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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

Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion

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


Salt-N-Pepa feat. En Vogue, ‘Whatta Man’

This hit song viewed hip-hop romance through the female gaze and its video flipped pop music masculinity on it’s head: Here, strong men are the cheesecake. “I came of age in my still [photography] work in the mid and late Eighties, a period of gender-bending, the beginning of the breakdown of traditional gender roles,” director Matthew Rolston told MTV’s Video Head podcast. The video doesn’t use just any bandana’d hunk to snuggle with Salt: That’s none other than Tupac Shakur. The record label requested his face be obscured due to his ongoing legal troubles. “Me and Tupac had a little chemistry, but I knew not to mess with that. I wouldn’t have been able to handle that guy!” Salt told Rolling Stone. “When we won a Grammy, he sent us, to our hotel room, a cake shaped like a gun. I think it was a Glock. And we didn’t know if he was threatening us or congratulating us. … This has to be his way of congratulating us. And it was. But that was such a Tupac thing to do.”–C.W.


Busta Rhymes, ‘Woo-Hah!! Got You All in Check’

When the dragon-sized presence of Busta Rhymes’ and the color-saturated visions of Hype Williams joined forces in 1996, it caused an absolute tectonic shift for hip-hop, not only launching a madcap motormouth solo star, but establishing Williams’ next 25 years as the genre’s premier visual auteur. Williams had been directing stylish rap videos for half a decade, but “Woo-Hah!!” was the first to embrace what would be come to be as his signature style: fisheye lenses, banks of lights, unlikely post-production effects and insane color schemes. The style — carried on by Williams along with his protégés and imitators — would help define the larger-than-life look of hip-hop’s jiggy era. “I set out to kind of change things and make rap music videos just as big as rock and alternative music videos,” Williams said in 1998. “If I’ve been able to help do that then I succeeded in what I was trying to do.”–C.W.


Kanye West feat. Lupe Fiasco, ‘Touch the Sky’

Financed by the rapper himself after he was unhappy with Def Jam’s version, the Evel Knievel-inspired clip for “Touch the Sky” has a Seventies aesthetic that perfectly compliments the song’s Curtis Mayfield sample. Filmed at Grand Canyon West, the million-dollar movie co-stars Pamela Anderson, Nia Long, and Tracee Ellis Ross. (It nearly featured Fall Out Boy as a group of reporters, but the band bowed out due to scheduling conflicts.) Not only was the visual a way for West to flaunt his grandiose ideas, it also served as a tongue-in-cheek way to poke fun at his ginormous ego and recent controversies (which now seem quaint considering what was to come). In one hilarious scene, a TV sportscaster asks “Kanyevil” about his comments toward President Nixon, mirroring West’s pointed real-life words about George W. Bush after Hurricane Katrina. —J.J.


Lil Pump, ‘Gucci Gang’

With over one billion YouTube views, “Gucci Gang” gave SoundCloud rap what may be its most iconic image: Miami’s Lil Pump, with a neon shock of pink hair and reflective silver jacket, stalking the hallways of a high school alongside a live tiger. “That was real,” director Ben Griffin told Pigeons & Planes. “[The animal trainers] were like, ‘If he comes a day before the shoot and practices with the animal — and the animal likes him — you can do the shot. But if the animal gets antsy around him, you’ll have to do a composite shot.’ So he went and did the training, and the animal was fine with him… It wasn’t CG or green screen or anything.” The images were instantly indelible enough to help carry a Saturday Night Live parody with Pete Davidson: The show’s director of photography even hit up Griffin to find out what lenses he used.–C.W.


Arrested Development, ‘Tennessee’

The vision of Atlanta’s Arrested Development — part rural South, part righteous Afrocentrism, part alternative-era bohemia — made them one of the most critically adored rap groups of the early-Nineties. Macedonian director Milcho Manchevski helped introduce their look in their debut video, a community gathering shot softly and starkly. Inspired by Depression-era photography and the austere shots of Diane Arbus, Henri Cartier Bresson and Robert Frank, the video cut a warm path across flashier MTV fare. “It took me a long time to convince [the label] that we should shoot the video in black-and-white,” said Manchevski. “But once the video came out, it was extremely successful, it became a Buzz Clip on MTV, it went around the world, and the band exploded.”–C.W.


Missy Elliott feat. Timbaland & Da Brat, ‘Sock It 2 Me’

Missy blasts off into outer space, where she’s still the weirdest and coolest thing on any planet. After Miss E blew up in the summer of ’97 with “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly),” she could have toned it down for her next video. But she got even crazier with “Sock It 2 Me,” a Hype sci-fi trip where she dons her superhero astronaut suit, red wig, and silver eye shadow, to battle alien robots on another planet. Her trusty sidekick? Lil Kim. Things look bad for our heroes until Da Brat rides to the rescue on her space motorbike, chanting like she’s on a playground: “I’m the B-R-A-T, her be Missy/We some bad bitches who be fucking it up!” Timbaland flosses in his Albert Einstein fit. It’s a utopian celebration of late-Nineties Southern hip-hop feminism, a moment when the whole world was wired to every move Missy made. Like Da Brat declares, “It’s ’97! This the motherfucking Bitch Era!” Long live the Bitch Era.–R.S.


Snoop Dogg feat. Pharrell Williams, ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’

Really, it’s all about that beat: Maybe the apex of the Neptunes’ early-oughts era, a mad-scientist concoction of tongue clicks, pneumatic drum hits, and white noise that Snoop laces as carefully as possible. Veteran music director Paul Hunter films the video as if he’s documenting history’s victors, capturing striking monochromatic imagery from low angles and cutting only when it complements the beat. “I was influenced by Richard Avedon and the way he captures celebrities,” Hunter recalled. “And we wanted a Sixties, Frank Sinatra feel to it — we wanted to really show that lifestyle, that class.” While Snoop unleashes a pharmaceutical-grade C-walk at the video’s outset, it’s that simple park-it-like-it’s-hot move that has been enshrined in GIF immortality, as simple and inimitable as the track itself.–C.P.


Drake, ‘Best I Ever Had’

There are at least three great jokes in Kanye West’s video for Drake’s debut single, which was shot at Bishop Ford Central Catholic High School in the Windsor Terrace neighborhood of Brooklyn. The first is pretending that its ebullient hook is a coach talking to his team. (Drake plays the coach, riling his squad before a big game.) The second joke is: What if that team were composed entirely of babes? (Kanye, as director, seems to particularly relish this component.) The last and best joke is: What if they played a really good team? (They get absolutely wiped, 14 to 91.) It’s all ridiculous, as confectionary as the track itself — a reminder of both artists in less dour days.Drake summed up the casual vibe: “I was in New York, Ye was in New York. We just decided, why not go to Brooklyn and shoot a video.”–C.P.