Rappers are the biggest characters in American pop culture. When “normal” filming doesn’t get quite fit the magnitude of a moment, it’s only right that they receive the animation treatment. This is a list of 12 of the best animated videos in hip-hop history. This is by no means a comprehensive list, or an attempt to be the canon, but each entry is impactful for its own reason. Some of the animated videos are a contingency plan in the absence of an artist. Others help visually symbolise the bars and themes of a song. But they all work to provide a welcome change of pace in the sometimes tropey-world of music videos.
Kanye West — Good Morning / Heartless
Kanye West at his peak was so creative that he made this list twice. Good Morning is an anime-esque voyage to Universe City, a futuristic locale where Kanye — via his iconic bear iconography — is having a rough day before being swallowed up into a psychedelic world, putting on his shutter shades and ultimately achieving Graduation in the intro track to the album of the same name. Heartless is a Hype Williams-helmed ode to Ralph Bakshi’s 1981 American Pop film. The video features a rotoscope animation, in which real people were filmed and drawn over.
Eminem — Shake That Feat. Nate Dogg
Eminem’s Shake That wasn’t his most beloved single, but the creative video is worth a mention on the list. Shake That follows the theme of Eminem and Nate Dogg’s tale of late-night debauchery, with a notably inebriated Slim Shady and Nate charging forward amid clips of their romp through scantily clad women. The whimsically animated video gives off the vibe of an Adult Swim cartoon. It’s also interesting that Eminem and Nate Dogg are animated differently.
Jay-Z — The Story Of OJ
Jay-Z’s The Story Of OJ depicted the chronicles of Jaybo, a Sambo-like figure with a purposeful resemblance with the legendary MC. The video’s sleepy black-and-white visuals serves as the perfect companion to Jay-Z’s commentary on the inevitability of racism, no matter how big or transcendent one views themselves to be.
Tupac — Do For Love
Unfortunately, Do For Love is another video on the list that essentially had to be animated. The Bobby Caldwell-sampling single is a song from R U Still Down (Remember Me), Tupac’s second posthumous album. The Bill Parker-created video depicted Tupac in a mansion and on the block, intermittently shifting from animation to claymation. The ambitious video explored a range of animation techniques, perhaps trying to parallel the myriad personalities of the late rapper.
Travis Scott — 90210
Travis Scott’s 90210 is the second Hype Williams entry on the list. The ambitious video for 90210’s tale of wayward love follows in the footsteps of Good Morning, featuring an animated version of Travis traversing an animated universe. He’s romancing a censored love interest (including “full-frontal nudity” featuring Barbie doll-like figurines), then turning into a Godzilla like-figure, destroying the town while zooted out of his mind. The song’s beat switch then makes way for a tree to gradually grow throughout the second half of the video.
Gucci Mane — All My Children
The video for Gucci Mane’s All My Children highlights Guwop’s impact on the “New Atlanta” and overall hip-hop scene with colorful hodgepodge of a who’s who of young rappers. There appear to be depictions of rappers like Young Thug, Peewee Longway, Lil Yachty, Quavo, Lil Uzi Vert and more. It’s unclear how each artist feels about their depiction, but Gucci Mane’s presence in paving the way for many of them is hard to deny.