The Best Hip-Hop Films and Documentaries on Netflix

They portray the music, dance, and culture of the rap world

Can't make it out to the movies to catch a flick? No worries. Netflix has your back with an impressive selection of films and documentaries every rap head should see. This list includes documentaries about hip-hop culture and the related things hip-hop heads care about. All you need is a Netflix login.

As of November 2018, 23 titles were available on Netfix in DVD form; if you crave instant gratification, two of them also are available for streaming:

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'Paid in Full' (also streaming)

'Paid In Full' Premiere - After-Party
WireImage / Getty Images

Year: 2002
Director: Charles Stone III
Starring: Mekhi Phifer, Wood Harris, Chi McBride
Genre: Action

"Paid in Full" is loosely based on the lives of real Harlem kingpins who ran the streets in the '80s. If you've ever wondered what New York City looked like then, what Harlemites are yapping about when they talk about The Rooftop or The Rucker, or how anyone got around with a mobile phone the size of a Prius, then you have to see "Paid in Full."

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'Biggie and Tupac' (also streaming)

Chi Modu Exhibition Opening
WireImage / Getty Images

Year: 2002
Director: Nick Broomfield
Starring: The Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur
Genre: Documentary

If you want a harrowing account of the unsolved murders of The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur, watch "Biggie & Tupac." British filmmaker Nick Broomfield interviews associates of the late icons and follows various clues to try to answer the question: Who killed Biggie and 2Pac? The revelations include Suge Knight's involvement and LAPD's role in the mysterious murders amid tales of police corruption.

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Rapper DMX
Scott Legato/Getty Images

Year: 1998
Director: Hype Williams
Starring: Nas, DMX, Anthony Bodden, Taral Hicks
Genre: Crime

No matter what film critics say, you should see "Belly." You won't mistake Nas and DMX for Denzel Washington and Samuel L. Jackson, but if you like those rappers, you'll love "Belly." They play exaggerated versions of their rap personas, with X as the eccentric character and Nas as the intelligent thug.

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'30 for 30: Straight Outta L.A.'

San Diego Chargers v Oakland Raiders
Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images

Year: 2010
Director: Ice Cube
Starring: Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Al Davis, Chuck D
Genre: Documentary

Before "Straight Outta Compton," Ice Cube turned the camera on himself in a documentary that explores the intersection of football and gangsta rap. "Straight Outta L.A." zooms in on the Raiders' move to South Central LA in the 1980s. Cube recalls how the sound and image of N.W.A. defined sports culture in those days.

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'King of Paper Chasin' '

'King Of Paper Chasin' Atlanta Premiere
WireImage / Getty Images

Year: 2011
Director: La Monte Edwards
Starring: Dwayne DL Clark, La Monte Edwards, Jason Rivera
Genre: Crime

"King of Paper Chasin' " is one of the most ridiculous movie titles ever, but this is a fascinating film that will reward you if you give it a chance. The plot—a drug dealer tries to leave the game to pursue a rap career—is compelling. It's a low-budget film with big-budget thinking.

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'Rap Sheet: Hip-Hop and the Cops'

Backstage At The Source Awards
Al Pereira / Getty Images

Year: 2006
Director: Don Sikorski
Starring: Snoop Dogg, Kanye West, Busta Rhymes, Suge Knight
Genre: Documentary

Is the FBI secretly spying on hip-hop artists? Do agencies keep huge dossiers on rappers and music industry executives? Do police departments have secret hip-hop police units? Don Sikorski's "Rap Sheet" investigates.

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'Don't Be a Menace'

Year: 1996
Director: Paris Barclay
Starring: Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans, Vivica A. Fox
Genre: Comedy

The full title is "Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood." It's the "Scary Movie" of gritty hood flicks of the 1990s, such as "Boyz n the Hood" and "Menace II Society." You'll have quotable lines for days.

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'Crips and Bloods: Made in America'

2009 Winter TCA Tour - Day 1
Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images

Year: 2008
Director: Stacy Peralta
Starring: Jim Brown, Tony Muhammad, Forest Whitaker
Genre: Documentary

You hear rap songs about Crips and Bloods all the time, but nothing beats the stories of real-life Crips and Bloods who lived through devastating gang violence. Narrated by Forest Whitaker, "Crips and Bloods" details the emergence of gangs, their deadly rivalries, and their growth beyond the borders of South Los Angeles. What makes this worth watching is the hope for resolve at the end.

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'No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson'

Philadelphia 76ers v Portland Trail Blazers
NBAE/Getty Images / Getty Images

Year: 2010
Director: Steve James
Genre: Documentary

Allen Iverson was an NBA star whose hip-hop pedigree clashed with the NBA's corporate-clean image. Steve James' documentary zeroes in on the bowling alley brawl that nearly derailed his NBA career, the Hollywood-esque conspiracy theorists, and the racial tension it brewed. Did you know that a rap song was recorded to galvanize support for Iverson?

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'Mr. Untouchable'

2007 CineVegas Film Festival - Day 10
Getty Images for CineVegas / Getty Images

Year: 2010
Director: Marc Levin
Starring: Leroy "Nicky" Barnes, Don Ferrarone, Thelma Grant
Genre: Documentary

The subject of "Mr. Untouchable" has been referenced by several rappers. The 2007 Marc Levin documentary is the story of Harlem's Leroy "Nicky" Barnes, a real-life junkie-turned-hustler-turned-multimillionaire. With music by Hi-Tek, "Mr. Untouchable" pulls you deeper into the heroin era of the 1970s and spits you out wiser.

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'Cocaine Cowboys 2'

2008 CineVegas Film Festival - Day 9
Getty Images for CineVegas / Getty Images

Year: 2008
Director: Billy Corben
Starring: Nelson Andreu, Jorge Ayala, Griselda Blanco
Genre: Documentary

The sequel to "Cocaine Cowboys" tells the story of Charles Anthony Cosby (aka Real N***a), who starts a relationship with his idol, the Godmother (Griselda Blanco). Blanco is also nicknamed "The Black Widow" because of her propensity to dispose of her men with ruthless indifference after she's done with them. Cosby has no idea what awaits him.

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Year: Starts 2007 (six seasons)
Starring: Mike Hefley, Rahul Thakkar, Martin Cox
Genre: Documentary

It doesn't matter how much you can bench press, you'd flee fast if you met any of these characters in a dark alley. Thanks to Netflix and "The History Channel," you can watch and learn from the safety of your home. Use "Gangland" for a peek into the culture of gangs in the United States: how they shaped the times and affected the blocks they controlled.

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'Snow on tha Bluff'

Year: 2011
Director: Damon Russell
Starring: Curtis Snow, Young Blo, Curtis Lockett
Genre: Drama

The premise of "Show on tha Bluff" is enough to make you question the sanity of anyone who recommends it. The plot: A crack dealer steals a camera from some college kids and documents his life with it. "Snow on tha Bluff" approximates first-person perspective documentary, blurring the line between reality and fiction. Your jaw will be on the floor half the time.

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'Rhyme & Reason'

Year: 1997
Director: Peter Spirer
Starring: Too $hort, B-Real, Kurtis Blow, Method Man
Genre: Documentary

"Rhyme & Reason" is the grandaddy of backstage documentaries, a one-of-a-kind examination of the rise of rap from the streets of South Bronx to the corporate boardrooms of America based on interviews with over 80 artists. It's still an enduring portrait of the smart and vibrant world of rap from an insider's view. You'll see some of your favorite '90s rappers, from Too $hort to B-Real, tell their own stories. 

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Year: 1994
Director: Boaz Yakin
Starring: Sean Nelson, Giancarlo Esposito, Samuel L Jackson
Genre: Thriller

Sean Nelson is stunning in his debut as Fresh. Giancarlo Esposito, aka Gus from "Breaking Bad," is chilling in this thrilling crime flick in which a young Esposito drops this classic line: "Time is money and money is time, little homey, and right now you are costing me a lot of both." The kids, disillusioned by the brutal life in the hood, strive for a better future in an overstuffed housing project by way of dealing drugs. It's disheartening and hopeful at the same time.

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Omar Epps And Tupac Shakur In 'Juice'
Archive Photos / Getty Images

Year: 1992
Director: Ernest R. Dickerson
Starring: Tupac Shakur, Omar Epps, Jermaine Hopkins
Genre: Crime

2Pac was the greatest double threat of his time: an unfairly talented rapper who could go to the loo and re-emerge with a fully written hit in five minutes and a natural in front of the camera. Pac's role as Bishop in "Juice" stands as his crowning achievement on the big screen. The film plots the path of troubled inner-city teenagers caught in a web of tragedy. This pursuit of power and respect is what they refer to as The Juice.

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'Hoop Dreams'

'Hoop Dreams' Q&A - 2014 Sundance Film Festival
Araya Diaz / Getty Images

Year: 2008
Director: Steve James
Starring: Isiah Thomas, William Gates, Arthur Agee, Emma Gates
Genre: Documentary

Hip-hop and basketball have historically crossed paths. Rappers and ballers share many common realities. One is that finding a way out of the hood is almost as tough as making it as a pro baller. "Hoop Dreams" started as a half-hour documentary and blossomed into a three-hour tale of pressure and perseverance.

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'Cocaine Cowboys'

Year: 2006
Director: Billy Corben
Starring: Jon Roberts, Al Sunshine, Sam Burstyn
Genre: Documentary

The city is Miami; the era is the early '80s. The hottest product on the market is sugarbooger. "Cocaine Cowboys" is an intense crime documentary that details the rise of the cocaine boom, originating with 1970s Colombian traders who smuggled contraband via boats in the Reagan Era. It's told by cops and criminals who lived in these dark times.

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'Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap'

'Something From Nothing: The Art Of Rap' Portraits - 2012 Sundance Film Festival
Larry Busacca / Getty Images

Year: 2012
Director: Ice T
Starring: Ice T, Dr. Dre, Chuck D, Rakim, Q-Tip
Genre: Documentary

At first blush, it didn't seem that we needed another hip-hop documentary explaining the process of rapping on beat. And Ice T, despite his admirable repertoire, appeared to be an odd choice to direct this thing. But it's an excellent piece on rap's creative process. Not only did Ice T excel in his directorial debut, but he's also an outstanding narrator. "Art of Rap" pulls back the curtain on the tricks and tools of the trade, offering a window into the minds of a diverse range of talented rappers from different eras, including '80s icons you've probably forgotten about. The interviews and eye-opening insights (Rakim's near-comedic writing style, for instance) make this worth watching for anyone curious about how the best emcees craft their rhymes.

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'The Black Power Mixtape'

'The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975' Premiere - 2011 Sundance Film Festival
Anna Webber / Getty Images

Year: 2011
Director: Göran Olsson
Starring: Angela Davis, Questlove, Talib Kweli, Abiodun Oyewole
Genre: Documentary

The title is a tad misleading. "The Black Power Mixtape" isn't as much a history of the Black Power movement (it doesn't get into the history of Black Panthers until half an hour in) as it is an emotionally charged depiction of the most radical period in American history through image and sound. Between tales of racism and militant Panthers are insights into how the movement created the Free Breakfast school program that still exists.

It's even more fascinating to see these stories through the lens of Swedish journalists who preserved these remarkable, historic recordings from the 1960s and 1970s. With powerful commentary from Questlove, Talib Kweli, Angela Davis, Erykah Badu, Abiodun Oyewole of The Last Poets and more, "The Black Power Mixtape" illuminates hip-hop's most socially aware figures. It's important for everyone, not just hip-hop heads.

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'Wild Style'

Year: 1983
Director: Charlie Ahearn
Starring: Lee George Quinones, Fab 5 Freddy, Lady Pink
Genre: Drama

Few hip-hop movies are as precious as Charles Ahearns' "Wild Style." It's the classic hip-hop movie. "Wild Style" captured a culture previously misunderstood by outsiders. Although the story centers on graffiti wars, which is compelling enough, it's much more than that. It's a showcase of iconic '80s figures including Fab 5 Freddy, Cold Crush Brothers, Caz, and Flash.

This is 1980s, South Bronx, New York City hip-hop. "Wild Style" is a festival of hip-hop culture: writers, break dancers, deejays, and emcees. It's a must-see for anyone who navigates the hip-hop space in any capacity.

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'Beat Street'

Year: 1984

Director: Stan Lathan

Starring: Rae Dawn Chong, Guy Davis, Jon Chardiet, Leon W. Grant

Genre: Drama, hip-hop and contemporary dance

This is a seminal classic of the genre about Bronx teens who use dance, rap, and art to escape from the ghetto. It was one of the first films to feature rap music.

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'Style Wars'

Year: 1983

Director: Tony Silver

Starring: Cap, Kase 2, Edward Koch, Crazy Legs

Genre: Documentary

Here's another classic of the genre, a one-hour documentary introducing graffiti artists as visual geniuses who invent a new art form that alters the urban landscape.