NOTE: This spoiler was submitted by Jeremy
The narrator (Forest Whitaker) introduces us to Malcolm Adekanbi (Shameik Moore). He's a high school senior obsessed with old school hip hop and, along with his friends Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons), he's a geek that's constantly pushed around by bigger kids at school. They all live in a part of Inglewood, California called "The Bottoms." Malcolm lives with his mother Lisa (Kimberly Elise) and he's never known his father. His ultimate dream is to go to Harvard. When they're not studying hard, Malcolm, Jib, and Diggy all play in their own punk rock band, Awreeoh. The narrator also adds that Diggy is a lesbian and her parents have tried to get her and others to "pray the gay away".
At school, a group of bullies step to Malcolm and demand that he give up his sneakers. Malcolm takes one off and then pushes through the main bully and runs through the halls. They chase Malcolm past a security guard that is friendly toward Malcolm and doesn't let any of them touch the boy, though the bullies ultimately take Malcolm's shoe anyway.
Malcolm then meets with his school's counselor Mr. Bailey (Bruce Beatty). He dismisses Malcolm's college essay on analyzing Ice Cube's "Good Day" and calls Malcolm's desire to attend Harvard an arrogant one, and that his straight A's don't mean a thing. Bailey then refers Malcolm to a man named Austin Jacoby for an interview for college admissions.
On their way home, Malcolm and his friends nearly get their bikes stolen as they go down a street occupied by dope dealers. Malcolm rides past one particular dealer, Dom (A$AP Rocky). He calls Malcolm over and comments on his "flat top and MC Hammer pants", after which they exchange a bit of hip hop knowledge and opinions. Dom then tells Malcolm to go a few buildings over to talk to a girl named Nakia (Zoe Kravitz). She makes Malcolm return saying that Dom should be man enough to talk to her himself. Dom makes Malcolm invite her to a birthday party for Dom. Nakia says she'll go if Malcolm is there. Malcolm tells Jib and Diggy, who both think it would be a great idea if they went.
The three go to a nightclub where Dom's party takes place. The bouncers don't let them in because they think the three are all guys, until Diggy flashes them to prove she's a girl. The bouncers still turn them away because they're under 21. Malcolm walks past Nakia and decides they're still getting in. He, Jib, and Diggy grab some cases and try and sneak into the club as part of the entertainment, but they are nearly caught by security until Dom comes out and says it's okay for Malcolm and his friends to come inside. Dom then talks to the bouncer and says if he turns them away, it'd look bad on both of them, and because he needs to maintain his authority, he slugs the bouncer in the face before his boys start jumping him. Dom them lets Malcolm and his friends into the party. Jib and Diggy get wasted and dance their butts off while Malcolm goes over to dance with Nakia. Dom cuts in during the dance, and Malcolm, not wanting to end up like the bouncer, walks away, while Nakia chastises Dom. Later, a rival gang comes in and shoots up Dom's guys and causes panic in the club. Malcolm sees Nakia on the floor and he helps her up. Jib and Diggy get away on their bikes as the cops show up and call to Malcolm, but they see him leaving with Nakia.
Nakia drives Malcolm home, thanking him for helping her. She likes him for not being like Dom and the other guys she's used to dealing with. Malcolm says he's just a geek. He asks Nakia to prom since she says she missed hers when she was in school, and he offers to help her study for her GED. Nakia says she'll think about it.
The next morning at school, Malcolm walks past the metal detector, which goes crazy. The guard dog barks wildly at Malcolm, but the guard lets him walk away. Malcolm looks in his backpack and finds a few bags of molly and a gun. Panicked, he runs into the band room with Jib and Diggy. Malcolm realizes Dom slipped all of that in there during the shootout at the club. Someone then calls Malcolm's phone and demands that he bring the contents of the bag to him later in the day, or else.
Malcolm walks over to a red El Camino as instructed, until he gets a phone call from Dom as he's being held at the station. He tells Malcolm that he is not with the guy in the car and that he needs to get out of there immediately since those guys could kill him after taking the drugs and gun. He orders Malcolm to go to an address that he'll text him and to ask for "AJ". Malcolm runs back to his bike, fleeing with Jib and Diggy as the gangsters chase them. They follow the friends through the streets since they're tracking Malcolm's phone with the "find a phone" app. Malcolm sees a bus coming by and he slips it in there to throw the gangsters off their trail.
The three go to the address that Dom sends them to. They meet Jaleel (Quincy Brown) and his half-naked sister Lily (Chanel Iman). AJ is their dad, and since he won't be home 'til later, he invites the three inside to hang out. He raps for them until they comment that his lyrics are dumb and the beat isn't good. Jaleel does let them record one of their band's own songs, "Can't Bring Me Down". Jaleel then takes Jib and Diggy out with him to get food while Malcolm stays with Lily. She ends up seducing him and offers to take his virginity. Malcolm then finds Lily taking some of the molly from his backpack. She acts wildly and then straddles Malcolm until she pukes on his face. Malcolm then gets a phone call from Mr. Bailey reminding him to meet with the admissions director. Lily offers to drive him there.
Lily is still drugged up and drives recklessly through the streets until she stops at a stop sign. The cops drive through, missing seeing her half-passed out. Malcolm tries to wake her up, and she springs up yelling that she has to pee. Lily runs in front of a Starbucks and squats over to pee by a bush, with other people watching and taping her. Malcolm then takes the car and heads to meet with the admissions director himself. He then sees the cops chasing Jaleel, and Malcolm is shocked. We go back a few minutes as the gangsters from earlier located Jaleel after seeing his home address on Malcolm's phone. They pull their gun on Jaleel, who takes it back and talks a big game until the thugs cause him to shoot himself in the leg. Jib and Diggy get away while the cops arrest the gangsters and chase after Jaleel.
Malcolm meets with Austin Jacoby (Roger Guenveur Smith), whom, after seeing pictures of Dom, Lily, and Jaleel in the office, Malcolm realizes is AJ. He mentions having something for the man as instructed by Dom, but Jacoby doesn't want the drugs after this botched delivery, which he compares to a bad Amazon deal. He tells Malcolm he ought to get out of The Bottoms before he or anyone he loves gets hurt.
With no other options, Malcolm, Jib, and Diggy decide to seek help from a stoner/hacker they met at band camp years ago named Will Sherwood (Blake Anderson). The three like him, but they give him grief whenever he tries to refer to them as his "niggas". Still, he helps the three organize an online network through Bitcoin transactions that would allow them to sell the molly without being getting it traced back to them.
The drug gets lots of attention after a video of Lily peeing in front of Starbucks goes viral, so the drug itself is nicknamed "Lily". The three friends make a lot of money from the drug, though Malcolm continues hiding it. During the SAT's, Malcolm runs to his locker when he sees some cops there for random inspections. He gets his bag out and avoids being detected. Thinking it to be too much of a risk, Malcolm opts to do this alone, but Diggy says they've got his back (Jib is more reluctant).
Malcolm runs into Nakia, who still wants to study. He helps her, and she later opens up to him about dealing with guys like Dom. Malcolm thinks she was sent there by Dom to gather info on the drugs. Offended, Nakia leaves and says Malcolm is just like all the other guys.
When trying to collect cash in exchange for the Bitcoin currency, Will tells Malcolm that they need to go "black market" for the money. The three meet with another gangster named Fidel X (Kap-G). He doesn't initially trust Malcolm and orders him to punch him in the face as hard as he can. Malcolm does so and then proceeds to give him a drive in exchange for the cash.
On their way home, Malcolm and his friends get caught by the bullies from school. They try and take the bag of money until Malcolm pulls out the gun from his backpack and points it at the main bully. He complies and gives him back the money bag and runs away with his boys. Jib and Diggy, noticing how shaken Malcolm is, comfort him.
Malcolm goes home and starts to come up with a new college essay. In video form, we see him describing two students - Student A is a geek that hangs out with his friends and gets straight A's, while Student B earns a lot of money in an unethical way. He asks, "Which student do you think I am?" He continues by adding all the reasons that he should be accepted to Harvard, coolly and confidently.
Malcolm meets with Jacoby again to give him the cash to pay him back. He tells Jacoby about the online account tied to his own personal assets that Will hacked into, essentially blackmailing Jacoby into making sure nobody harms Malcolm or anyone he cares about, and that he becomes a man of Harvard.
Malcolm and his friends go to prom together. He waits for Nakia after having apologized and still giving her a prom ticket. He goes by her house and finds her standing outside. She thanks Malcolm for helping her pass her GED. She then gives him a pass for Six Flags, as it was this that she was upset over missing in school instead of prom. She kisses Malcolm's cheek and walks back into her house.
Malcolm then goes home to find a big envelope from Harvard on his bed. He opens it and reads what's inside. He then looks to the audience for a moment before he smiles.