10 Obscure Hip Hop Documentaries You Need To Watch

10 Obscure Hip Hop Documentaries You Need to Watch


By John Morrison

In the wake of the recent release of Saboteur Media’s masterful film Stretch And Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives the interest in the visual documentation of some of the lesser known corners of Hip Hop history and culture is evident. I’ve put together a list of 10 relatively obscure Hip Hop documentaries and films that you may not be familiar with.

10. Big Fun In The Big Town

Originally produced for broadcast on Dutch television in 1986, Big Fun In The Big Town has proven to be highly influential, inspiring an entire generation of European Hip Hop fans. Big Fun In The Big Town is beautifully shot and feature performances and interviews with a who’s who of the 80’s Rap scene; LL Cool J, RUN-DMC, Schoolly D, Doug E. Fresh, The Last Poets, Roxanne Shante and Biz Markie.

9. X-ERCIZE #1

Directed by John Carluccio, the filmmaker behind the classic DJ/Turntablism documentary Battle Sounds,  X-ERCIZE #1 is probably the most intimate and raw look at the burgeoning Turntablist movement of the mid 90’s, starring one it’s most innovative crews: The X-Ecutioners (Formerly known as The X-Men). Unlike other flashier DJing documentaries, Carluccio gives you an uncut, fly-on-the-wall look into the X-Ecutioners practice sessions. As Mista Sinista, Rob Swift and Roc Raida (R.I.P.) rip through routines complete with expert scratching and beat juggling, they make mistakes and discuss their craft deeply, shedding light on the very Jazz-like tension that exists between rigorous and intentional practice and spontaneous improvisation.

8. 100% Galsen: Hip Hop In Senegal

Directed by pioneering Senegalese MC Keyti (Cheikh Sene) 100% Galsen is one of the best documentaries on Hip Hop culture on the African continent. Featuring a host of Senegalese MCs, DJs and Producers discussing the sociopolitical conditions and challenges that shape their country’s Hip Hop scene all while backed by an impressive soundtrack of local heroes. 

7. J Dilla – Still Shining

Directed by Philadelphia based  filmmaker Brian “B. Kyle” Atkins, Still Shining compiles interview footage of Dilla’s mother Maureen Yancy and a host of collaborators. Filmed in the immediate aftermath of Dilla’s death, “Still Shining”succeeds as a warmer, more raw counterpart to the Stussy X Stones Throw Dilla documentary.

6. Reck’N Shop: Live From Bklyn

Probably the rawest film on the list, Reck’N Shop is an unfiltered look into the Freestyle dance style that emerged in the wake of the commercialization of B-Boying. Centered around the Mop Top dance crew, who’s members would later form notable underground Rap groups Ten Thieves and Mystidious Misfits, the film is powerful, bubbling with life and energy.

5. Founding Fathers: The Untold Story of Hip Hop

Arguably the most controversial Hip Hop documentary that has been released in recent memory, Founding Fathers…. challenges Hip Hop’s well documented South Bronx origins. Shedding light on the work of DJ’s outside of the Bronx like Grandmaster Flowers, Pete DJ Jones, Disco Twins, DJ Hollywood, King Charles and more who played Disco, Soul and Reggae records at outdoor jams, predating Hip Hop’s acknowledged founders, Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa .Utilizing interviews with lesser knowns and living legends alike, this extremely thorough and informative film provides a fuller portrait of New York’s incredibly diverse DJ/Soundsystem culture as it existed throughout the late 60s/early 70’s. Even if it doesn’t convince you that Hip Hop itself didn’t originate in the South Bronx, Founding Fathers… is a must see for anyone seeking to deepen their knowledge of the history of Hip Hop and DJ culture.

4. Midwest Femceez

More often than not, the stories in Hip Hop culture are filtered through the perspectives of men. Midwest Femceez is unique because it focuses on up and coming women MCs. Raw and DIY the film’s subjects address sexuality, touring, motherhood and the challenges they face as independent artists trying to make it in the Rap industry.

3. Pete Rock – Soul Survivor Documentary

Essentially and EPK-style film shot in order to promote Pete Rock’s classic 1998 album of the same name Soul Survivor is a true gem. Fans are treated to candid footage of Pete a heavy cast of guest stars working in the studio creating Beats and recording vocals. Necessary viewing for anyone interested in seeing how Hip Hop classics were made.

2. Zoo York Mixtape

In the early 90’s a group of NYC skaters and graphic designs sought to create a skateboard company that could capture the raw energy of the city’s Hip Hop influenced Skate culture. Originally released in 1997, the Zoo York Mixtape epitomizes this marriage of Skateboarding and Hip Hop. Fusing amazing street skating footage intercut with footage of freestyles from the legendary stretch and bobbito radio show the Zoo York Mixtape perfectly captures the look and spirit of pre-911 New York.

1. Stolen Moments – Red Hot + Cool

Originally broadcast on public television at the height of the AIDS epidemic Stolen Moments…. is hands down one of the most powerful and socially relevant Hip Hop films ever made. Much like the 1994 compilation of the same name Stolen Moments… pairs 90’s Hip Hop mainstays (GURU, The Pharcyde, Digable Planets, The Roots etc.) with living Jazz legends (Lester Bowie,  Ron Carter, Pharaoh Sanders, Joe Sample etc.) The fiery Hip Hop/Jazz performances are intercut with interviews from the artists and AIDS survivors discussing the personal and political implications of the disease and it’s impact on the community.

Honorable Mentions:

We Are One: Street Music In New Orleans

The Pioneers – British Hip Hop Documentary

Hali Halisi (Rap As an Alternative Medium in Tanzania)

John Morrison – Culture Cypher (Tuesday June 23rd Cassette Mix)

https://www.mixcloud.com/widget/iframe/?embed_type=widget_standard&embed_uuid=eee65c61-1e3e-43de-9d12-25684eb78a0d&feed=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.mixcloud.com%2Fjohn-morrison%2Fjoh%2F&hide_cover=1&hide_tracklist=1&replace=0n><a href=”https://www.mixcloud.com/?

Tuesday June 23rd 2015 has been a particularly challenging day for me. In the end everything worked itself out so I decided to record this mix during tonight’s gorgeous sunset. The mix was recorded in one take on two turntables, directly to cassette. Like most things I do, it’s spacey and weird. Featuring music from ‪#‎PlushLords‬ Rhetoric Wallace Doper Jones Baghirbey Olu Bradford Ohbliv Chic Raw, Alan Hawkshaw, The Internet and mad other dope people. Enjoy!

John Morrison – Culture Cypher (Tuesday June 23rd Cassette Mix)