It’s impressive how much work goes into creating animated hip-hop music videos. Whether it be claymation or stop motion, they can go beyond the limits of conventional music videos, capturing the essence of a song and bringing it to life. Below is a list of picks for amazing, animated rap videos, though it shouldn’t be considered a comprehensive list of all the great ones out there. These animated hip-hop music videos are also listed by release date rather than by how they rank in quality, since each entry offers its own distinct features. Let’s get into them.
1. “Behind Bars“ — Slick Rick
When this single from his 1994 album was released, rapper Slick Rick was actually behind bars, which inspired the music video’s creation. Animated and directed by Sash Andranikian, the video satirically illustrates police brutality, incarceration and unfair judicial practices through traditional animation, reminiscent of a cartoon from MTV’s Liquid Television. Though most of the video lacks color, with the exception of vibrant reds in a few scenes, the animation is smooth, expressive and lively against the pitch black backdrop, which allows viewers to focus on what’s happening right in front of them. The visuals inspired by police sketches also tie in with the rapper’s message and theme.
2. “The Heist” — Jaylib (J Dilla & Madlib)
From the imaginative minds of Rory Gamble, Adam Artizada and Demetrios Katsantonis, this offbeat music video features crude, cut-out animation and combines stop motion, practical hand drawings and realistic landscapes. The song’s instrumental is menacing and grim, reflected through the music video’s visuals of ravaged homes and desolate street corners. The beat matches that of a ticking clock, emphasizing the urgency of “The Heist,” which is reiterated by the song’s intro and lyrics. The video is rife with animated brutality, vulgar themes and lewd imagery that is juxtaposed with childlike drawings. Despite this, they strangely complement each other, giving the video a bizarre charm that distinguishes it on the list.
3. “90210“ — Travis Scott ft. Kacy Hill
Stop motion’s fascinating visuals immerse people into worlds of impressive detail, and “90210” is no different. Under the directorial guide of Hype Williams, the video depicts Travis Scott as an action figure. The rapper journeys through a city of vibrant colors that appears empty but is teeming with life, seen in the cars driving down a glossy road and illuminated windows. Minor details such as the black trash bag near a doorstep or the maze of fire escape ladders in a dark alley create an immersive experience for the viewer.
When Travis goes home with a woman he meets, we’re invited into a cozy, furnished apartment decorated with wallpaper, lamps and plants. Despite its strange X-rated scenes and a giant action figure of Travis wreaking havoc, the detail in the video is amazing and speaks to the hard work that goes into stop animation.
4. “The Story of OJ” — Jay Z
“The Story of OJ” not only received backlash over an anti-Semitic lyric but also the music video’s racist imagery. The video contains stereotypical caricatures of Black people, reminiscent of the Censored Eleven’s racist cartoon designs. Black characters are depicted with the same exaggerated features, which ties into the song’s social commentary that regardless of social or financial status, Black people can’t escape discrimination. Jay Z discusses financial literacy, wealth and ownership in the song with symbolic imagery, which is shown when his character walks freely through a ship among shackled, docile slaves. Though some found his music video’s imagery offensive, the animation by The Mill and Titmouse is striking and works well to convey his message. However, no matter how amazing the animation is, Jay Z’s problematic lyrics about Jewish ownership can’t be defended or ignored.
5. “Lyk Dis” — NxWorries (Anderson .Paak & Knxwledge)
This music video is teeming with movement. Within the first few seconds, we see a bottle of liquor leaking into a pool, dollar bills soaring through the cool California breeze, swaying palm trees in the reflection of pool water, and speakers hopping to the song’s beat. Wild summer festivities are on full display. The backyard and house are littered with bottles, pizza boxes, clothing and sleeping strangers.
The song has a laid-back and carefree vibe, showing the animated characters of Anderson .Paak and Knxwledge cruising down the road, enamored with the women they pass. The scene where the two emerge from a tunnel has amazing lighting and illustrations, showcasing Robin Velghe and Andy Baker’s animation prowess. This aesthetically pleasing video and its distinct character designs and warm vibrant colors perfectly visualize the song’s summer atmosphere and sexual innuendos.
6. “Snowchild” — The Weeknd
The Weeknd showcases his career through incredible animation in this music video, made possible by D’Art Shtajio. The video is packed with metaphorical imagery, references and Easter eggs for fans, but one notable aspect is the video’s use of expressive colors. As we’re taken through the frosty, frigid streets of Abel’s hometown of Toronto, accompanying lyrics about struggling with homelessness and his desire to escape only makes the imagery more impactful. The vibrant hues and neon lights of the sci-fi metropolis he later finds himself in also echo his new life as he navigates fame. The scene where he spends the night with a cyborg woman has a red glow, which could represent passion but also an imminent danger he faces seconds later. The music video’s colors are vibrant and emotional, amplifying his introspective, melancholic melody as he looks back at his difficult rise to stardom.
7. “Eazy” — Kanye West
The captivating visuals from Kanye West’s music video “Eazy” were quickly overshadowed by his personal feud with Pete Davidson. The video blends clay animation and live-action scenes, depicting macabre images of a burning church, a black coffin and deformed claymation figures, intensifying the song’s dark instrumental backing. We witness the Chicago rapper drive through a dreary, barren landscape and abduct Davidson, who is killed after rose seeds are planted on his head. Kanye also casually clutches a severed head that’s implied to be Davidson’s, which adds to the video’s morbid ambiance. As impressive as the animation is, it’s impossible to ignore the events that culminated in this video’s creation. And though Kanye claimed that he meant no harm by his depiction of killing Davidson, the lyrics and ominous texts that appear toward the video’s end say otherwise.
8. “Cash In Cash Out” — Pharrell ft. 21 Savage & Tyler, the Creator
Lights in a room flicker on as a carousel activates, springing several tiny figures to life. At first glimpse, these miniature figures appear to be claymation but they’re actually CGI claymation models. This innovative music video for Pharrell’s song took over a year to create, and the video captures claymation movement and texture well. Executive directors Jules de Chateleux and George McKneally studied live shows of Pharrell, Tyler, the Creator and 21 Savage to create it. They also had the artists submit videos of them performing their parts to the song, recreating them in the video. Though there’s so much happening on screen, it never feels distracting, and the carefully coordinated, energetic figures make for an entertaining spectacle and a great final entry in this animated music video list.
This is definitely not a complete collection of all the great animated hip-hop music videos on the internet, but it gives you a few highlights to enjoy before delving deeper into the genre.