Often times, rappers are trying to create a persona for themselves to stand out from the crowd in a music industry that covets personality more than talent. Therefore, it is an almost natural transition for many rappers to try to make the plunge into acting. With the Black Eyed Peas front man Will I. Am’s first film role coming in this summer’s Wolverine, I figured I would compile a list of rappers turned actors (or at least dabbling in acting) in studio films. You can call these guys rapper actors if you like. I look at those in studio films because tons of these guys (and gals) are doing smaller fare and putting it out themselves, see the blueprint set by Master P. A few rules for the list: the artist has to have been a legitimately known MC (so no Gravy aka Jamal Woolard from Notorious.) Also, you have to also have done more than one film as well (Will I. Am excluded since he is inspiration for the piece), so you will not see Eminem (8 Mile) below. Here are 21 Rappers Turned Big Screen Actors. This is not an entirely comprehensive list by any means, so feel free to add any you see as necessary or comment on those you see here.
The former gangster rap star is still going strong on TV with “Law & Order” (9 years in!), but lest we forget he was in Trespass, New Jack City, and Ricochet back in the day. He actually kind of started this whole movement. He has the longest list of credits of any rapper you will find with more than 70 acting credits to his name. It is amusing that he played a cop in “New Jack” and a detective in “Law” considering he boastfully sang “Cop Killer” more than 15 years ago. He obviously has something that works to get him by, so respect is due.
He seems a natural to try his hand at this but has been hit or miss in my view so far. He had Be Cool, Four Brothers and Guy Ritchie’s underseen Revolver, but Idlewild with partner Big Boi (ATL, Who’s Your Caddy?) flopped. Still, he was good in the indy Battle In Seattle proving that he has a chance in acting for the foreseeable future. To his credit, he is willing to stretch himself and is seemingly serious about the craft at least.
The youngster had Like Mike, which put him on the map, and roles in Roll Bounce and Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Will he be forever known as a child rapper/actor or can he transition as a man? It remains to be seen but has as few projects in the works.
Getting a role as Wraith in Wolverine is surprising only because it is his first acting role ever and now he gets to turn up in what is anticipated to be one of this summer’s biggest films and a possible franchise. Slightly curious to see how he does. Here is his somewhat convincing Wraith spot in case you missed it.
The man dubbed “Ladies Love” has had enough opportunities to turn this into a legitimate big screen career and I don’t think it is happening at this point. Deep Blue Sea, Any Given Sunday and S.W.A.T. showed what he can do, but it appears he is going to be sticking with smaller TV roles at this point. It’s always been hard for me to see him as anything other than LL for the most part, since he was a pretty big star.
The man who was shot 9 times (and still lived!) seems to be more focused on acting nowadays after becoming among the biggest music stars on the planet at one point. He has done his Get Rich or Die Tryin’ biopic but then was in Righteous Kill and has the busiest slate of anyone on the list with at least 6 projects coming in the next two years. I wonder if he can stick around, now that he is out of the music limelight (at this juncture).
While some may find him a stretch to be included as a rapper, he was a pretty big star with his Funky Bunch hits (“Good Vibrations”, “Wildside”) back in the day and has been highly successful as an actor by any measure. Boogie Nights’ Dirk Diggler showed he could act and he has parlayed it well into countless acting roles with considerable range (A Perfect Storm, I Heart Huckabees) and producing hit TV show “Entourage” to boot.
The slim one who calls himself “King of the South” on the mic showed up in ATL and American Gangster to mixed results. He has charisma but not sure he has any real range as an actor. His recent gun charges will stem the tide from him showing up in anything in the near future with Takers being his next acting project due in 2010.
The former gangster rap star and would be greatest MC ever (that’s a different discussion, but accurate) is one of the bigger successes as far as this list goes. He went from Boyz ‘N the Hood to Friday to xXx 2 and now routinely shows up in his own produced projects (family fare, no less). He was once more promising as an actor than it has turned out in my eyes, but it is interesting that he somewhat has played against type. As a financial and box office success, he can’t be denied.
The “pitbull in a skirt” was in two Barbershop films, xXx, and The Woodsman with Kevin Bacon but seems like she might have run her course on the big screen for the time being. She is still getting TV roles though as she battles some legal issues (hip-hop streed cred—cool!). A multi-hyphenate interested in fashion as well, she may never just been seen as an actress.
A backpack rapper known for thinking-man rhymes, he was really an actor before he became an MC, so he seemed a natural fit for the big screen, that is until…you hear him talk. Too often he uses a particularly annoying voice when trying to create characters for film. Still, he has a varied string of film credits from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, 16 Blocks with Bruce Willis, Be Kind Rewind, and he earned raves for HBO’s Something The Lord Made (a pretty solid film too). In the end, might have more respect as an actor than rapper (debatable) as he has Next Day Air hitting soon.
The notorious, fallen icon might have been the biggest star out of any one on here (and may still be), but died young. An artist who showcased his acting in Juice, Gridlock’d, and Poetic Justice, which all showed off his undeniable charisma but we’ll never know how far he might have gone. See Film-U-Missed, Tupac: Resurrection for a look at his life from his perspective.
The “slim with the tilted brim” star was surprisingly good in Training Day but it’s tough to see him as anything other than Snoop. Need I mention Bones? I thought not. His former partner and sometimes collaborator Dr. Dre is less convincing, something he himself acknowledges and it will keep him out of the mix as an actor.
The producer/rapper is trying to be taken seriously as an actor. Though he hasn’t had a real big studio film, he did get respect for 2001’s Monster’s Ball and last years “Raisin In The Sun” TV work was lauded. First acting role was in the Jon Favreau/Vince Vaughn teaming part-deux, Made. He claims he will win an Oscar someday, and surprisingly, he is tough to doubt.
From her CD “All Hail The Queen” as one of the original female rap stars to acting in Chicago and earning a Golden Globe in the process, Latifah is now a full-fledged acting star. She participated in the huge hit Bringing Down The House and the Barbershop spin-off Beauty Shop. She has been removed from the rap scene a long time now and is only seen as an actress these days, though she recently put out a Jazz album lest we forget she has other interests.
The Chi-town MC had put out several albums before getting a big hit and venturing into acting. He is an another guy that seems to be a natural for this and I think he has a chance to be one of the more successful on the list. He’s been in a lot of actioners to some surprise with Wanted, American Gangster and Smokin’ Aces and he will be in Terminator: Salvation with Christian Bale this summer.
Jeffrey Atkins was a big rap star at one point with commercial and hardcore hits which he used to get into other avenues like acting. He had his chance in both film and music but is next to off the map in both these days. Did 50 Cent kill his career? As an actor he had Scary Movie 3 as well as Half Past Dead with Steven Segal and that title was apropos for his career as it turned out. DMX aka Earl Simmons, the gravelly voiced, barking rapper on the other hand, was in independent ‘hood film Belly, Romeo Must Die and Exit Wounds (another Segal film) but has the range of a cardboard box and simply can’t be taken seriously. Hence, I lumped these two together.
The West Coast underground rap legend who rose to fame on MTV’s “Pimp My Ride,” has had a pretty good go of things as an actor. He got Derailed with Jennifer Aniston and Clive Owen and did xXx 2, X-Files 2, 8 Mile and Gridiron Gang which all showed off the X to the Z. He may not be a great actor (yet?), but he is likable and charismatic. Known for a muscular build, he has had to be stronger inside than out as Xzibit recently lost his infant son to a rare lung disorder. He still has projects acting coming through 2011.
The former radio DJ (Chris Lover Lover) turned punch-line rapper, has had some higher profile films as an actor including Oscar-winner Crash and last year’s Max Payne. He initially stretched himself for Hustle & Flow (I kid). Was in Guy Ritchie’s RocknRolla in a small role, where he was at the very least, efficient. Chris some talent here and it will be interesting to see how things turn out for him as I suspect he is going to try to be in it for the long haul.
The former fun and charming rapper is now the most successful box office star on the planet. Need I say more? He was once accepted to M.I.T. and was the first rapper to win a Grammy for “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” He once exquisitely portrayed Ali, has been nominated for many awards, regularly stretches himself, and is among the most personable stars you can imagine. Will is the undisputed box office champ who may never be topped. His string of $100m hits just was broken with Seven Pounds last year and he is currently on a bit of a hiatus. We eagerly anticipate seeing how he will react.