Top 5 Rap Videos: Cinema in Hip Hop


The rap video has come a long way from the simplistic lures of oiled up ass-shaking, hand held cameras, and a close up of souped up Cadillacs. Our videos vixens now dominate our social media with their clothing lines, reality tv appearances, and social advocacy. Our rappers don the latest Givenchy and attend the MET Gala. But however, most notably, hip hop culture has graduated into an era in music video history in which the music itself is only half of the production.

The idea of the quintessential rap video harkens a few recurring images: the drugs, the party, and the luxury. However, videos of today take these images and either completely discard or take them a step further into the realm of cinematic artistry. Rap videos, in addition to the music, now have messages. Through key cinematography and visual implementation, rappers are now able to add a greater level of cohesion to their art form. They are able to transport us the the centers of their visions and create an entire universe surrounding their album releases. Here are a few music videos ranked from hot to hottest that prove the evolution and intelligence behind the modern hip hop music video revolution:


1. Childish Gambino//Sweatpants (dir. Hiro Murai)

This video takes us back a bit further in the fast paced world of popular rap music. The multitalented artist has an extensive background television, film and music production and it is apparent in this visual. The video chronicles Gambino’s slow descent into a Glover-filled world, symbolic of his lyrics, within a diner (the same one from Sober). The piece is a beautiful, seamless semi-continuous shot. The camera becomes one with Glover and we are placed an area of deep apprehension as his lyrics rapidly fill our ears and the camera swirls about him. He breaks the fourth wall, communicates with the viewer, and looks deeply and seriously into our eyes. The best part of this video is that it delivers a level of detailed progression and cinematography that seemingly makes the video scene of a film that we need to see.




2. Migos//Deadz (dir. DAPS)

The chart climbing trio is known for their champagne lifestyle meets Atlanta gangster culture. Their beats are ever present and their one-liners dominate both the internet and “the culture”. However, little appreciation is placed upon their stunning visuals. In their most recent album, Culture, they recruited Nigerian director, DAPS, know for making videos for Kendrick, Iggy Azalea, and Stormzy. Deads, amongst other released videos for the album,  utilize some of the most interesting visual techniques used in the recent decade. The video is dominating as it commences with a crescendo from a full woodwind ensemble and proceeds to highlight the rapping trio in their best bling. What pushes this video to the top is it’s blend of cinematography and what provided the initial shiny lure to rap video. The camera tilts and pans perfectly. No shot leaves the three out of control of the scene. The blocking is perfect and they command the camera and the audience.




3. Tyler the Creator//IFHY (dir. Wolf Haley)

The alternative rapper is best known for his fusion of skate culture and emotional intuition with the expressive flow of hip hop. He has a definitive style that continues to grow and evolve within itself. As director (Wolf Haley) in his visual projects, all his videos come to life with intricate detail. The video for IFHY is a visually stunning piece that emphasizes the usefulness of set design, fashion, and camera angle to place the viewer within his Tyler’s vision. Traditionally, rappers are perform at the center of the frame but Tyler allows himself to become a character within the greater story he is telling. The doll theme is carefully orchestrated and he is able to create a meaningful storyline with little acting. The shots act as the greatest communicative aspect of the video and establish his hopelessly romantic mood. Tyler’s videos deliver a level of artistic cohesion that make his artistry greater than the just the rhymes. (also see: "Fucking Young")




3. Yamborghini high//ASAP Rocky (dir. Shomi Patwary)

A$AP Mob is notable for their tight-knit community and incorporations of high-fashion and hood culture. Upon the death of A$AP Yams, this video acted as an ode to the fallen rapper. They honored him in the video with the familiar A$AP style with expensive cars, jarring color schemes, and visual distortion. The video has a glitched VHS-tape theme and merges the ironic beauty of digital technology failure with skillful camera shots. The video plays with our clean cut image of high-level music videos and places the team’s lavish lifestyle into a trippy reality mimicking the fast-paced, drug-fueled lifestyle of the hip hop team. Interestingly, the camera shots take a backseat to the color scheme and visual style used in the video. A$AP visual are strong in that they are able to merge the physical style of early rap with the artistic intuition of modern young artists. They utilize bright pinks and greens and provide a stunning contrast of the vibrant color scheme against grills, guns, and fast cars. Long Live A$AP.




4. Kevin Abstract//Empty (dir. Kevin Abstract)

The Brockhampton rapper is new to the popular rap scene and has made a notable splash in the community for his vulnerable lyrics about his homosexuality and complicated upbringing. Abstract and the Brockhampton team are driven and motivated in not only providing memorable beats and poetic themes but accompanying videos that are nothing short of pure cinema. The team’s fascination with film is apparent in the wide shot closeup’s of faces, and key color schemes. The video creates a dreamworld within a typical suburb with stereotypical characters that defy time periods. These characters are useful in that they play with our perceptions of teenage life and the typical picket fence trope to bring light to a darker “typical” in our society. The entirety of the film is visual satisfaction with symmetrical shots of characters symbolizing of the loneliness and “Empty”-ness of Abstract and his love. The video functions as both a preview to a larger story and entire film within itself. Much like Tyler the Creator, Kevin Abstract makes himself a character within his visuals which puts greater emphasis on the story and the music rather than the fame of the artist. Brockhampton’s efforts make an exciting beginning to the future of rap cinema.




5. Humble, DNA, Element //Kendrick (dir. Dave Meyers & the Little Homies)

Finally, you can not address strong film concepts in hip hop music videos without addressing the expertise of Kendrick Lamar and the Little Homies. Lamar with the help of his friend and production team (The Little Homies) have cemented themselves as a serious film production team and artistic circle in the recent years with Kendrick's most noteworthy music videos. What stuck out primarily was their release of the amazing work that was the string of music videos for “DAMN”. Each video is a completely independent production within itself but they all provide a clear unifying mood thematic element very similar to the story told on the album. The team pairs the symbolic nuances of Kendrick’s rhymes with accompanying shots that leave audiences just as awestruck as his powerful verses. They expound upon simple camera techniques to create visual concepts that are memorable and seemingly magical. They show expert understanding and light, color, and the power of simply imagery to make a profound point. The team is a force to be reckoned with and is arguably the most powerful film creators in the music video industry.


Sydney Felder