From 'Wild Style' to '8 Mile': 20 Landmark Films in Hip-Hop History

A look back at the movies that shaped and defined the culture

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'Belly' (1998)

Narratively, Belly's tale of two drug-dealing friends expanding their business and waging turf wars was incomprehensible. There are escapades to Atlanta and Kingston, Jamaica, and a subplot involving an assassination attempt on civil-rights activist Dr. Ben Chavis. When DMX isn't grunting and barking out rants to his underlings, Nas stares vacantly like a comatose version of Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part II. Where music-video superstar Hype Williams impressed was in his visual aesthetic. He emptied his bag of tricks, from his famed fisheye-lens technique (best captured in a promising opening sequence set to Soul II Soul's "Back to Life") to the sooty outdoor sequences that made the film seem like a blurry dream. Under his direction, Belly displayed all the tropes of hip-hop's late-Nineties jiggy era and its ethos of nouveau-rich thuggin' — even if the film's actual content didn't fulfill its promise.

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