It’s somewhat surprising that it took more than two decades after his untimely passing to get a big screen tribute to the late Tupac Shakur. Tupac was, and to an extent remains, the most magnetic figure in the annals of hip-hop. Hell, the guy’s commercial prime only lasted a few years, and yet, he is still regarded my many (including yours truly) as the greatest rapper of all time.
But, alas, the time has come; All Eyez on Me, which documents the meteoric rise and many controversies of the late, great Tupac Shakur, finally hits theaters on Friday. Coincidentally enough, that would have been Tupac’s 46th birthday.
Whether All Eyez on Me goes the way of Straight Outta Compton (good) or Notorious (bad) in the archives of hip-hop biopics is to be determined, but one thing is for certain – a number of other hip-hop legends deserve the big-screen treatment as well.
While you certainly wouldn’t think so now, there was a time when DMX v. Jay-Z was a legit argument. The erstwhile Earl Simmons’ first five records all debuted at No. 1, and only one of his seven albums didn’t debut in the top spot – Year of the Dog...Again debuted at No. 2. Not only that, but DMX’s lyrics – particularly early on – rank among the darkest, most introspective lyrics in hip-hop. Plus, the personal issues are many. Multiple prison stints. Fathering 15 children. A conversion to Christianity. Bankruptcy. A near-death experience last year. Suffice to say, DMX’s life story doesn’t lack for content.
9. RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE
Sure, Rage was not technically a hip-hop group, but rather, a rock group with a hip-hop front man. That said, the group was downright revolutionary in its political approach. Whereas rock legends like the Beatles and Bob Dylan were fairly peaceful in their political and societal leanings, Rage kicked the door down and made its stance known in the loudest of ways. In hindsight, it’s almost surprising the band only released three proper studio albums; during that time, they became the voice of the disaffected and disenchanted. That said, little is known about the inner workings of the band and how it all fell apart, which might make for some nice allure in a cinematic telling of Rage’s story.
8. BEASTIE BOYS
Formed as a New York punk-rock group, the Beastie Boys evolved into one of the most noteworthy groups in hip-hop history. What began as a trio of immature types rapping about beers and boobs evolved into a politically conscious group that served as elder statesmen in the hip-hop game. The unfortunate death of Adam “MCA” Yauch from cancer in 2012 officially put an end to the Beastie Boys (fellow members Mike “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz opted not to continue out of respect to their late teammate), so now seems a good a time as any to tell the story of one of the most influential and unique acts in hip-hop history.
7. KANYE WEST
Back when Kanye was in full-throttle mode – he seems to have mellowed a bit of late – every day almost felt like a movie. Married to a reality TV star. Many, many controversial opinions. His ventures into fashion. A nervous breakdown. Lost amidst all the TMZ hoopla is the fact that, when he’s on, Kanye is about as good as it gets as a hip-hop producer. The mix of distinct music and public antics has made Kanye one of the most famous people on the planet; it would also make for interesting cinema.
Drake insists in his lyrics that his upbringing wasn’t all television appearances and first-class flights. He raps often about his struggles coming up and the dues he paid to become arguably the biggest rapper in the world. Whether that’s entirely accurate is certainly up for debate, but either way, it would make for a nice origin story. Started from the bottom, now he’s here? Let’s see how he did so.
5. SNOOP DOGG
Snoop Dogg has become a lovable character in recent years. He’s buddies with Martha Stewart, releases reggae albums, coaches youth football teams, and records hooks on catchy pop tracks. In short, Snoop Dogg is the rapper your mom probably likes. But there was a time when he ranked among the most controversial figures in all of pop culture. His music was front and center in the argument for musical censorship, citing the Dogg’s violent and misogynist lyrics. He was charged and eventually acquitted of murder in the shooting of a rival gang member. He was a member of the infamous Death Row Records. There’s a lot to unpack there, so why not do so on the big screen?
4. WU-TANG CLAN
Anyone who has ever seen the documentary Rock the Bells, in which a festival organizer (successfully, just barely) attempts to reunite all nine members of the Wu-Tang Clan on stage at the same time, is aware of the array of personalities and proclivities that vary throughout the group. Even today, some 24 years after Enter the Wu-Tang...36 Chambers shook the foundation of hip-hop, the album – one of the greatest in rap history – still resonates to this day. Charting the rise and fall of this historic group – and diving into the many talents and backstories of Method Man, the RZA, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and more – would make for one interesting film adaptation.
3. LAURYN HILL
A female in a male-dominated genre breaks the door down as part of one of the premier hip-hop groups of the 90s (the Fugees), goes solo and releases one of the finest albums of the decade (The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill), then … poof, gone from the public eye. Hill resurfaced for an ill-fated live acoustic album and has toured here and there (she is co-headlining a tour with Nas that stops at Smart Financial Centre on September 27), but she remains a mysterious figure who has yet to follow up her landmark debut. Hill’s story would make for a nice indie movie that delves into one of the most mythical figures in hip-hop history.
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No, 8 Mile doesn’t count. While a loose retelling of one of the most unpredictable characters in pop music history, 8 Mile strays a bit too far from the source material to serve as an actual biopic. Throw in the chaotic, on-again, off-again relationship with ex-wife Kim. Throw in the drug abuse, the suicide attempt, the dead-end jobs, and ultimately, one of the most successful careers in music history. Eminem is a guy who might very well be dead were it not for capitalizing on his one shot at fame; it’s a story that deserves telling on the big screen.
Jay-Z grew up poor, dropped out of high school and eventually turned to selling drugs to make ends meet. He’s now worth more than half a billion dollars, is friends with former President Barack Obama, has received Platinum albums aplenty, and is universally regarded as a living legend in the hip-hop game. Oh yeah, he’s also married to one of the world’s most famous women and arguably the biggest pop star on the planet. It’s a success story. It’s a redemption story. It’s a can’t-miss at the movie turnstiles.