When video killed the radio star, its number-one accomplice was undoubtedly hip-hop. The then-nascent genre quickly became known for producing some of the most innovative and influential clips to accompany the hit singles that were also changing the way music fans dressed, listened, and talked for the next three decades to come.
And while music videos may have declined in importance and impact for some other genres in the past decade, hip-hop remains one of the more influential genres in the visual medium, often sparking or predicting trends months, even years in advance. Rap videos have a tendency to resonate and stick in our minds, even years after their releases, with imaginative and eye-catching imagery.
Below are the most influential videos from each year of the 2010s. Some weren’t the biggest videos or even the best, but they were the visuals that lived with us long after they arrived to shake up the culture and the way we consume it in the 2010s, and likely in the decade ahead.
2010: Kanye West — “Runaway” Feat. Pusha T
The video that kicked off the modern era of Kanye — and by extension, the modern era of rappers influenced and inspired by Kanye’s maniacal dedication to polyglot creative control. Pre-Hawaii Kanye was one sort of beast, but after he came home and crafted his first “short film,” he became the prototypical version of the god he always imagined himself to be. Now, ballerinas crop up in rap videos with semi-regularity and ‘Ye’s musical progeny craft ever more elaborate, intensely “artistic” videos; none will ever match the simple pleasure of hearing “You know your girlfriend’s a bird, right?”
2011: Tyler The Creator — “Yonkers”
The first time I saw Tyler The Creator seemingly eat a roach in stark black-and-white, not only was I grossed out beyond belief, but I also knew that Tyler was about to come to define a generation of in-your-face, DIY, young artists with a “f*ck it all” attitude and a startlingly easy, unpracticed grace. Kevin Abstract, Cole Bennett, and many of today’s most out-there independent musical filmmakers owe a debt to Tyler — and they all know it, too.
2012: Kanye West, Big Sean, Pusha T, 2 Chainz — “Mercy”
After “Runaway” cemented Kanye’s musical genius, “Mercy” established that his cult status could be conferred to just about everything he touched. The posse cut made GOOD Music the rap-centric record label to watch for the 2010s, exposed new sides to jokesters Big Sean and 2 Chainz to a broader audience I’m not sure they’d have otherwise, and sparked the beginnings of Pusha T’s career resurgence as the new avatar of wild-eyed coke rap.
2013: ASAP Rocky — “F*ckin’ Problems” Feat. 2 Chainz, Drake, and Kendrick Lamar
While all four artists were established stars by the time “F*ckin’ Problems” took over the airwaves, the video for the song was the first time they all shared a single platform at once — and the last. It was also the time that each adopted something from the others — Kendrick Lamar became a fashion plate, ASAP Rocky was acknowledged as a premier lyricist, Drake loaned out his indefatigable star power to his collaborators and was in turn blessed with some of 2 Chainz’ charisma — a thing that, up until that moment, it seemed he lacked. “F*ckin’ Problems” was a f*ckin’ problem for the rap game, making the fact that none of these peers have collaborated since a huge shame.
2014: Bobby Shmurda — “Hot N****”
“Hot N****” by itself isn’t the most innovative or creative video, but the way it permeated the public consciousness represented a shift in how rap stars are made. I’m referring, of course, to the infamous Vine taken from the video, the six-second clip of Bobby’s hat elevating to the stratosphere and the Brooklyn rapper hitting his “shmoney dance” which invaded our social feeds and endeared him to our hearts. From this moment forward, it seemed all you needed to blow up was a suitably viral moment and you too could be the next rising star. RIP Vine.
2015: Kendrick Lamar — “Alright”
The summer of 2015 may very well be remembered as the moment political and social awareness crashed into our every day lives with the death of Mike Brown in Ferguson the year before. It was the summer that “wokeness” began to once again saturate Black music and leak out into the far corners of pop culture, beginning with the Afro-centric leanings of To Pimp A Butterfly and the harrowing imagery of “Alright,” which synthesized the emotions simmering in Black peoples’ subconscious and galvanized a movement that said Black Lives Matter. We’re still waiting for a full version of the video’s interlude, too.
2016: Drake — “Hotline Bling”
Dread it. Run from it. The “Hotline Bling” video still rattles around somewhere in the back of your mind with vivid, HD clarity, from the James Turrell-inspired, lightbox stage to Drake’s sweater to that delightfully cheesy, old-man dance of his, every part of this video has entered pop culture canon. It’s the video that made Drake the ultimate meme and finally proved once and for all that he’s been in on the joke all along.
2017: Kendrick Lamar — “Humble”
The questions and expectations looming over Kendrick Lamar’s career in the wake of not just one, but two groundbreaking, influential albums were shattered, disintegrated, and sublimated upon the arrival of the video for “Humble.” It not only introduced his next artistic phase, but also launched a pitched Twitter debate, gave Kendrick his first-ever No. 1 single, and became the second-most streamed song ever, sparking dozens of covers, remixes, and parodies that proved that Kendrick is every bit the star he deserves to be, despite his relatively low-key, anti-celebrity standing.
2018: Cardi B — “I Like It” Feat. J Balvin and Bad Bunny
“This Is America” had a moment, true. The range of remakes bordered on ridiculous, some just downright annoying. But after all the psychoanalysis and exegesis and performative paroxysms of praise for the clip, I still can’t help feeling like it always just boiled down to a bunch of noise with little to say. So sure, “I Like It” was less provocative and ostentatiously “artistic,” but consider some facts: It was the first time three Latin acts combined to take over US radio, delivering Bad Bunny and J Balvin their first US No. 1s and proving that Cardi’s No. 1 for “Bodak Yellow” was no fluke. It was filmed while Cardi was pregnant with her daughter, which is groundbreaking in its own right. And it currently has 300 million more views that “This Is America.” Pete Rodriguez even approves. “I Like It” isn’t just America — although it is a reflection of what the country has been and is becoming — it’s global.
2019: DaBaby — “Walker Texas Ranger”
It’s always a little controversial to pick “most influential” work without having the luxury of time and hindsight to really confirm the designation. With that being said, I feel relatively confident in saying that no video for 2019 will end up having a more lasting impact on rap and pop culture than “Walker Texas Ranger.”
Here’s where the mob descends to decry this pick with outraged defenses of “Old Town Road,” but the official video for “Old Town Road” released in May, a good five months after the song had already become a cultural phenomenon. The video, stuffed to the gills with celebrity cameos, and a goofy, easygoing, cowboy humor was more of a coronation, capping Lil Nas X’s explosive rise to ubiquity over the preceding five months. But those elements were preceded as well, ironically, five months before, by DaBaby’s hilarious introductory video.
Think about that: DaBaby was on the yee-haw agenda a good five months before the defining video of the movement (at least to mainstream audiences) was released. And from “Walker Texas Ranger” grew a buzz that helped send DaBaby’s debut album, Baby On Baby to No. 7 on the Billboard 200, securing the 27-year-old North Carolinian MC a spot on XXL‘s Freshman 2019 cover, leading to his sophomore release, Kirk, landing at No. 1 just seven months later. “Walker” launched DaBaby from a sensational local news story for shooting a guy at Walmart to a household name, lit the fuse on the whole yee-haw agenda, and is a marvelously side-splitting clip to boot. It dropped on New Year’s Day and set the tone for the next 10 months to come. If that isn’t influence, I don’t know what is.
Some of the artists mentioned are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.