Although many rappers have acting skills, finding phenomenal success in music, as well as the movies, is truly awe-inspiring.
Rappers, at the start of their careers, are revered for their raw and uncut lyrical content, often depicting the harshness of the hand they were dealt in life. While some may argue the glorification of violence, death, and ignorance that is perpetuated in most mainstream rap, these are the attributes that cause rappers to stand out and dominate in their respective genre. But a large majority of mainstream rappers often become the unforgettable stars of top Hollywood movies. Classics like Poetic Justice, How High, Boys N The Hood, and New Jack City show us how multi-talented they are.
Here are some of the rappers that made it big in the music and acting industry.
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Tracy Lauren Marrow, more famously known as Ice-T, is considered one of the early originators of the ‘gangster rap’ genre of rap music. Early in his career as a rap artist, he began as a vocalist for the American heavy metal band Body Count, which produced the controversial song, Cop Killer. Ironically, despite the obvious message of defiance towards police, one of Ice-T’s most iconic acting roles was that of an undercover police officer named Scotty Appleton in the 1992 crime thriller New Jack City. He also starred in other films like Ricochet, Trespass, and Surviving the Game, to name a few. Among many other roles, one of his most noteworthy is that of Special Victims Unit Officer Odafin Tutuola in Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.
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As another proponent of early gangster rap, O’Shea Jackson Sr., known professionally as Ice Cube, showcased his lyrical mastery in the highly criticized group, N.W.A. Similar to Ice-T’s Cop Killer, N.W.A. was formed as a result of the struggles facing urban youth and rising police brutality. From there, Ice Cube went on to launch his movie career in 1992 with his stunning performance in Boyz N The Hood. Then there was the movie franchise, Friday, in 1995, followed by the critically acclaimed Three Kings starring Mark Wahlberg and George Clooney, as well as another successful movie franchise in 2002 – “Barbershop.” Like Ice-T, Cube also landed roles as a police officer in Ride Along and 21 Jump Street. Since his debut in 1992, he has starred in nearly 40 films in total.
8 Tupac Shakur
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Perhaps one of the most controversial and legendary rap artists of all time is the late Tupac Shakur, also known as 2Pac. Raised under similar conditions in urban America, Tupac found music and poetry as an outlet at an early age. His deceased mother, Afeni Shakur, was an activist in the Black Panther Party, where Tupac drew inspiration as the voice of minorities and an advocate for social change. Apart from his extraordinary career as a rap artist, he has starred in multiple films, beginning with his breakout role as Bishop in Juice in 1992. A year later, he landed a lead role in Poetic Justice alongside Janet Jackson, and a year later, in 1994, he starred in Above The Rim with Duane Martin. Tupac has, ironically, played the role of a crooked detective in Gang Related, as well as that of a heroin addict in Gridlock’d.
7 Will Smith
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When we hear of Will Smith, we think of the box office record-breaking actor he has become. However, this film industry was not his first career. Will actually began as a Philidelphia rapper and formed the rap duo ‘DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince.’ While his rap career is often underrated, his music duo is actually the first to win a Grammy Award. But it’s obvious that acting was Will’s passion. He is best known for his role in the 90s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. His first lead role in a film was in Six Degrees of Separation. From there, he blew up with the comedy-thriller franchise Bad Boys as well as the Men In Black science-fiction franchise. Will Smith has starred in a plethora of other films, making him one of the richest actors in Hollywood.
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Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones, more commonly known as Nas, Nasty Nas, or Nas Escobar, began as a Queens, New York rapper in 1989. His first album, Illmatic, was released in 1994 and was well-received by the hip-hop community. To this day, it is esteemed as the greatest album of all time. One of his most renowned tracks was recorded with Lauren Hill, entitled, “If I Ruled The World.” His only known film was Belly which he starred in alongside the late DMX. Other actors include Method Man, Hassan Johnson, Louie Rankin, Taral Hicks, and Tionne Watkins. Belly has stood as an iconic depiction of crime, struggle, glory, and redemption through the eyes of young urban African American males.
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“Yall ‘gon make me lose my mind! Up in here, up in here!” Anyone familiar with these words knows that this artist needs no introduction. Born as Earl Simmons, DMX was a dynamic and multitalented actor who dominated both the mic and the movie screen. As an artist, he began recording under Def Jam Records before formulating his own music group, Ruff Ryders. His rugged persona and electrifying powerhouse style of rap garnered incredible success in music, and that image was perfect for the films. In 1998, he debuted in Belly, and in 2000 starred alongside Jet Li in “Romeo Must Die.” Then in 2001, he joined Steven Seagal in Exit Wounds, followed by Cradle to The Grave and Never Die Alone.
4 Queen Latifah
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She is one of the feistiest female rappers to grace the microphone with her voice, partnering with rap legends like Treach and KRS-One. Dana Elaine Owens, more popularly known as Queen Latifah, started her career in 1989 after signing with Tommy Boy Records and subsequently releasing her debut album, “All Hail the Queen.” She went on to produce Nature of A Sista, Black Reign, and a list of other albums. She gained ultimate success, however, as a Hollywood actress, starring in movies like Taxi, The Bone Collector, Last Holiday, Beauty Shop, Just Wright, and most recently, The Equalizer. In total, she has made appearances in close to 50 movies.
3 50 Cent
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As the founder of the G-Unit hip hop group, Curtis James Jackson, known professionally as 50 Cent, has always had his eyes set on more than just a rap career. When 50 Cent took the music industry by storm in 2003 with his debut album, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, it only took two years for the film to hit the theatres. After getting a taste of the big screen, he went full throttle, starring in movies like Righteous Kill, Den of Thieves, Freelancers, and many others, totaling almost 35. In addition to acting, he has also co-produced the compulsively viewed drama series, Power with Courtney A. Kemp, receiving massive success within the 6 Seasons of being televised.
2 Method Man
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This East Coast rapper, songwriter, and actor called Method Man, legally named Clifford Smith Jr., is a member of the abstract rap group, The Wu-Tang Clan, which was formed in the 90s. Meth went on to cement himself in the Hip Hop industry with a unique style and sound. He is also one of the two in the hip hop due, Method Man and Redman. The duo also appeared together in the renowned movie, How High, released in 2001. Before that, in 1999, Meth was cast in Belly alongside DMX and Nas. His other acting roles included a stint on the HBO prison drama series Oz. His street persona also landed him the role of Melvin ‘Cheese’ Wagstaff in the HBO Series.
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Hailing from Illinois, rapper-actor Ludacris, formally known as Christopher Brian Bridges, amassed huge success in the late 1990s with his label, Disturbing Tha Peace, and in the early 2000s with hits like Area Codes, Move ***** (Get Out the Way), and Yeah! (featuring Usher and T-Pain). After moving to Atlanta, he met with famed producer Timbaland, who got Luda signed to Def Jam Records. He embodied a fresh, Dirty South school of rap that paved the way for many other Atlanta rappers in that era. His acting career brought even more success with his debut in 2 Fast 2 Furious, which lead to roles in every part following. Luda’s acting resume also includes award-winning movies like Hustle & Flow, Ball Don’t Lie and Crash, to name a few.
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Source: Britannica, A-List Daily,
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