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

'Wild Style' (1983)

No film made before or since has captured the beautiful innocence of early hip-hop like Wild Style. Underground filmmaker Charlie Ahearn — his no-budget martial-arts movie The Deadly Art of Survival is worth hunting down — adopted a loosely scripted, cinéma vérité style by casting non-actors and real-life graffiti-writing couple Lee Quinones and Lady Pink as the romantic leads, and Fab 5 Freddy as the impresario who tries to introduce Lee to journalist Virginia (played by the gallerist and downtown aesthete Patti Astor) and Manhattan's gallery scene. The resulting class conflict, and questions about authenticity and "selling out," continue to resonate today.

There are vivid performances of Grandmaster Flash spinning records in his mom's kitchen, Cold Crush Brothers and the Fantastic Five trading battle rhymes on a basketball court, and a rousing finale at the East River Amphitheater, where Rammellzee roamed the stage with a shotgun. The soundtrack, which features beats produced by Chris Stein of Blondie and Fab 5 Freddy and live performances by Double Trouble and other old-school legends, is arguably the first great hip-hop album.

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