June 3, 2023

The 22 Best Hip-Hop Movie Soundtracks of All Time

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Miki Hellerbach

Miki Hellerbach is a freelance music and culture journalist from…

American rapper Tupac Shakur on the set of "Above the Rim" in Harlem. (Photo by mark peterson/Corbis via Getty Images)

American rapper Tupac Shakur on the set of “Above the Rim” in Harlem. (Photo by mark peterson/Corbis via Getty Images)

Movies have spurred some of the most impactful rap songs ever made. What many regard as Spike Lee’s opus, Do The Right Thing, is the reason why “Fight The Power” by Public Enemy was ever crafted and spurred a reverberating effect of rap songs filled with social commentary. Not just songs, but many times full hip-hop movie soundtracks have become just as much cultural landmarks as the films themselves. Rap soundtracks have provided intertwining compilations that have paired essential voices and given dynamic imagery even more depth.

While they don’t happen as often as they used to, hip-hop soundtracks can be a vital element of a movie. Earlier this year, Michael B Jordan’s directorial debut, Creed III, was powered by a Dreamville-produced soundtrack featuring appearances from J. Cole, Big Sean, Tierra Whack, Kehlani, and more. The soundtrack almost immediately entered the canon of great hip-hop-centric soundtracks, going all the way back to the early ‘80s with Wild Style.

Here is our ranking of the best rap-centered movie soundtracks of all time.

22. Bamboozled (2000)

bamboozled hip-hop movie soundtrack

Cover art: ‘Bamboozled.’

The only Spike Lee joint entry on our list is only this low because the ratio of R&B to rap is about 50/50. (The soundtrack marked the introduction of India Arie’s poignant vocals to the musical sphere). Bamboozled is a darkly comedic satire centered around a modern minstrel show. For Rolling Stone, critic David Fear, reflected on the film’s impact, calling it, “a history lesson on decades of screen (mis)representation, a look back in anger but also profound sorrow.” The soundtrack straddles this line incisively. The opening track, “Blak Iz Blak,” displays Canibus rapping bars like, “the government got a Black phobia, that’s why they tap my black Nokia,” next to white rapper MC Serch spitting, “Mr. 1/16th, born to kill your self-esteem, born from part devil, part cracker from Queens.”

21. Creed III: The Soundtrack (2023)

Cover art: 'Creed II: The Soundtrack.'

Cover art: ‘Creed II: The Soundtrack.’

J. Cole and Dreamville hold the only soundtrack on this list where rap tracks score a boxing film. While there are some real R&B standouts, the rap songs really punch above their weight. “Jack” by Buddy & Earthgang shows the three MCs trading blows like fighters who each have a different signature jab or uppercut. While “Ma Boy” by JID and Lute displays two Dreamville rappers at their most fluid yet assertive.

20. New Jersey Drive, Vol. 1 (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (1995)

Cover art: 'New Jersey Drive Vol. 1.' hip-hop movie soundtrack

Cover art: ‘New Jersey Drive Vol. 1.’

Jersey is represented in this soundtrack on tracks like “Burn Rubber” by Lords of the Underground and “Where Am I” by Redman where he starts his verse by rapping proudly, “We run New Jers that’s my word, this type of shit gon leave your vision blurred.” That said, some of the other standouts include a smooth The Notorious B.I.G. opening verse to the track “Can’t You See” by Total and a rumination on cars and lifestyle by the legendary Atlanta duo Outkast on “Benz or Beamer.” The film is about joyriding Newark-based teenagers in what, at the time, was a city famous for carjackings. The youthful MCs who make up the soundtrack ride the beats like 95 S600 Benz coupes on I-95.

19. The Nutty Professor: Soundtrack (1996)

The Nutty Professor soundtrack

Cover art: ‘The Nutty Professor Soundtrack.’

Some of the most prominent singles on the album accompanying Eddie Murphy’s multi-character cackle fest are R&B. But even those tracks have a rap verse by a top-tier MC. The best of these genre-crossing songs is “Ain’t Nobody” by Monica and Naughty By Nature. Dallas Austin’s production lifts both Monica’s piercing vocals and Treach’s popping and dynamic delivery. The other notable addition to the album is JAY-Z’s “Ain’t No N***a” with Foxy Brown — which was also a single on his monumental debut album, Reasonable Doubt. Oddly, the pulsing bassline featured in the beat produced by Big Jaz matches the energy of the character Professor Sherman Klump perfectly.

18. Baller Blockin’ (2000)

Cover art: 'Baller Blockin.' hip-hop movie soundtrack

Cover art: ‘Baller Blockin.’

A classic Pen & Pixel display presents the full Cash Money crew on the cover of Baller Blockin. The action comedy hood film soundtrack is a cult classic thanks largely to the bounce-filled Mannie Fresh production. When Birdman proclaims on “Whatever,” “I’m a neighborhood superstar,” it exudes the ultimate stunt that is quintessential of the era that birthed such projects as 400 Degreez and Guerilla Warfare. Turk’s solo track “Uptown” is the perfect ode to the film’s context featuring the opening bars, “Can ya picture a lil ni**a like me straight thuggin’. Hotter than fire, hotter than somethin’ that’s in the oven.”

17. High School High — The Soundtrack (1996)

Cover art: 'High School High: the Soundtrack.'

Cover art: ‘High School High: the Soundtrack.’

An eclectic mix of boom-bap stylings makes up the soundtrack for this Jon Lovitz-starring mid-’90s comedy. The film itself spoofs white savior teacher movies while the soundtrack remains much more grounded. “Peace, Prosperity, and Paper” by A Tribe Called Quest is a head-nodding ode to a well-thought-through value system. Another standout, “The Good, the Bad and the Desolate,” by The Roots features lyrics from Black Thought like “Far beyond stressin’ and battle as a revolutionary adolescent,” that mirror the hopes of the character Griff McReynolds played by a young Mekhi Phifer.

16. Streets Is Watching (1998)

Cover art: 'Streets is Watching.' hip-hop movie soundtrack

Cover art: ‘Streets is Watching.’

This project was the real precursor to the official Hov ‘98 takeover. The film, compiled of strung-together and sequenced music videos, blossomed into a storyline documenting the early JAY-Z grind in Marcy projects. It combined visuals from the Reasonable Doubt and In My Lifetime Vol. 1 eras and the soundtrack was compiled of a few B-sides as well as some slick additions from others. “Murdergram” features Hov, Ja Rule, and DMX trading verses of hard-nosed street raps. The most epic track of the bunch is the closer. “Celebration” by Jay-Z, Memphis Bleek, Sauce Money, and Wais features the line by Hov, “The takeover, the breaks over, the God MC me J Hova,” which sounds like fortune telling for what would next occur in the rap game.

15. Bad Boys II (2005)

Cover art: 'Bad Boys II.'

Cover art: ‘Bad Boys II.’

The Bad Boys II soundtrack features one of the most dynamic three-song sequences on a rap soundtrack: “Show Me Your Soul” by Diddy, Lenny Kravitz, Pharrell, and Loon; “La-La-La (Excuse Me Miss Again)” by JAY-Z; and “Shake Ya Tailfeather” by Nelly, Diddy, and Murphy Lee. The trio not only represents the dynamics of the movie but also symbolizes the breadth of that era of rap music. This was an example of when the soundtrack upon release held equal if not more weight than the film itself.

14. DJ Clue Presents: Backstage Mixtape (2000)

Cover art: 'DJ Clue Presents: Backstage Mixtape.' hip-hop movie soundtracks

Cover art: ‘DJ Clue Presents: Backstage Mixtape.’

In the ‘90s and early 2000s, DJ Clue was a master craftsman, putting together something to represent the energy of JAY-Z’s Hard Knock Life tour. A film filled with pranks, braggadocio, and debauchery is complimented by lavish shiny suit-era flex rap songs. While this was JAY-Z’s tour, it’s hard to argue that the crowning musical achievement from the project wasn’t Prodigy’s “Keep It Thoro” produced by The Alchemist. The glass-shattering piano underneath the Mobb Deep MC’s silky flows exudes street luxury. Maybe the most impressive thing about the tape though is the range of acts featured, from Cam’ron to the Hot Boyz to Capone & Noreaga.

13. Black Panther: The Album (2018)

Cover art: "Black Panther: The Album.'

Cover art: “Black Panther: The Album.’

Top Dawg Entertainment orchestrated one of the great modern film soundtracks with Kendrick Lamar at the helm. His appearances on six of the 14 tracks solidify his voice as the spine of the body of work. “Kings Dead” with Lamar, Jay Rock, Future, and James Blake won a Grammy as it exemplified film soundtrack collaborations at a peak level and captured the movie’s essential element of controlled chaos. “Paramedic!” by SOB x RBE featuring Lamar and singer Zacari showed a unique ability to give shine to the authenticity and rawness of up-and-coming West Coast acts while remaining on topic with a deft hand.

12. Russell Simmons Presents The Show: The Soundtrack (1995)

Cover Art: 'Russell Simmons Presents The Show: The Soundtrack.'

Cover Art: ‘Russell Simmons Presents The Show: The Soundtrack.’

On paper, the roster of the tracklist here is almost unfathomable. This Russell Simmons-narrated rap documentary arrived smack dab in the middle of what many still refer to as the “golden era.” The soundtrack culminates the energy of the time. From West Coast slaps from the likes of 2Pac and Warren G, to East Coast heaters from Method Man & Redman, Notorious B.I.G., and LL Cool J to Midwest representation from Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, all the different voices seem to work in beautiful raw harmony.

11. Get Rich or Die Tryin’: Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture (2005)

Cover art: 'Get Rich or Die Tryin': Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture.' hip-hop movie soundtrack

Cover art: ‘Get Rich or Die Tryin’: Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture.’

Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson’s biopic with the same name as his classic debut spurred a soundtrack filled with what sound like unreleased album cuts and slick tracks from his G-Unit affiliates. “Window Shopper” and “Best Friend” were the most prominent singles that emerged from the bunch that had any club in ‘05 going up. Yet the brooding sharp guitar strums and bars on “When It Rains It Pours” feel the most cinematic and representative of the storyline written by Terence Winter. The project represented such a fitting closing musical statement to the GRODT 50 Cent takeover era. Rap’s never been the same since.

10. Belly (1998)

Cover art: 'Belly Soundtrack.'

Cover art: ‘Belly Soundtrack.’

The Belly track list is filled with hustler-centric musings executed with grit by Northeast-centered spitters. Perhaps the most potent record includes both the main actors in the film: DMX and Nas alongside Method Man and Ja Rule on “Grand Finale.” It feels like an exact representation of where rap was and where it was going to ascend to. “Top Shotter” with DMX, Mr. Vegas, and Sean Paul also furthered this trajectory displaying the natural fusion of New York rap and reggaeton.

9. Above the Rim – The Soundtrack (1994)

Cover art: 'Above the Rim — Soundtrack.'

Cover art: ‘Above the Rim — Soundtrack.’

Potentially the greatest lead single from a rap soundtrack ever exists on this album. “Regulate,” by Warren G and Nate Dogg, is a G-funk storytelling anthem of dodging robbers and driving away with beautiful women in glory. The film — centered on the trials and tribulations of trying to make it out of the hood — also stars Tupac Shakur who is featured on three standout songs on the soundtrack, including “Pain,” which chronicles the overwhelming strain of survival, and “Pour Out A Little Liquor,” which pays homages to a friendship gone awry. Then to bring the soundtrack all together lies an unforgettable dedication to the women with a rougher edge who just want some devotion on “Hoochies Need Love Too” by Paradise.

8. 8 Mile: Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture (2002)

Cover art: '8 Mile Soundtrack.'

Cover art: ‘8 Mile Soundtrack.’

“His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy, there’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti,” has turned into a literal pop-up pasta restaurant. These opening raps from the Oscar-winning lead single from Eminem’s 8 Mile Soundtrack, “Lose Yourself,” have reverberated far and wide ever since they dropped. The rest of the soundtrack includes many other rap legends on tracks that are not as revered, but still have real replay value. “8 Miles and Runnin’” by JAY-Z and Freeway and its looming keys captures the gutter of the film’s atmosphere. “Battle” by Gang Starr is also a memorable gem that parallels the bar duels that occur in the film.

7. Juice (1992)

Cover art: 'Juice.'

Cover art: ‘Juice.’

A story chronicling community, gang affiliation, family, and police harassment has a centerpiece rap theme song in “Juice (Know The Ledge)” by Eric B. and Rakim that fits the film’s building tension like a glove. The incisive Rakim bars, “I don’t like y’all. I’m hype when night falls. Smooth, but I move like an army. Bulletproof down in case brothers try to bomb me,” perfectly characterizes the stress bubbling in the movie’s overarching psyche. Other songs by the likes of Big Daddy Kane, EPMD, and Naughty by Nature round out a body of work that holds up against any in sonically documenting the feeling of a time and place.

6. Wild Style Original Soundtrack (1983)

Cover art: 'Wild Style.' hip-hop movie soundtracks

Cover art: ‘Wild Style.’

The soundtrack to the first hip-hop film is an absolutely necessary addition to our list. Listening to the raw recording of the soundtrack now is the epitome of a beautiful time capsule. Fab 5 Freddy, Busy Bee, Cold Crush Brothers, Grandmaster Caz and so many more laced the album with a mix of core scratching techniques, original raps, call-and-response wonders, and battle-tested charisma. There’s nothing on the album that will make you smile wider though than the acapella track “Stoop Rap” by the duo Double Trouble. It’s a response to taking a loss in a battle that exemplifies brotherhood and powering through. This call-and-response verse then catapults into their potent raps over slick record scratches live at the amphitheater.

5. Hustle & Flow: Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture (2005)

Cover art: 'Hustle & Flow: Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture.'

Cover art: ‘Hustle & Flow: Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture.’

What can we say about the soundtrack that got Three 6 Mafia an Oscar? T.I.’s Grand Hustle Records put together an eclectic collection of cinematic trap songs on this soundtrack. This body of work includes three original songs that we got to see fictionally come to fruition in the film itself, including the Oscar-winning “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp.” The album also provided an essential space to feature crunk music on a movie soundtrack. This includes Lil Jon’s production on “I’m A King (Remix)” and the explosive track “Man Up” by the legendary group Trillville.

4. Street Fighter (1994)

Cover art: 'Street Fighter.'

Cover art: ‘Street Fighter.’

Here we have an impeccable collage of rap songs from East and West Coast MCs predating all of the tragic beef that would follow a few years later. This soundtrack sticks to the film’s theme more than any other on this list. The Jean-Claude Van Damme-led live-action film based on the video game paired seamlessly with the warrior stylings of various MC’s bar combos. “Pandemonium” by The Pharcyde stands out with a hook of scratches and a sound bite from the game itself resulting in its title. The slick flows of all the group members sound like they are ducking and slide kicking through the beat. The B.U.M.S. “It’s A Street Fight” is perfectly on the nose with rhymes like “We can get down, with the forces of gravity. “Sonic boom!” like Guile, cave in your chest cavity,” and, “Who’s the Grand Supreme standing in this bloodstream. You keep a stance like Ryu, and throw fire that’s green.” The soundtrack knows exactly what its purpose is and remains clever and over the top exactly how you want it to.

3. I’m Bout It (2007)

When Master P flooded the streets with his straight-to-video semi-autobiographical passion project, he redefined independent filmmaking. He dropped the movie similar to how he would drop his independent mixtapes via No Limit Records, thus having to make an accompanying musical body of work that held equal weight. At 22 tracks the I’m Bout It soundtrack defines the southern laid-back gutter feel of the mid-2000s and has a unique blend of lifestyle raps, imagery-filled storytelling, and blue-collar soul. Brotha Lynch Hung’s “Situation on Dirty” is a rumination on the intricacies of paranoia over waning synths and suspenseful keys. Master P and Steady Mobb’n’s “If I Could Change” masterfully interpolates Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Won’t Do For Love” and features steady flows filled with grief and pipe dreams.

2. Sunset Park (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)(1996)

Sunset Park (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Sunset Park (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

2Pac, Queen Latifah, Ghostface Killah, Lil Kim, Mobb Deep, and many more blessed this soundtrack aligned with Steve Gomer’s high school sports comedy starring Onyx rapper Fredro Starr. This album wins the award for smoothest cohesion. Each track feels like it’s laced with endo smoke and Hennessy on the rocks. Even with spitters from all over the U.S. map, there’s a cool yet grimy element that feels so specific to the niche feeling of the Sunset Park neighborhood in Brooklyn in the mid-’90s. The inclusion of the MC Lyte track “Keep On, Keepin On” with Xscape interpolating Michael Jackson’s “Liberian Girl” seals the gloss that is laid all over this project with endless replay value.

1. Murder Was The Case (1994)

Cover art: 'Murder was the Case.'

Cover art: ‘Murder was the Case.’

“Natural Born Killaz” is one of the most explosive rage anthems ever in hip-hop. Dr. Dre went absolutely nuclear on the beat with stretching and reverberating synths and drums that exude as much West Coast G-Funk as they do Rage Against The Machine. It’s track two on an album that accompanies an 18-minute short film that begins with the fictional death of Snoop Dogg caused by a deal he made with the devil. The rest of the movie then chronicles the journey to his eventual resurrection. Snoop himself is featured on four tracks, including the bombastic opening title track and the head nod-inducing “What Would You Do?” by Tha Dogg Pound. This song would eventually also be featured on the soundtrack to the Oliver Stone film Natural Born Killers and be nominated for a Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group. Awards aside, it’s the music itself that makes Murder Was The Case the best rap soundtrack of all time. It stands the test of time with any of the other west coast classic rap albums.



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