Despite a steady rise throughout the 80s on both East and West coasts of the US — hip hop truly hit the stratosphere during the nineties as both a sound and cultural movement, catapulting scratchin’ vinyl and swift production into the mainstream. Its domination of the charts grew alongside the swelling popularity of music videos and, of course, MTV — a hotbed for the over-the-top, iconic rap music videos that would come to be. Through hours of tireless research, we've compiled a list of 10 of the best. A selection of fabled videos from the likes of Missy, Busta Rhymes and of course, Wu-Tang Clan.
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Check out the list, in no particular order, below.
Big Pun feat. Joe ‘Still Not A Player’
This track — a remix of Joe’s ‘Don’t Wanna Be a Player’ including a sample of Brenda Russell's 'A Little Bit of Love’ — didn’t receive due recognition until its music video was released. Arriving on a helicopter is always the best way to start a music vid – it’s not crucial as no music is playing and no narrative is provided, but Big Pun does look pretty cool. After this random intro, we cut to see Big Pun and Joe outside two neighbouring clubs named after them. Big Pun enters a disco styled club while Joe is sat surrounded by dancing women. The more R&B styled track, led by Joe’s smooth vocals, is also noted in the video as it doesn’t follow the typical hardcore scene but rather shots of Latin dancing and glittering dancefloors. Overall, it’s one of the ‘cheerier’ hip hop videos out there.
Busta Rhymes ‘Gimme Some More’
Co-directed by Hype Williams and Busta himself, this video includes the classic nineties fisheye lens shots that defined the era. This distorted look isn’t even necessary as the video is already extremely surreal. Starting in a similar style to the Looney Tunes cartoons, graphics and trumpets introduce the track, alluding to this very caricature styled video. The music begins and we are looking into a child-like drawing of a garden where a young Busta is standing as the lyrics explain “playing in the front yard of the crib”. After the child bumps his head a mother-like figure comes to check on him. Next thing you know both characters' eyes are swirling, and young Busta turns into what can only be described as small blue monster. It’s really hard to tell if this is a fun cartoon or a nightmare. A personal favourite out of the many characters Busta plays in this video is when he is dressed as Yosemite Sam with foam guns but there are plenty of other great costumes.
Fugees ‘Ready Or Not’
It’s an absolute banger that I think everyone is born knowing, however, the music video is something else. There are many theories of what ‘Ready Or Not’ is about, from the death of a burglar to the Fugees asking other rappers if they were ‘ready’ for their influence on the hip hop scene. You’d think that the song’s narrative would become clear once you’d watched the music video, however, as soon as you see the opening scene of helicopters flying over the sea as a man on a jet ski avoids explosions, the mystery only deepens. And duly, we are transported deep into the ocean where Lauryn Hill sings the famous chorus in a submarine of all places. Scenes of dusty war and motorcycle chases pop up throughout the video, making it unlike any other hip hop video of the time.
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Missy Elliott ‘The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)’
The main reason this makes it onto the list is the look. Blown up in some sort of inflatable bin bag, Missy Elliott dances into the fish-eye lens with sunglasses that seem to wrap up around her head. This outrageous look makes it one of the most renown music videos of all time. Directed by the legendary Hype Williams, the video even includes cameos from Lil’ Kim, Total, SWV, Puff Daddy, and more. As I’m sure you won’t be surprised, it went on to get nominated for four awards such as Best Rap Video and Breakthrough Video at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards. The unprecedented and unique style of the music video saw Elliott go on to recreate similar styled videos with ‘Get Your Freak On’ in 2001 and ‘Work it’ in 2002.
Eminem ‘My Name Is’
Towards the end of the nineties, music videos were everywhere and had become a huge part of the music industry. One of these breakthrough videos is the classic ‘My Name Is’ by Eminem. Showing a couple watching ‘The Slim Shady Show’ on TV, we are navigated to a range of different characters played by Eminem himself. Flicking through the channels of this nineties TV we see Eminem as a presenter, mad scientist, ventriloquist dummy and even in a straitjacket with Dr. Dre as his therapist. Some of the more controversial shots of the video include Eminem dressed as the then-president Bill Clinton, as well as dressing in a another shot as Marilyn Manson. It’s a high-budget music video that will forever be entertaining to watch.
Dr. Dre feat. Snoop Dogg ‘Nuthin’ But A G Thang’
Apart from already being a classic hip hop tune, this music video is exactly how you’d imagine every rap video of the nineties should be. Showing raw imagery of Compton and some brilliant acting from Dre, we feel as if we are walking through his and Snoop Dogg’s lives. Cruising lowriders and house parties, gives the audience a real insight into what Compton was really all about rather than the stereotype of crime and violence. You are really welcomed into the life of a ‘G’.
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Beastie Boys ‘Intergalactic’
It was a tough choice between ‘Intergalactic’ and ‘Sabotage’ but the chaotic visuals of ‘Intergalactic’ won. Outer space scientists crashing into Tokyo controlling a giant robot through the city had definitely not been done before in the music video world. The satirical video is not as hardcore as other hip hop videos, but they are just ‘boys’ after all. Running around the streets of Tokyo in construction suits, the boys cause havoc with unscripted scenes through Shibuya and Shinjuku train station leaving civilians noticeably confused by the strange flash mob. Next thing you know, the giant robot that is destroying Tokyo is fighting a magical wizard-like octopus. Yes, it’s a bizarre video but you can’t argue that it’s not ridiculously funny to watch.
Wu-Tang Clan feat. Cappadonna ‘Triumph’
Including every member of Wu-Tang, this is a pretty special track. End of the world-like news reports begin this video as killer bees are reported to be attacking New York City, ahead of flashing images of badly edited bees swarming around people and Ol' Dirty Bastard on the roof of a skyscraper surrounded by helicopters. Mad explosions of fire and images of the Clan begin to montage on the screen. A favourite scene is when a swarm of bees lower to the ground, releasing the members riding motorcycles. It really seems like whoever edited this was told they could do whatever they wanted.
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2Pac feat. Dr. Dre ‘California Love’
This Mad Max-inspired music video and another Hype Williams masterpiece marks 2Pac’s comeback after being released from prison. There were two videos released for this one track but the post-apocalyptic view of Oakland in this version is more impressive. Filmed on the exact set of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, this video gives off Burning Man style festivities with people dressed in scrapped mental dance within the Thunderdome. Driving through the dessert on make-shift jeeps and motorbikes, an eye-patched Dr. Dre and 2Pac rap the famous track. To end the music video, we find out that this Mad Max world is all just 2Pac’s dream.
The Pharcyde ‘Drop’
We find The Pharcyde sat on a pavement and watch them arise and begin to walk down the street. Something isn’t right, however. Why are they walking so strangely? Well, what makes this seemingly simple music video so special is that it was filmed entirely backwards. Playing around with falling to the ground the member look as if they are defeating gravity. Following the boys, we are then taken to the street where it becomes a lot clearer as bikes are cycled backwards and bystanders walk the wrong way. The reverse of a painting they all create is one of the more iconic scenes within the video which is very satisfying to watch. It defines the creativity that flourished in the era.
Becky Buckle is Mixmag's Digital Intern, follow her on Twitter