically violent, remarkably upsetting and a potent allegory about politicizing genocide that inspired a million think pieces and was banned outright by YouTube when it dropped. “I didn’t want to explain myself because if I give my vision it just narrows down the idea to one point of view,” Gavras said. “People are talking by themselves and it’s even better.” —D.F.


Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, ‘The Crossroads’

Bone Thugs-N-Harmony had initially recorded 1995’s “Crossroad” as a mournful tribute to the Cleveland rap troop’s late member Wallace “Wally” Laird Jr. But by 1996, the group had become overwhelmed by a series of deaths of friends and relatives, including their mentor Eazy-E. The quick-tongued spitters tapped Michael Martin to direct the video for a more uplifting remake of “Crossroad,” the eventual Number One single “The Crossroads.” The clip follows a tall, black Grim Reaper as he leads a procession of the dearly departed to heaven — among them stand-ins for Krayzie Bone’s cousin and brother-in-law, Wish Bones’ Uncle Charles, and the glowing ghost of Eazy-E. But the moment where the angel of death leaves with an infant baby still haunts Krayzie. “It was good for the song,” he said on the Halftime Chat R&B Podcast in 2021. “But knowing what I know now … I probably wouldn’t do a scene like that because I know God doesn’t do things like that.” —K.M.


Slick Rick, ‘Children’s Story’

The primary challenge with directing visuals for Slick Rick, one of hip-hop’s greatest storytellers, is thateveryone already has their own music video for his songs running in their head based on his nth-level lyrical narration. Director Todd Holland takes the literal approach to Rick’s moralistic tale, dramatizing a 17-year-old’s bank heist gone wrong with a Chaplinesque, black-and-white Keystone Kops chase through Soho eventually landing our hero in jail. (The song itself remains so beloved that Nas recorded his own take on its police brutality theme, sampling it on 2019’s Kanye West-produced “Cops Shot the Kid.”) “That was the record label’s idea to go that route,” Rick says of his slightly sanitized video: young ladies do the Steve Martin dance and his whole bedtime story puts a dwarf to sleep. “Maybe they didn’t want to go the route of too gritty.”—M.M.L.


OutKast, ‘Rosa Parks’

Is there a better encapsulation of peak OutKast than the intro to this video? The duo are discussing video possibilities for a new single. Big Boi wants 30s and Impalas; Andre says the moment calls for “some space futuristic-type thangs”; Big Boi concludes, with no further ado, “Alright then, let’s do both of’em.” Thus: Big Boi rapping in a laser-lit roller disco, Andre rapping at the barbershop dressed for the post-apocalypse. Director Gregory Dark — a porn-industry provocateur who gradually moved to erotic thrillers before taking over millennial MTV — films the affair in lurid hues, letting the player and the poet fly their freak flag in a raucous, street-filling dance party.–C.P.


Roxanne Shanté, ‘Queen Of Rox (Shanté Rox On)’

This clip from the early days of Video Music Box showcases teenage dynamo Roxanne Shanté, whose boasts were some of the boldest of the mid-Eighties. Through some comical vignettes, Shanté recaps her rise to power. In one of the closing chapters of the long-running “Roxanne Wars,” she takes some parting shots at UTFO and the Real Roxanne. “Growing up and being able to see images of myself, especially on Video Music Box, was a blessing ’cause you didn’t see too many kids who looked like me,” Shanté said in the Showtime documentary You’re Watching Video Music Box.–C.W.


Run the Jewels feat. Zack de la Rocha, ‘Close Your Eyes (and Count to Fuck)’

In this deeply physical, painfully bleak video, police brutality is portrayed as a battle that crosses day and night, street and home. A white police officer (Shea Whigham) and a Black man (LaKeith Stanfield) wage a fruitless, endless wrestling match that only leaves them both injured and weakened. “It’s provocative, and we all knew this, so we were tasked with making something that expressed the intensity of senseless violence without eclipsing our humanity,” said director AJ Rojas. “I can tell you it was an emotional shoot day. It is tough to re-create moments that are so fresh and prevalent in our world today. It affected all of us in deep ways.” The clip ends as it begins: the war unfinished, it’s participants exhausted. “There is no neat solution at the end because there is no neat solution in the real world,” said the group’s Killer Mike.–C.W.


50 Cent, ‘In Da Club’

When you’ve survived being shot nine times to sign a $1 million recording deal with hip-hop behemoths Eminem and Dr. Dre, you are entitled to a bit of myth-making. And so we get the star of “In Da Club,” 50 Cent, literally being rebuilt like Seventies television icon The Six Million Dollar Man. Suddenly he reappears hanging upside down in a gym rapping. But that famous sequence is not the video’s money shot, according to co-director Phillip G. Atwell. “Seeing 50 with Dre and Em having his back is as big a visual statement as it is a musical statement,” he explained to MTV News in 2003, referring to the ending scene in which 50’s mentors appear in lab coats approving of their brilliant creation. “You could see what the commitment was between [them] and what this project was going to be about.” —K.M.


Chief Keef feat. Lil Reese, ‘I Don’t Like’

“I Don’t Like” almost single-handedly changed the way rap videos look in the internet age, eschewing almost every music video convention to make something that speaks to the immediacy of social media. Cheap, grainy, shaky, smoky, hyper-local and full of teenage energy, it’s hip-hop with the D.I.Y. attitude and no-budget gloss of hardcore punk, a perfect introduction to Chicago’s homegrown drill phenomenon. Director DGainz gave “I Don’t Like” and early drill scene its cinema verité feel by just showing up, recording and seeing what unfolded. “We were just chilling and [producer Young] Chop put on ‘I Don’t Like’ and everyone started dancing. I just started filming. Everyone was high and drunk — even I was drunk,” director DGainz told BET. “I put it out at like midnight and when I woke up at seven o’clock in the morning it was viral.”–C.W.


Lil Nas X feat. Jack Harlow, ‘Industry Baby’

This Shawshank-flavored video continued the present-day provocateur’s quest to queer up hip-hop. That meant sporting hot pink prison jumpsuits, proudly displaying love in lockup, and using a prison shower — often seen as a place of violence and violation — as the backdrop for energetic, empowering choreography. Director Christian Breslauer told Vevo that “Industry Baby” also symbolizes Montero’s “unwillingness to conform or be caged in because of his beliefs.” Not only does the clip overturn and reclaim stereotypes of Black men in prison, Lil Nas promotes the importance of unabashed self-acceptance, breaking the chains of the genre’s ingrained machismo. —J.J.


Sir Mix-A-Lot, ‘Baby Got Back’

“I wanted to make sure that when she was on that pedestal, she always looked elevated, and I wanted the two white chicks dissing her to look like they were looking up, not down,” Sir Mix-A-Lot recalled of the inspiration behind the memorable “Oh my God, Becky, look at her butt” opening of the 1992 video for his chart-topping “Baby Got Back.” The Seattle rhyme pioneer had originally suggested to director Adam Bernstein that he appear coming out of the controversial music short’s infamous giant ass. That idea was thankfully spiked. Still, the polarizing “Baby Got Back” received backlash for what many critics saw as the sexist objectification of women. MTV censors sidelined it before agreeing to play an edited version after 9 p.m. Mix’s gyrating, shaking ode to the bodacious derriere has since become a campy pop-culture marker, cited by some Black feminists for its rebuke of systematic European beauty standards. —K.M.


Lil’ Kim feat. Lil’ Cease, ‘Crush on You (Remix)’

“The first video, B.I.G. was gonna direct it. He was gonna play different characters,” director Lance “Un” Rivera told VladTV about “Crush on You,” originally a solo spotlight for Kim’s Junior M.A.F.I.A. cohort Lil Cease. “He had this dance he used to do call the Bum Bitch. And he said ‘I’mma be doing the Bum Bitch tryin’ to lock Cease up’ as the cop from Martin.” However, once Lil Kim hopped on the remix, it became her show: a colorful explosion of matching wigs and outfits in inspired by the 1978 musical The Wiz. The bright, audacious look would promptly become one of the most iconic of the 1990s. “[A]t this point no hip-hop or R&B artist had experimented with bold color. The stages on set turned from blue to green to yellow to red and I saw that her clothes were like that too,” hairstylist Eugene Davis told Vice. “I left Long Island City where we were shooting, went back to New York, bought some wigs put them on her and recut them on her.”–C.W.


Mike Jones feat. Paul Wall and Slim Thug, ‘Still Tippin”

As mainstream ambassadors to Houston’s long-percolating hip-hop scene, Mike Jones, Paul Wall and Slim Thug turned the slow-rolling, trunk-rattling sound of Houston rap into a cultural sensation. Director John “Dr. Teeth” Tucker provided the travelogue: candy-painted cars with neon in the trunk, high-circumference rims with protruding “swangas” or rotating spinners, sparkling chains and diamond-encrusted grills, and Swishahouse co-founder Michael “5000” Watts providing the soundtrack on two turntables. “We shot it in Houston, which was the way that I wanted to go. I wanted to show its culture,” Tucker told AllHipHop. “The girl dancing in front of the tables is like the Pied Piper. You also have candy-colored cars swaying in and out on the street. It’s hood, but also artistic at the same time. It all goes together. The amazing thing is that people got it.”–C.W.


Run-D.M.C., ‘Rock Box’

In the summer of 1984, Run-D.M.C.’s “Rock Box” became the first hip-hop video to appear on MTV, joining Michael Jackson, Prince, and Tina Turner among the few Black music artists at the time to appear on the largely white video channel. The Steve Khan-filmed promo is as iconic as it gets, opening with Run, D, and Jam Master Jay stepping out of a Cadillac in all their Godfather hat, leather suit, Adidas-rocking glory, as guitarist Eddie Martinez shreds on top of the car’s roof. The group’s label, Prolife Records, even cast a young white kid as an enamored fan to ensure robust airplay. It worked. “If you look at the video, it’s not the park, it’s not the block party,” explained D.M.C. in the 2021 documentary series Hip Hop: Songs That Shook America. “It’s a downtown Manhattan club, it’s punk rock in the video, it’s metal in the video. But the Black hip-hop dudes were the stars!” —K.M.


Jay-Z and Kanye West feat. Otis Redding, ‘Otis’

Hip-hop’s biggest crossover project of the 2010s deserved an equally distinctive music video to commemorate its second single. So, Jay-Z and Kanye West enlisted director Spike Jonze, who in this case took a slightly less auteurish approach to their decadent ode to wealth, fame and badass than was his norm. Filming a $350,000 Maybach getting liberated of its doors and roof, hip-hop’s glimmer twins then took their Thunderdome mobile for a thrill ride spinning doughnuts in Downey Studios, a quartet of giggly models in the backseat. And yet the most indelible image isn’t the fireworks or the Maybach—it’s the brotherly love between two rap superstars at the top of their game, a U.S. flag backdrop serving as a visual symbol of the American dream they managed to acquire despite the odds.—M.M.L.