Hip hop has been going strong for over 30 years and the musical genre once seen as a fad is now a permanent part of the soundtrack of our lives. The world of rap has also turned out an impressive array of artists who’ve translated their talents from the music world to the silver screen. Tonight on the blog, my personal list of the Top Ten Rappers Turned Actors.
Before becoming a reality TV star and having a hit show with “Law&Order: Special Victims Unit”, Mr. T was one of the O.G. rappers to become a movie star, with credits that include New Jack City, Ricochet, Trespass, and Surviving the Game.
The founder of the groundbreaking group Wu-Tang Clan makes the list just as much for his behind-the-scenes work in film. Last year, he directed the Russell Crowe martial arts flick The Man with the Iron Fists. RZA also brilliantly did the score for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill films. His straight acting credits include Ghost Dog, American Gangster, and Funny People.
The “Stand Up” rapper earns his place here due to being part of the massively successful Fast and Furious franchise and appearing in an Oscar-winning Best Picture, 2005’s Crash. That same year, he gave a solid supporting performance in Hustle&Flow. We’ll forgive him for Fred Claus. But he also gets points for his song “Get Back” being featured so memorably with Tom Cruise dancing to it in Tropic Thunder.
7. LL Cool J
LL’s actual movie career has been spotty at best, filled with box office disappointments that include Toys and Rollerball. On the bright side, there was Any Given Sunday. However, it’s his TV career that gets him this spot with a successful sitcom “In the House” and hit drama series “NCIS: Los Angeles.”
6. Tupac Shakur
As with his great rap career, who knows how big Tupac’s movie career would have become? He was well on his way before that fateful Vegas night in 1996. The late rapper’s credits include Juice, Poetic Justice, Above the Rim and Gridlock’d.
Memo to Marshall Mathers: make another damn movie! His 8 Mile in 2002 was hip hop’s Purple Rain and proved the artist to be quite a good actor. Since then, he made a cameo as himself in Funny People and on “Entourage”.
4. Queen Latifah
The “U.N.I.T.Y.” rapper received an Oscar nomination for Chicago, headlined the hit comedy Bringing Down the House with Steve Martin, and was featured in other titles ranging from Set It Off to Hairspray. Latifah also starred in the hit FOX comedy “Living Single”.
3. Ice Cube
Who would’ve thought one of the most controversial rappers at one time would transition his career to starring in family-friendly titles like Are We There Yet? He made a splash with his debut in John Singleton’s 1991 classic Boyz N The Hood. Other credits include the Friday franchise, Anaconda, Three Kings, the Barbershop films, and 21 Jump Street. He directed 1998’s hit The Player’s Club.
2. Mark Wahlberg
There may be a whole young generation who don’t even remember “Marky Mark” as a hip hop artist. Talk about a successful transition! Wahlberg’s movie credits are truly impressive: Boogie Nights, Three Kings, Planet of the Apes, The Italian Job, The Other Guys, The Fighter, and Ted, to name a few. He was Oscar nominated for The Departed. Quite an accomplishment for someone who was once best known for rapping with his shirt off.
1. Will Smith
No real contest here. His films have earned a combined $2.6 billion domestically. This includes the smash hits Independence Day, Enemy of the State, I Robot, Hitch, and I Am Legend. Of course, there’s also the Bad Boys and Men in Black franchises. And there’s two Oscar nominations – for Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness. And there’s that hit TV show that got him started acting in the first place, “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”. DJ Jazzy Jeff’s movie career has been considerably less impressive.
There’s your top ten, my friends! Other rappers that have made their mark in movies include DMX, Snoop Dogg, T.I., Mos Def, and Eve.
Of course, there are always example of popular rappers (at the time) making missteps:
And we have also have the occasional actor who wrongly thinks he can rap:
So, based on history, keep an eye on 2 Chainz or Drake or Nicki Minaj coming to a theater near you. And how long until Macklemore gets that Oscar nomination?