The 70 Best Hip Hop Music Videos Ever: A Retrospective from 1985-2008

We start our story in the mid 80’s. Ronald Reagan was still in office. People weren’t yet convinced that McDonalds was all that bad for you – after all, would a clown sell you something that could be detrimental to your health? Surely not. Video had been killing the radio star for a minute before rap got in on the act. Walk with us as we take a brief stroll down memory lane….

1985: Run-DMC – “King Of Rock”

Run DMC’S symbolic storming of a Rock Museum in the King of Rock signalled rap music’s entrance into popular culture – beaming the gritty realities of life on the other side of the tracks into the homes of Middle America. They were the first rap group on MTV four years after its inception.

Honorable Mentions:
Whodini: “Friends” – 1985 ; Fat Boys: “Stick ‘Em” – 1985

1986: DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince – “Girls Ain’t Nuthin But Trouble”

Rap was not afraid to have fun. Sure, there were the Schooly D’s and Just Ice’s doing their thing, but they weren’t filling up stadiums at the time. This was Will Smith before the summer blockbusters and Jazzy Jeff before repeated ejection from a Bel Air Mansion. Originally discovered by Paul Oakenfold – yes, that Paul Oakenfold – the duo set their own rap landmark, by taking home the first Rap Grammy.

Honorable Mentions:
Beastie Boys: “Fight For Your Right” – 1986 ; Whistle: “Only Buggin” – 1986

1987: Eric B & Rakim – “I Ain’t No Joke”

The God Rakim just rhyming around the way. There were no exotic locations – the hood was a good enough back drop. At this point in time, videos could look like they cost a million dollars to make, but if the music wasn’t up to scratch, you would get called out for it.

Honorable Mentions:
Dana Dane: “Nightmares” – 1987 ; Kool Moe Dee: “Wild Wild West” – 1987

1988: NWA – “Straight Outta Compton

This was a bruising introduction to The World’s Most Dangerous Group in its‘ most celebrated incarnation. Up until now – the whole concept of ‘a band that everyone fears’ had only really been exploited by rock groups. This video set the tone from the word ’go.’ There were mob scenes. There were shots of people walking with their shoes on fire and Eazy E talking all kinds of madness in a voice that sounded like it could have belonged to a cartoon character. Also worth noting that this is the year that Yo! MTV Raps was first broadcast.

Honorable Mentions:
Salt N’ Pepa: “Push It” – 1988; Slick Rick: “Children’s Story” – 1988

1989: Public Enemy – “Fight The Power”

There was a definite correlation between the militancy of Chuck D’s call to arms and Spike Lee’s concept of a march in Brooklyn for this video, which was also a single from the ‘Do The Right Thing’ soundtrack. It is possible that some of America‘s upper class saw this and instantly barricaded themselves in their houses, fearing the long spoken of Revolution had begun. They weren’t to know it would all end in Flavor Of Love. Rap would gain further mainstream exposure with BET’s Rap City first hit the airwaves.

Honorable Mentions:
De La Soul: “Say No Go” – 1989 ; Biz Markie: “Just A Friend” – 1989

1990: LL Cool J – “Mama Said Knock You Out”

Should really have been renamed ‘Hammertime’ in the history books – Stanley Burrell was sweeping all before him, and he didn‘t need the approval of rap‘s hardcore to do it. ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’ was LL managing to reconcile the two sides of his career as a pop artist and a master of lyricism. Upon hearing this for the first time, Kool Moe Dee must have wished he’d picked on someone else.

Honorable Mentions:
Digital Underground: “The Humpty Dance” – 1990 ; Brand Nubian: “Slow Down” – 1990

1991: A Tribe Called Quest – “Scenario”

What with the turn of the millennium now less than a decade away, hip-hop was looking to the future. Leave it to one of rap’s most innovative groups to take it there. The video for ‘Scenario’ gave the impression of being interactive – I, like many others, have sat in front of the screen, blinking as the portraits of Spike Lee, De La Soul, Redman et al flash up. Fact: ‘Scenario’ was directed by Jim Swaffield – the man who almost two decades later would be responsible for R Kelly’s Trapped In The Closet (chapters 13-22).

Honorable Mentions:
Black Sheep: “The Choice Is Yours” – 1991 ; Gangstarr: “Just To Get A Rep” – 1991

1992: Ice Cube – “Check Yo’ Self”

As far as Black America was concerned there was one incident that pretty much defined this year. The beating of motorist Rodney King by policeman and the subsequent acquittal of the officers – despite video evidence proving their guilt. The reaction came in the form of the LA riots, and Ice Cube, already two albums into his solo career since leaving NWA was there to act as a correspondent to the outside world. The video for Today Was A Good Day, ends with Cube being arrested before taking a trip through the California State penal system on his next visual outing ‘Check Yo Self.’

Honorable Mentions:
Diamond D: “Sally Got A One Track Mind” – 1992 ; Dr. Dre f/ Snoop Dogg: “Ain’t Nuthin But A ‘G’ Thang” – 1992

1993: KRS One – “Sound Of Da Police”

KRS One could always be counted on to speak out on hot button issues. From Black on Black crime (‘Self Destruction’) to beef – the meat, not a potentially fatal deterioration of relations between two or more rappers – on ‘Beef’. The video itself wasn’t particularly groundbreaking, but when 1993 comes up in the Format office’s hip-hop conversations, it’s always one of the first songs to get name checked.

Honorable Mentions:
Beatnuts: “Reign Of The Tec” – 1993 ; Cypress Hill: “Insane In The Brain” – 1993

1994: Craig Mack – “Flava In Ya Ear (Remix)”

So begins the emergence of Puff. Having launched Craig Mack’s career, he put Notorious B.I.G on the map, by arranging for his two charges to go head to head with some of the best known rappers of the day. The video’s black and white minimalist aesthetic was later referenced in the video for G-Dep’s Special Delivery (Remix).

Honorable Mentions:
Jeru Tha Damaja: “Can’t Stop The Prophet” – 1994 ; Common: “I Used To Love H.E.R”

1995: Raekwon – “Ice Cream”

During this summer, Raekwon emerged as a contender for the King Of New York title. And it wasn’t like there was a shortage of competition, in terms of classic music being produced. That year alone future classics such as ’Shook Ones Pt. 2,’ ’Livin Proof,’ ‘Broken Language,‘ ‘Bucktown,‘ and ‘Cell Therapy‘ were released. Had it not been for ‘Who Shot Ya?’ and a disappointing second album, Rae would definitely been on the shortlist.

Honorable Mentions:
Goodie MOB: “Cell Therapy” – 1995 ; The Pharcyde: Drop – 1995

1996: 2PAC – California Love

Saw the birth of the ‘To Be Continued…‘ rap video. Rappers were now beginning to get the notion they could act. Pac had set the bar as far as ‘Young, Black & Unhinged’ with his portrayal of Bishop in ‘Juice‘. Director, Hype Williams had really begun to hit his stride in 1994, and after spending 1995 directing videos such as Notorious B.I.G’s “Warning” and Adina Howard’s “Freak Like Me” – he made his bid for the crown in ’96 with the hallucinogen hued clip for Busta’s “Woo-Hah!” and the Mad Max inspired California Love.

Fugees: “Ready Or Not” – 1996 ; The Roots: What They Do – 1996  

1997: Notorious B.I.G – “Sky’s The Limit”

Biggie’s death on March 9th, was marked by the Spike Jonze directed – ‘Sky‘s The Limit,’ for which he recruited half-pint look-alikes of Busta Rhymes, The Lox, Faith Evans and Lil Kim to act out a day in the life of Messrs. Wallace and Combs. After the loss of a life there was something quite touching about the innocent fun the clip portrayed.Honorable Mentions:
Camp Lo: “Luchini” – 1997 ; Busta Rhymes “Put Ur Hands Where My Eyes Could See” – 1997

1998: DMX – “Get At Me Dog”

The year DMX shocked the game. Much like the scene in ‘The Dark Knight’ when The Joker walks into the party and throws Bruce/Harvey’s girl out of the window. Everyone was happily riding around in chauffeur driven saloons, and got comfortable, when a piercing bark shattered their daydreams. That same year, Hype Williams tapped X’s intense persona for the character of Buns in the ‘hood classic’, Belly. In short, the camera <3’s Earl. Pause.

Honorable Mentions:
Big Pun: “Not A Player” – 1998 ; Xzibit – “What You See Is What You Get” – 1998 

1999: Nas – “Hate Me Now”

“Hate Me Now” caused quite a stir. Not only were there whispers of outrage at the crucifixion scenes, but Sean Combs’ reaction to not having certain scenes removed from the video was ’extreme’ to say the least. The clip itself was a celebration of excess. Nas’ giant QB chain, Diddy spitting champagne at the camera and mink hats. Rap was revelling in its’ nouveau riche status. Platinum strippers and white tigers are the order of the day. The whole video looks like one of the Pen and Pixel No Limit album covers brought to life…

Honorable Mentions:
Dr. Dre f/ Snoop Dogg: “Next Episode” – 1999 ; Mos Def : “Umi Says” – 1999

2000: Jay-Z f/ UGK – “Big Pimpin’”

Hype Williams made this one widescreen, for the sole purpose of cramming as much Melyssa Ford, yacht and footage of Dame Dash doing his infamous ‘two bottle’ dance while wasted (a trick he picked up in the promo clip for “Hey Papi”) as possible. The excess continued. Exotic location? Check. Money thrown in crowd? Check. The late Pimp C wearing a fur coat in Florida in the middle of the summer? Check. Everythang’s working.

Honorable Mentions:
Outkast: “Bombs Over Baghdad” – 2000 ; Ghostface: “Cherchez la Ghost” – 2000

2001: Missy Elliot – “Get UR Freak On”

This song was inescapable. A cartoonish trawl through the minds of Missy and Timbaland, complete with ashy zombies – this wasn’t an isolated occurrence, either. Pretty much all of the Missy videos from this era were weird in varying degrees. Late in the year the terrorist attack on New York wounded the spirit of America, and subsequently hip-hop….

Honorable Mentions:
Foxy Brown: “Oh Yeah” – 2001 ; Ludacris: “Rollout (My Business)” – 2001

2002: Ja Rule f/ Bobby Brown – “Thug Lovin’”

It’s not that the video was groundbreaking or anything. It was pretty much a standard issue Murder Inc. video; video starts. Ja runs around with no shirt. Pretty ladies. Singing. More rapping. Fade to black. This time around, however, they added an X Factor. Bobby Brown. Whether or not they expected it to happen, B. Brown completely stole the show, starting proceedings off with a karate kick aimed at the camera and then four to five minutes of gurning and chemically enhanced adlibs. Ja was forced to play the bridesmaid in his own video. Still – things could have been worse for him….

Honorable Mentions:
EL-P: “Deep Space 9MM” – 2002 ; Clipse: “Grindin” – 2002

2003: 50 Cent – In Da Club

Queens’ tendency of breeding rap superstars would continue. I’m not even going to go through the whole ’nine shots’ thing, but 50 Cent arrived on the scene with a near obsessive mission to end Ja Rule’s career – we would only later realise that he did it, by being better at being Ja than Ja was…

Honorable Mentions:
Eminem: “Lose Yourself” – 2003 ; Jaylib: “McNasty Filth” – 2003

2004: Kanye West – “Jesus Walks (alternate version)”

Kanye West’s policy of shooting a video (or in the case of “Jesus Walks” – three) for as many songs as possible led to some great visuals accompanying College Dropout. In some ways it was a throwback to the creative freedom rap enjoyed in the mid 90’s. You know what, Format is going to give him video of the year for 2004, because we’re on his blogroll and to be quite frank, we’ve seen how he reacts when his videos don’t get the respect he believes they deserve and we don’t need that kind of drama in our lives.

Honorable Mentions:
Murs: “Bad Man” – 2004 ; Jadakiss: “Why?” – 2004

2005: Mike Jones f/ Paul Wall & Slim Thug – “Still Tippin’”

Videos from Down South, dating back to the era of Uncle Luke, have generally been an explosion of candy paint, keyboards and booty. There wasn’t any need for Hollywood production values. This is, after all, the region that pioneered moving records out of car trunks. Don’t bother involving the middle man. The formula is timeless: Diamond encrusted grills. A chopped & screwed hook and a scene in a strip club. ‘Still Tippin’ ended up being one of the year’s biggest songs and Mike Jones (Who??) unintentionally slipped into ‘One Hit Wonder’ territory.

Honorable Mentions:
Beanie Sigel: “Feel It In The Air” – 2005; Little Brother: “Lovin’ It” – 2005

2006: Rick Ro$$ – “Hustlin’”

Can it be that it was all so simple then? Rick Ro$$’ major label debut was a monster. A runaway hit. Little old ladies were singing ‘Whip it, whip it – real hard.’ The world was at The Bawss’ feet. But that was before it had been proved that he’d once had a job (gasp!). A real one. With a Social Security number. His breakout video, directed by Gil Green was a whistle stop tour of Dade County, further introducing the world to The Dirty South.

Honorable Mentions:
T.I.: “What You Know About That?” – 2006 ; J Dilla: “Won’t Do” – 2006

2007: Consequence – “Uncle Raheim”

The arrival of Rik Cordero as a player in the video game with his simple but effective clips. In response to increasingly bigger budget offerings from major labels. You get the idea that Rik doesn’t really care for waiting on cheques to get cut. Turn up at his house with a messenger bag full of cash and you’ve got yourself a mini movie.

Wu-Tang Clan f/ Erykah Badu: “Heart Gently Weeps” – 2007 ; Blu & Exile: “So(ul) Amazing” – 2007

2008: Lil Wayne – “Lollipop”

This was undoubtedly the year of Lil Wayne. Having sold a million records in a week, the wee man took home his fair share of awards in ’08. A limo truck full of models driving Weezy and Static Major to a party thrown by, one would assume, Birdman. What sort of parent is Baby? Wayne has been calling him ‘Daddy’ for years. Is he a disciplinarian or the kind of dad you could hang out and enjoy a quiet pint (of sizzurp) with?

Honorable Mentions:
Snoop Dogg: “Sexual Eruption” ; Lupe Fiasco: “Paris, Tokyo” – 2008

2009: It’s a bit early in the year to pick a video, but let’s finish by coming to an understanding of the game in its’ current position; we’ve reached the point where Youtube has made it possible for literally anyone to make a promo clip and share it with the whole world. Now rappers seem to like making videos to tell you they’ve been filming a video – Yes, Jim Jones – we’re talking about you – which may or may not ever see the light of day. Despite this, we at Format encourage you to keep on clicking. Who knows, you may find the next Spike, Hype or Chris one click away. Or it could be another ‘rapper gets exposed’ clip….

Kobi Annobil

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  1. Kobi annabils has come up with quite a list of his favorite music videos. especially with the Jay Z one with the big booty shakin’. I mean fi real that shit was mind blowing cinema cutting edge!!!

  2. they have gay ass Ja Rule, 50 cent, and a bunch of other artist who where one hit wonders or only “famous” to who I don’t know some rejects I guess, but no Eminem, you even have I can barely rap and sound like Im dying of lung cancer Lil Wayne, he’s the biggest joke of’em all.

  3. ullaulla is right.. this sounds more like the top 70 best black hip hop only (they should get the picture on top redone with two black guys instead of white ones)

  4. PuertoRock da Villain says:

    Hey J5FF, with the posting of your comment: “(they should get the picture on top redone with two black guys instead of white ones)” You show your complete lack of hip hop knowledge and total ignorance, those two “white” guys at the top are artistic renditions of Run-DMC, get a f***ing clue before you go ahead and continue to make a complete ass of yourself.

  5. Arthur Pledger says:

    I thought Victory (Biggie, Puff, Busta)would be on this list. You can get rid of Lolipop…no cinematic creativity at all. Looks like they just in a van in a typical hip hop video.

  6. Great list. Thanks.

    (Note, this page has a meta-reshresh that interupts the videos avery 210 seconds. Can you remove that? In the header: )

  7. How bout Xzibit-what you see is what you get, how bout Scarface ft. Tupac- Smile, how bout Nas-One Mic, how bout Eminem-Stan… i cld go on, but bottom line is, your list is terribly flawed… good effort… i guess!

  8. says:

    this list turned to shit after the 90’s but i guess thats hip hop
    somebody do a list with the same theme but only underground hip hop – would be appreciated. pce

  9. Does anyone know the name of a song – fair few years old now – and the video clip was like some home shopping thing which had a blonde chick in red white and blue outfit and they were selling something to do with hip-hop???

  10. Unfortunately, i cant see this videos in my country. I’m from Chile….that’s to bad ! We here have the best hip-hop scene in Latin America

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