What makes a video one of the best of the year? Certainly, it starts with the song the video is for. A great video for a bad song won’t cut it — but even the best song won’t automatically make for a good video.
We’re looking for clever concepts, cool choreography, stunning cinematography, and in many cases, high comedy. There are plenty of ways to approach shooting a music video and many are relatively straightforward. In most cases, artists and directors pick a location, shoot the performance, and occasionally add in effects and edits to ensure it’s not just three minutes of rapping into the camera.
But these videos, the best ones of the year, find amusing, entertaining, intriguing ways to set themselves apart from the pack. Maybe it’s an old-school, glossy approach reminiscent of the days of Hype Williams’ million-dollar budgets. Maybe it’s the opposite, a guerilla approach straight out of the Odd Future DIY playbook.
Whichever technique is used, execution is everything. When the concept and the performance tie perfectly into the song being shot, even a simple idea can be elevated to being something worth remembering and returning to over and over again. That perfect alchemy is what makes these the best rap videos of 2019.
15. City Girls — “Twerk” Feat. Cardi B
This one isn’t hard. It’s a song called “Twerk.” The video is about a real-life twerk contest held by City Girls for $25,000. Everyone acquits themselves. Certain things aren’t rocket science.
14. Doja Cat — “Juicy” Feat. Tyga
I have always maintained that no one is ever really “canceled” and Doja Cat has always been my exhibit A. When Rap Twitter decided that her teenage use of slurs meant her “Mooo!” success should be erased, all it took was a fruit-themed video and a few well-placed glimpses of Doja’s — ahem — assets to wash away any memory of her prior transgressions.
13. ASAP Rocky — “Babushka Boi”
Playing off the old Dick Tracy film and its colorful cast of gangster movie archetypes, Rocky’s latest video is a simple, effective tale of a successful heist — another favored trope of rap videos in 2019 — which distinguishes itself through its cartoony aesthetic.
12. Chance The Rapper — “Hot Shower” Feat. MadeInTYO and DaBaby
Put Jake Johnson in anything and I will watch it. The Stumptown star clearly has a lot of fun with his role here, while the video’s other goofy vignettes include references to 1990s Nickelodeon, Chicago’s vibrant dance culture, and McLovin from Superbad.
11. Tierra Whack — “Unemployed”
A silly slice of surrealism, the true triumph of Whack’s oddball video is that the little cute/creepy anthropomorphic potato is a practical effect — one she actually brings with her on tour and incorporates into her live show. If that isn’t committing to the bit, nothing is.
10. Missy Elliott — “Throw It Back”
Missy’s comeback EP functions as both a refresher course in the iconic rapper’s historic achievements and a reminder that she hasn’t lost a step. Teyana Taylor proves adept at stepping into the Hype Williams role as a director who can capture all of the fun, surreal energy of her subject.
9. Big Sean — “Single Again” Feat. Jhene Aiko
Between its sweetly-portrayed narrative of a troubled relationship and its earnest message to “wake up and smell the roses,” there’s plenty to root for from Big Sean’s comeback single.
8. Cardi B and Bruno Mars — “Please Me”
The “boy meets girl, then their respective crews have a dance-off” video concept extends back to the ‘90s, but it has since fallen out of fashion. Cardi and Bruno bring it back with polish and panache, along with some nifty nods to Chicano car culture that you don’t need to be an Angeleno to enjoy.
7. DaBaby — “Bop On Broadway”
Remember when I said it’s “controversial to pick the most influential work without the luxury of time and hindsight” in the Most Influential Videos Of The 2010s? I stand by my pick of “Walker Texas Ranger” due to it jumpstarting DaBaby’s mainstream ascent, but man, “Bop On Broadway” is the video that confirms he’s an absolute star.
6. 21 Savage — “A Lot” Feat. J. Cole
One of the few non-comedic, non-dance-oriented videos here, “A Lot” instead wins by its powerful, nuanced portrayal of a family unit through their celebrations of unity and their lonesome personal defeats. The cinematography is gorgeously directed by Aisultan Seitov, who is only 22 years old, but has shot for Offset, The Dream, and Nike.
5. Lizzo — “Juice”
With its fuzzy, VHS aesthetic and unapologetic embrace of all of Lizzo, both “Juice” and its video became ubiquitous symbols of unabashed femininity in all its forms. An anthem for every girl who knows she’s the “whole damn meal,” this video was the spark that kickstarted Lizzo’s ascent to superstardom.
4. DJ Khaled — “Higher” Feat. Nipsey Hussle and John Legend
Shot prior to Nipsey’s untimely death, the sunny visuals suggest the late rapper as an angelic, messianic figure — exactly as he would come to be portrayed in the months after his passing. The effect is chilling but comforting as a final testament to Nipsey’s legacy of self-determination and community activism.
3. Vince Staples — “The Vince Staples Show: Episode 1 and 2”
Admit it: You never knew Ray J was so funny. It’s rare to see artists poke fun at themselves the way the Carson singer does in the second episode of Vince’s latest visual experiment. But the moment he appears on screen it’s clear he willing to lampoon his own obsession with self-branding, letting Vince — usually wisecracking his way through these things — play the straight man.
2. Tyler The Creator — “Earfquake”
As Tyler said at the listening party/performance for his Igor release: “The concept was executed!” Envisioning the bizarre alter ego — not to mention, the presentation for his unhinged performance — is one thing, but Tyler went all-in, providing a memorable visual that shows just how far he’s come since yelling “Kill people, burn sh*t, f*ck school.”
1. YBN Cordae and Anderson Paak — “RNP”
Blaxploitation style videos were all the rage this year (see: Megan Thee Stallion’s “Realer,” Skepta’s “Greaze Mode,” and 2 Chainz’s “Rule The World”), but none was as funny or as committed to the bit as this one, which benefits from its appropriately funky soundtrack and Cordae’s utterly ridiculous muttonchops.
Some artists mentioned above are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.