For many, the ’90s were the Golden era of Hip-Hop where the genre reached its artistic pinnacle. Whether you subscribe to that belief or not, you can’t deny that the era provided us with unprecedented balance. While there were acts dominating the pop charts, the underground stayed strapped with grimy music to appease the most hardcore fans. And what better way did they demonstrate their griminess than through hard-hitting, black-and-white videos?
To pay tribute to those days, we decided to highlight a few classic black and white videos that we always thought were dope.
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1. Ed O.G. & Da Bulldogs – “I Gotta Have It”
Boston emcee Ed O.G. used black and white with brief flashes of color to represent the juxtaposition of Ed’s lyrics that swayed from positive to aggressive from verse to verse, and the rollicking organ sample that alternates with a jazzy saxophone solo.
2. Group Home – “Supa Star”
DJ Premier carried this New York duo to greatness with some of the best production of his illustrious career. Malachi the Nutcracker and Lil Dap won’t make anyone’s top 25 lyricists list, but they were entertaining, getting by on pure aggression and energy. The video for “Supa Star” represented the harsh streets of New York City, where beauty can be found in some of the ugliest places.
3. LL Cool J – “Mama Said Knock You Out”
You can’t keep a good man down. After the glossy, materialistic, leanings of Walking With A Panther proved to be about ten years ahead of its time, fans and the media began to think LL Cool J had gone soft. He needed the right song and the right video to remind the world he was raw. Enter “Mama Said Knock You Out,” the video that changed all of that.
4. The Roots – “Concerto of the Desperado”
In “Concerto of the Desperado,” The Roots reside in a dystopian world where the elements of hip-hop are literally relics, buried beneath the ground. The hazy visuals and classic ’90s fish eye lens create a downright spooky vibe.
5. Craig Mack Ft. The Notorious B.I.G., Rampage The Last Boy Scout, LL Cool J, and Busta Rhymes – “Flavor In Ya Ear” (Remix)
The blueprint for all of the cameo-heavy, high wattage remix videos that followed, the “Flava In Ya Ear” remix is one of the most influential hip-hop videos ever. Ever the visionary, Hype Williams shot the stars against a stark white background, using the negative space and black and white film as a visual representation of the rawness of Craig Mack’s breakout hit.
6. Blackstar – “Respiration”
Point blank, this is one of the best rap songs of all time and your opinion to the contrary is wrong. As Mos, Kweli and Common paint a picture of their respective cities, the black and white treatment actually illuminates the incredible details of each lyric.
7. DMX – “Get At Me Dog”
This song changed the course of Hip-Hop. While his peers were getting jiggy with shiny suits, X killed that noise with a video so dark it got banned by MTV. Admit it. You barked along with the ad-libs.
8. EPMD – “Crossover”
EPMD are legends to say the least and “Crossover” is a no-nonsense take on their refusal to sell out. This is personified by their used of a black and white video. Even without selling out, they still became greats.
9. Pete Rock and CL Smooth – “Mecca And The Soul Brother”
This is pure old school greatness full of break dancing, t-shirts tucked in jorts and the “rap strut.” Everything great in Hip-Hop’s yesterday can be found in these three minutes.
10. Tupac – “Brenda’s Got A Baby”
And here we have Tupac’s storytelling opus. The story of Brenda is legendary and has become iconic in Hip-Hop lore. Here, the black and white imagery shows the sheer hopelessness of Brenda’s situation. Twenty years later, the video is as gripping as ever.