Illustration by: Zoey Greenberg
If a picture is worth a thousand words, than a Hip Hop music video is equivalent to whatever DaBaby carries in his satchel on a casual Monday afternoon. Moments in Hip Hop come and go, but music videos last forever. It’s been a long decade in Rap. These last 10 years might be where our most vivid memories of Hip Hop live from every blockbuster Rap beef, redemption story, and meme conception in between.
There will always be those songs and moments that stick out, like Kendrick Lamar hijacking Big Sean’s song “Control” and calling out every major rapper in the game to J. Cole purposely dropping his sophomore album Born Sinner the same day as Kanye West’s Yeezus (Editor's Note: This was a moment, debate with your mom). The propeling factor from great songs to iconic standing are the music videos that perfectly capture not only their essence, but also the moment surrounding it.
With that in mind, we decided to compile what we thought were the most iconic Hip Hop music videos for each year of this decade based on cinematography, permeation into mainstream pop culture and longevity. Honorable mentions were reserved only for the years that had near ties.
Coming off one of his most controversial years following the infamous Taylor Swift incident, Kanye West took refuge in Honolulu, Hawaii away from the media to work on his fifth studio album. The pacific island would become the birthplace of what many consider West’s best work, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The album was accompanied by “Runaway,” a thirty-four-minute film that brought the themes of the album to life.
In the film—directed by West himself—he struggles with his identity as a problematic figure in media and how it translated into his personal life. The film opens as West finds a phoenix who has crashed to Earth. It focuses on how her purity is a sharp contrast to West’s personality. He recognizes that she should run away from him for her own good so that he doesn’t taint her. Regardless, West begs her to stay, despite knowing that remaining on Earth will lead to her demise. This contention is reflective of the constant tug of war within West’s avarice and better judgement.
This dichotomy is expressed further through the songs played throughout the film in My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. “All of the Lights,” “Devil in a New Dress,” “Runaway,” “Blame Game,” and “Lost in the World” all touch on West’s role as a flawed protagonist. The video is shot wide with simple aesthetics, allowing the music to shine. The way in which West was able to use this film as a vehicle to create this larger visual tragedy was not only beautiful, but also reaffirmed the messages presented in the album.
“Runaway” laid the groundwork for longer film accompaniments with albums that other artists would eventually follow like Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar, Beyoncé, and even his mentor Jay-Z. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a classic album and “Runaway” as a film solidified West even more as an artistic genius.
By: Devyn Imholt
It’s sometimes hard to remember that Tyler, The Creator was not always the mainstream star he is today. Albums like 2017’s Flower Boy and 2019’s IGOR have made Tyler a mainstay in modern R&B/neo-soul, combining his heavenly, lo-fi aesthetic choices with his boyish singing style. Even through his many artistic transitions, two things have remained constant: Tyler is an excellent rapper, both technically and lyrically, and is quite the pot-stirrer.
The “Yonkers” song and video exemplify these elements perfectly. The song is brazen and in-your-face, with lines like, “stab Bruno Mars in his goddamn esophagus” coupled with an intense horrorcore beat.
The song is great, but it's the music video that launched Tyler into the popular consciousness as a young shit-disturber. The video is very simple, Tyler positioned in front of a black and white camera with black contacts in his eyes. It’s initially pretty frightening, with a cockroach crawling over him while he raps his now-infamous bars, but it takes a total left turn after the first verse when Tyler literally eats the cockroach. As far as I know, he’s the only rapper to ever try something like that on camera, and that alone should put this video on this list.
The video had a massive impact on Tyler’s career, propelling him into a period of underground fame and notoriety. Antics like these, along with his controversial lyrics and off-stage persona, resulted in Tyler being famously banned from a number of countries (bans which have since been lifted). While this may not be Tyler’s best video aesthetically (that would have to go to “EARFQUAKE” or “See You Again”), it is certainly his most iconic, and is more than worthy of this spot on the list.
By: Pat Shanahan
Before I begin, I have to prefix this blurb by saying how badly I wanted this to make it as the most iconic of 2011, but the team (Cam) wasn’t having it, so here we are. Nonetheless, the music video for “Otis” reflects Watch The Throne in all of its reckless glory.
It’s a daunting task to match the same energy as Funkmaster Flex premiering the song and spinning it approximately 20 times on live radio in the middle of the summer, but leave it to HOV and Kanye to do just that. Brought to life by Grammy and Academy award winning director and producer Spike Jonze, this production was well ahead of its time as far as 2011 rap music videos go, just like Watch The Throne. There’s just something so sophisticatedly ignorant about Jay-Z and West tearing apart a $350,000 Maybach 57 behind a sample of Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness.”
All of the shots were real and posed a legitimate threat to the safety of those participating in certain ones i.e. doing donuts in a custom Maybach with no doors. The combination of the song is equivalent to a diamond encrusted chalice filled with Hennessy, lucratively ghetto and reserved only for rap royalty. After the video was recorded, the custom Maybach was also auctioned off and all proceeds were donated to the Save the Children Foundation.
Beyond the beautifully shot sequences and masterful lyricsism by Jay-Z and West, this music video managed to be just as fun as the song and never missed a beat. Hip Hop at it’s finest.
By: Jordan Rose
There are few things Drake hasn’t done on his climb to the top of Mt. Olympus this past decade. When the team and I were initially compiling this list, we realized that the 6 God was very close to occupying several spots, which is a testament to how dominate he’s been in the 2010’s.
In his magnum opus Take Care, Drake took us through some of the most intimate and emotionally jarring locations of his young life, from his ailing grandmother's house to his uncle's poolside. The music video for “HYFR” continues that trend, this time blessing us into his world by way of the synagogue as we literally watch the boy become a man.
It appropriately opens with footage of a seven-year-old Aubrey Graham dancing and setting the tone for the event that is about to unfold. Only Drake could have his re-Bar Mitzvah with DJ Khaled, Birdman, E-40 and Trey Songz mobbed up in the real Temple Israel in Miami with Lil Wayne shirtless getting lit—all the while rapping about exes in Texas. While Hip Hop music videos have more commonly featured homages to Christian faith, this video is the collision of two worlds that more than likely wouldn’t have met otherwise, Judaism and Hip Hop. That’s why it’s the most iconic Hip Hop music video of 2012.
It is a non-traditional music video depicting a traditional celebration while simultaneously having no real correlation with its subject matter, and Drake makes it work because he’s Drake.
By: Jordan Rose
STARTED. Opening up to a scene of Lil’ Drake playing little league soccer, the Toronto-hailing rapper wins most iconic hip-hop music video of 2013.
First and foremost, like Jordan stated, Drake is king of the 2010’s. Albums such as Thank Me Later, Take Care and Nothing Was The Same prompted the platform for which Drake could create such a distinctive video like “Started From The Bottom.” If you don’t believe me, here’s a fun fact: Drake dropped the music video for “Started From The Bottom” the same night he took home a Grammy for Best Rap Album for Take Care. That’s BDE.
In terms of cultural significance, “Started From The Bottom” started a trend of rappers being honest in portraying their come-ups. Before the video dropped, come-up Hip Hop music videos were all similar, consisting of three distinct elements: trapping, naked women and lots and lots of partying. This music video had all of that, but with a theatrical twist only the Degrassi star could pull off, solidifying it as the best music video of 2013.
For example, the sequence shots of Aubrey Graham pre-fame are hilarious and depict his rise to stardom flawlessly. Fans of Drake know he’s a goofball and scenes such as him getting promoted to Night Manager at his store job with his boys allow fans insight into his come-up. Regardless of whether you think Drake’s “bottom” is truly a “bottom,” you have to appreciate the honesty in which he displayed his progression to fame. At the end of the day, everybody starts somewhere and “Started From The Bottom” definitely gave hope to a lot of kids that ya know, maybe you too can stand on your own billboard.
By: Camryn Simon
I could write a dissertation, like Jordan’s “blurb” on “4:44,” on the significance of different parts of this music video but I’ll stick to the basics for the sake of word count. Racking in MTV Music Video Award for Best Female Video, BET Award for Video of the Year, alongside Grammy Award for Best Rap Song, the music video for Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” is arguably a feminist manifesto.
It’s no secret that Minaj is thick af. Instead of attempting to hide her curves, Minaj decides to flaunt them, alongside her crazy talented dancers, in three stereotypical locations black women are portrayed in: the jungle, the gym, and the kitchen. Opening up to black women in the jungle, Minaj exploits the stereotype of black women as “exotic and animalistic” by dressing and posing as a modern Amazonian goddess. And there’s nothing more alluring than beautiful, thick brown women covered in black and gold in the middle of the forest. I’ll say it.
Next, Minaj hosts a twerk class showing that women, privy to the contrary, are quite strong. With moves such as hip thrusts, squats, and ab workouts, “Anaconda” confirms Minaj is not missing any meals or gym sessions, for that matter. Last but not least, Minaj uses various kitchen scenes to show that playing with food can indeed be quite fun. By playing on the stereotype of “A woman's place is in the kitchen,” Minaj releases massexual tension i.e. biting and slicing bananas.
All of these various scenarios plus distinctive cuts and focuses on various parts of Minaj’s body, movements and eye line, created an illusion viewers still can’t snap out of five years later. And don’t even get me started on Drake.
By: Camryn Simon
Let the record show that the music video for “Hot N*gga” was one of the most culturally impactful pieces of Hip Hop in the latter half of this decade. To have had enough influence to keep a man who has been incarcerated for almost four years, #FreeBobby, relevant purely from one dance is a feat in itself. Yet, here we are ready to ring in the new decade and Shmoney Dancing on the streets.
What “Hot N***a” lacked in elite cinematography and complexity, it made up for in energy and impact. Hearing that resounding “b*tch caught a body bout a week ago” brings about a level of pure synergy and joy that might rival that of songs like the iconic “Swag Surf” and “Knuck if you Buck.” For example, during their “On the Run Tour,” Beyonce and Jay-Z hit the Shmoney Dance on stage giving the video and dance even more reverence, while cementing its place in Hip Hop culture.
Now, as some of us eagerly await Sir. Robert Shmurda’s early release from prison in late 2020, one can only hope for a banger up to par when he returns.
Of all the honorable mentions, “Hot N*gga” was the most difficult to disclude on the main list. Bobby Shmurda not only capitalized on his wave with this music video, but created a moment in Hip Hop that is being replayed to this day, and we’re still waiting for his fitted cap to fall back down.
By: Jewél Jackson
2015 confirmed that Blackness was facing a full fledged attack from all angles. We already knew that, but the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement contained a fiery tempo that was sparked by the vicious murders of our people; including but not limited to Michael Brown, Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland. Amidst the chaos, Kendrick Lamar released “Alright.”
Boiled down to its simplest elements, the song assured that no matter how bad the internal or external suffering black people faced, we would be alright. As simple as that message sounds, it contains complexity because black peoples sufferings are never that black and white. Ironically, the video —which is shot in black and white— contains an abundance of color to it despite its literal lack thereof. The visuals of cars spinning doughnuts, the facial expressions of those who flash across the screen, the flying bullets, and Lamar floating above all others, shows the color within the story because it is enriched in details, history, and symbols of the black experience.
In conclusion, the combination of the song and video became the voice of a movement that’s bigger than Hip Hop. It was culture. Our culture.
“Alright” reminded us that regardless of all the craziness that occurs in the world, we will always be alright. But, just in case...we’d love Lamar to drop some music in 2020. Please.
By: Jewél Jackson
If you ever wanted a taste of black girl magic personified, watch LEMONADE specifically “Formation.” It’s f*cking beauitful. Anytime a work of art opens up with a voiceover stating, “What happened after New Orleans,” it’s going to be off the chain. Periodt.
In the spirit of friendly competition, following the music video we (*cough cough* Jordan) chose for 2017, here are various reasons why the curation, artistry, and longevity of “Formation” made it our choice for 2016, regardless of genre.
The key difference between Black Southern culture and everywhere else, no tea, no shade, is the importance of the matriarch. The saying goes, “Southern men love their moms,” and it’s true. They do. The legitimate formation of black women with natural hair and body types in “Formation” depicts the importance of black women in a society where it’s the complete opposite, sadly enough. As if Beyoncé doesn’t fit enough symbolism and imagery into this music video for a lifetime, she then tackles the lack of media representation for the black LGTBQ+ community. While connecting all parts of Black life down South, she highlights the fuel and core of rarely acknowledged Black Southern centerpieces, black queers and black women.
Carefully shot and produced in New Orleans LA, “Formation” is a nod to the Black South with staples ranging from various architectural symbols, southern baptist church scenes, and black people moving with so much swag. The music video transitions through these scenes all while acknowledging the various traumas that come with these iconic places, especially in NOLA. From a historical perspective, NOLA is a deeply-rooted place for Black Southerners harboring events such as the slave trade, Hurricane Katrina. “Formation” represents how powerful it can be to acknowledge the beauty in those painful experiences.
Not only did Beyonce’s Grammy Award Winning Music Video create waves throughout the music industry, but it challenged viewers to take pride in their Blackness. As a born and raised Southern gal, it's refreshing to see Black life depicted in such an authentic way. Partying with ten people and shifty lights? Check. Eating seafood outside on the front porch? Included. Driving wheelies with the windows down? Visualized. USING FANS FOR ACCESSORIES AND HEAT REGULATION? Obviously.
In terms of longevity, I can’t speak for the entire team, but I fully intend on showing my children and their children's children's children “Formation,” while sitting on a porch swing drinking freshly-squeezed lemonade. That’s because Beyoncé shifted a long-standing narrative of the Black South. By giving viewers a glimpse into a world curated through the lens of Beyoncé, she created an anthem championing what it means to be black, beautiful, and so damn southern.
Maybe it’s because “Formation” hits so close to home as a woman who identifies as black and queer, or maybe it’s because I stan my Virgo southern sister for life, but anything Beyoncé creates is top two, and it’s not two. That’s why we’ve ranked it the best music video of 2016. And arguably, the best music video of the decade.
By: Camryn Simon
“I apologize” are the first words that herald in the song, “4:44.” A young boy singing Nina Simone's “Feel Good”—the ultimate song of redemption and rebirth— are the first words of the music video. This eight minute short film not only encapsulates the complexities of Jay Z and Beyoncé’s relationship, but also the paradigm within Blackness and black love.
The two interpretive dancers—Okwui Okpokwasili and Storyboard P—represent Jay-Z, aka Jay, and Beyoncé, seemingly at odds with each other through the entire duration of the film, never touching. At one point the man struggles to take off his chain, screaming at it as lyrics of Jay-Z apologizing for toying with other women’s emotions plays in the background. This parallels some of the recurring subject matter in the album, Shawn Carter refuting Jay-Z.
Jay-Z sold drugs to family members, Jay-Z was a womanizer and prided himself on it. He sees some of his most toxic traits in that alias, which is juxtaposed with the dancer battling with the “Roc” chain around his neck. This concept is expanded upon further when Storyboard puts the chain on Okwui and she pulls it back, choking herself in the process. She’s trying to reject the “Jay-Z” alias that was thrust upon her.
Towards the end of the film Al Green’s “Judy” is played over The Carters performing “Drunk in Love” in concert. When “Judy” is the dominant song, everything is peaceful and all one sees are two people in love. Then, the world interrupts that love with the actual audio coming in of the screaming fans in concert. This is a commentary on how the world is so invested in their love and relationship that it ends up spoiling it.
A blue screen and waving Blue Ivy closes the film, because in the end she’s what matters most. The film is also littered with various clips from WorldStar and TMZ, a nod to what Jay is actually afraid of: the real world that Blue and his children will face regardless of the fame and power he has. These aren’t polar interpretations, rather just a depiction of the real world. Santa Claus is fake, the tooth fairy isn't real, and black people are being gunned down in the streets by police.
The three amazing black female directors, Elissa Blount Morehead, Melinda Nugent and Gina Harell, stated that this short film is meant to look at black love from the macro, never featuring Jay physically because he’s not meant to be the main focus.
This is not a Hip Hop music video, this is a melted painting of love lost, struggling to be regained after it was burnt by dishonesty. This is both sides of 24 hours, revealing that being drunk in love is amazing in the night but that it also comes with a stupar the next morning. For Jay-Z, a rapper who already sits in the pantheon of the Hip Hop royalty and whose entire career has been built upon a bedrock of bravado, to be so vulnerable is a feat we rarely see in this genre.
In short: this film is not Jay-Z’s capitulation because of one Becky or a response to Lemonade, it is a deep reflection into every way in which Jay-Z was not the man Beyoncé married nor the husband she deserved, Shawn Carter was. This is not only the most iconic music video of 2017, but arguably one of the best of the decade. 13 solo studio albums in, your GOAT could never.
By: Jordan Rose
We miss Kendrick Lamar. It’s been 965 days as of the writing of this blurb that his Pulitzer Prize winning album DAMN dropped and trust me, we are feeling it.
Regardless, that album was packed with several memorable tracks and equally memorable music videos to accompany them. One that sticks out in particular is the video for the fan-favorite opening track, “DNA.” The video opens by paying homage to the Keanu Reeves film The Day After Tomorrow as Academy Award-winning actor Don Cheadle and a handcuffed Kendrick go back and forth reciting the first half of the song.
Eventually, Kendrick is able to escape the same way Keanu’s character does in the film as well. The beat switch in the latter half of the song is accompanied by a shift in the visuals when Kendrick embraces his alter-ego “Kung-Fu Kenny.” The beat gets more intense as more jump cuts are added that feature Kendrick acting out the many references within the verse itself. The video ends with a free Kendrick linking up with fellow Black Hippy member ScHoolboy Q who throws up gang signs as the song and video fade out.
The video for “DNA” effectively matched the intensity of the song while also setting itself apart from the rest of the videos that accompanied DAMN, making it one of the most memorable videos of 2017. It might have been the best video of 2017, but then Jay-Z dropped the film for “4:44.”
By: Devyn Imholt
Childish Gambino has had one of the most impressive artistic decades of anyone in the entertainment industry. Albums like Camp (2011), Because the Internet (2013), and Awaken, My Love! (2016) have shown how versatile he is artistically, changing musical styles on every project, and even accompanying Because the Internet with a full-length screenplay (which is almost as good as the album itself).
Couple that with starring roles in some of the decade’s biggest shows and franchises —Atlanta, The Lion King, and Spider-Man: Homecoming to name a few— and it’s not hard to see how Gambino became such a pop-culture phenomenon.
However, I doubt anything could have prepared us for how revolutionary his music video for “This Is America” would be. Directed by Atlanta collaborator Hiro Murai, “This Is America” is an onslaught of all the ugly sides of our country, anchored by Gambino’s charisma and impeccable dancing. It’s an incredibly poignant piece, addressing themes like police brutality, institutional racism, Jim Crow, and other subjects with aplomb. Most of these ideas are tackled very subtly, containing most of the chaos to the background of certain shots, but if enough attention is paid to the various on-goings, you are sure to get a ton out of it.
It’s one of many instances where Gambino has attacked political issues with the kind of artistic flourish that separates him from similar artists. Permeating beyond the Hip Hop arena and discussed in classrooms across America, “This is America” is the most iconic Hip Hop music video of 2018.
By: Pat Shanahan
Jay-Z and Beyoncé rented out The Louvre in Paris for a music video. That’s it, that’s the blurb.
The amount of black excellence that was encapsulated in the music video for “Apeshit” exemplified all of the traits that the power couple have: grace, beauty and elegance. They went and filled the iconic museum—home to some of the most notable European art in the world— with Black bodies and were fully unapologetic about it. That’s monumental within itself.
The Carters not only reminded us of the power that the Black dollar has, but also presented Blackness as an art form. The juxtaposition of their black bodies occupying this affluent space, which is meant to honor only the finest of art, while simultaneously celebrating their own excellence is an assertion of their power and legacy. No other duo on this planet has the level of influence to make themselves the center of attention while standing in front of the Mona Lisa.
As The Louvre emblazons art to be appreciated and observed forever, so will The Carters. Foreva’, eva’.
By: Jewél Jackson
Lil Nas X took the world by storm with his country rap hit “Old Town Road,” a song that would go on to become the longest charting number one single in American history and go diamond.
After achieving such a feat, it’s difficult to make the video meet the songs expectations. Would Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” music video be able to live up to the hype? The answer is yes, and then some.
With a cohesive story along with a variety of cameos from Haha Davis, Chris Rock, Vince Staples, Rico Nasty, and Diplo, Lil Nas X accurately brings “Old Town Road” to life in a perfect old western fashion. The video was able to encapsulate the fun, meme-centric nature that the song itself conveyed with its mimicking of classic western movie aesthetics meshed with modern Hip Hop tropes. The scene switch from the wild west to the present—peaking with a horse vs. vehicle drag race against Vince Staples— is perfectly placed. The comedic value in the contrast between Lil Nas X’s cowboy get-up and horse in the hood is also a great commentary towards X’s fusion of both the worlds of country and Hip Hop.
Throughout the video, Lil Nas X is accepted and embraced in these two communities as he meets up with Billy Ray Cyrus and performs in the local “Old Town Hall.” This video was able to successfully translate everything great about the song and more, making it the most iconic video of 2019. Plus the record went diamond...I just had to say that again.
By: Devyn Imholt
devyn, jewel, pat, jordan, camryn