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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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Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion's "WAP" has already topped the Hot 100 charts.


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


Jay-Z, ’99 Problems’

“I wanna shoot the ghetto like a photographer would shoot it,” Jay-Z remembered telling “99 Problems” director Mark Romanek. “I wanna shoot it as art.” Filming hours upon hours of footage, Romanek captured Brooklyn’s Marcy Projects in an evocative black-and-white “street reportage” style. “I never felt like I was making a rap video, I felt like I was making a rock video that had rapping in it,” Romanek said on his Director’s Label DVD. “We did really deep location searching all through the fringes and the deep pockets of Brooklyn. And I was just looking for stuff that felt raw and rock & roll and transgressive, but was still connected to Black culture.” For “99 Problems” this meant streetball, step dancing, motorcycle stunting, dog fighting, mattress flipping, a street brawl, jailhouse dehumanization, and a coda where Jay-Z gets shot and killed, kick-starting a battle with MTV over what they could and could not air on the channel. “It’s Brooklyn, New York, it’s real life,” said Jay. “It’s harsh realities, and then there’s beauty there.” —C.W.


LL Cool J, ‘Going Back to Cali’

Directed by the late Ric Minello, LL Cool J’s contribution to the Less Than Zero soundtrack is suffused in the kind of grainy black-and-white artistry that marked MTV clips during the Eighties and reached an apotheosis in Madonna’s “Justify My Love” and sundry Dennis Leary bumpers. Resplendent in a Kangol and turtleneck that he easily fills out with his muscles, Ladies Love Cool James strikes a cool, haughty flow and homeboy demeanor. Visually, the song is a marked upgrade for hip-hop videos during that era, and Minello fills the screen with faded glamour and po-faced wit — from LL posing at the Griffith Observatory to go-go girls shimmying on telephone booths — so that even an L.A. partisan can’t help but enjoy the clip. It’s also a sly putdown of West Coast style from a Queens native — months later, West Coast rap pioneer Ice-T would return fire on “I’m Your Pusher.” Ironic, then, that both LL and Rick Rubin would later decamp to L.A. for Hollywood glory, making the chorus “I’m going back to Cali … man, I don’t think so” sound like a harmless in-joke. —M.R.


Kendrick Lamar, ‘Alright’

Super timely given 2015’s nascent Black Lives Matter movement, “Alright” deserved some high-concept visuals considering its position as a newly minted anthem, and Kendrick Lamar (courtesy of director Colin Tilley) didn’t disappoint. Filmed in stark black and white, the clip contains images of law enforcement officers at various points: carrying Kendrick and his Black Hippy crew aloft in a car like ancient emperors; blowing Kendrick out of the sky with a finger gun. But the video mostly centers on Black joy, as youth dance with abandon in front of stacked boomboxes, and later point in wonder at Kendrick ambling through the sky in Timberlands like an urban warrior from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Embodying the whole message of the song, Kendrick ends the video with a smile after he seems to succumb to police brutality — letting viewers know that in the end, he’s alright, and we will be too. As director Colin Tilley put it, the clip is about how “one man can basically spread positivity through all of the madness that’s going on and how everything is gonna be alright.” —M.M.L.


Outkast, ‘B.O.B.’

“B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)” remains Outkast’s peak glorious freakout, a 155 beats-per-minute joyride that never lets up. So it was appropriate that the boundless Atlanta duo of Andre 3000 and Big Boi tapped visionary director Dave Meyers to helm the video for the revolutionary first single from their masterpiece Stankonia. In Outkast’s euphoric, Technicolor world, the grass is purple, a tour bus transforms into a dimensionally transcendental nightclub on wheels, and pimped-out Cadillacs travel at the speed of light. “I had it shipped to India for individual painting of each frame in the early days of accessible online effects,” Meyers recalled. “So it was quite special at the time.” Yet there’s a grounded message that permeates the trippy euphoria of “B.O.B.” This is an unapologetic Black gathering where project kids, corner boys, booty shakers, church folk, dance crews, and freaks unite for an Afrofuturistic throw down for the ages. —K.M. 


Beastie Boys, ‘Sabotage’

This loving, hilarious tribute to cop shows like Baretta and Starsky and Hutch was the creative pinnacle of Nineties artists cheekily paying homage to Seventies culture. “The wardrobe fitting was where it all began as far as creating the characters,” said director Spike Jonze on his Directors Label DVD. “Mike D would start putting on clothes with a salt-and-pepper wig, and he was suddenly the boss, yelling at everyone. I always wished we would’ve recorded dialogue ’cause the stuff those guys were saying was so funny, especially when the chief would start chewing out the rookie for pissing on his shoe or something.” In making the action-packed clip, the team ended up destroying two rented cameras — one by wrapping a Ziploc bag around the lens for an underwater shot, the other in a car-chase mishap. “The camera was mounted up on the hood,” said Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch. “Somehow we went really fast, like down a curb or up a curb, and I just remember seeing the [magazine] go flying off the camera and then the spool actually come out and the film was unrolling, like rolling up an alleyway.” —C.W.


Busta Rhymes, ‘Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See’

“When we were mixing the record, the TV in the studio is on, but no sound is coming out,” Busta Rhymes told XXL. “We mixing the song and Coming to America came on … no audio. The record sounded like some African shit, and the movie was some African shit. I bugged out when I looked at that shit. I said, ‘Nigga, I’m going to call Hype.’” Hype Williams was on his way to becoming the most iconic, game-changing music video director in hip-hop history, and “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” was just one more notch in his slam-dunk 1997. Loosely inspired by Coming to America, the video explodes past that video’s margins into black-light insanity, feather-flailing dance sequences, an elephant chase and the always-electric Busta. ”I wasn’t seeing what I wanted to see in videos,” Williams told The New York Times. “There was no color, no originality. Record companies assumed that the people who bought rap records didn’t need to see quality, so nobody was putting in the effort or the money.” For a while, his fish-eye perspectives and skyrocketing budgets became rap’s most wanted look. Sylvia Rhone of Elektra told Complex, “My colleagues at other companies used to blame me for raising the price of videos ’cause now all their artists wanted the same kind of videos.” —C.W.


Public Enemy, ‘Fight the Power’

One of the most inflammatory protest anthems of all time gets its own Brooklyn rally — making for some of rap’s most indelible images. Director Spike Lee had used the “Fight the Power” song as the electric leitmotif of 1989’s Do the Right Thing. Though Public Enemy didn’t get paid for its use, this blockbuster video, according to producer Hank Shocklee, was “a really good thank-you that Spike did for us.” Shot on the same block where director Spike Lee filmed Do the Right Thing, the clip played like a hip-hop update of 1963’s March on Washington. They put a call out for people to appear in a Public Enemy video, and they came out in droves. “It was like a rose really sprouted in Brooklyn,” Chuck D told Rolling Stone. “It was seriously a Black movement of just being able to stand up and demand that the systems and the powers that be don’t roll you over. And this was a threat to America, and it was a threat to the record companies at the time. That video was really powerful.” —C.W.


Missy Elliott, ‘The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)’

Missy Elliott started her career working behind the scenes as a songwriter for other artists, but the individuality and ingenuity she unveiled in the first of her many Hype Williams linkups allowed the Virginia rapper to become a front-facing, overnight sensation in her own right. The cartoon-like visual introduces what would become hallmarks of Missy’s creative identity: out-of-this-world concepts, women supporting women, and en vogue yet future-forward fashion choices. Per Essence, when Williams asked her for ideas for the video for “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly),” she answered simply, “Do everything in the song.” The results flipped the script and brought a new type of bravado to hip-hop.The track’s onomatopoeic “vroooooom” is illustrated with an effortlessly cool joyride in a 1994 Hummer H1. Elliott’s friends serve as her video vixens, with rapper Yo-Yo and SWV singer Coko dancing in the fish-eye lens as Misdemeanor references them. The video’s iconic patent-leather blow-up suit put up a proud middle finger to industry standards, worn in spite of her omission from Raven-Symoné’s 1993 music video for “That’s What Little Girls Are Made Of.” “I said ‘I’m-a show them … I’m-a stay my size and have a big record,’” she said during her 2011 Behind the Music episode. It has since become one of hip-hop’s most renowned sartorial staples. Missy’s official step into the spotlight with “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” kicked off a decades-long career of expectations-defying genius, proving that being true to yourself will always be in style. —J.J.