From Hip-Hop To Hollywood

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The 10 Most Successful Rappers Turned Actors

In Hollywood, it is not uncommon for a successful musician to expand into an award-winning acting career. There are plenty of examples to choose from: Madonna, David Bowie, Cher, etc. However, over the past decade, the movie industry has witnessed a significant surge in one particular singer turned actor sub-category: the rapper turned Hollywood star.

With director Tim Story’s Ride Along, starring hip-hop superstar Ice Cube, coming to Blu-ray and DVD on 30th June 2014 courtesy of Universal Pictures (UK), we are counting down the top 10 best exports that rap music has rendered to Hollywood:


10. Eminem


After selling more than 25 million albums worldwide and cementing his position as arguably the best white rapper in history, it was only natural that Eminem would dip his feet into the motion picture pool. However, unlike most rappers who would start out with a supporting role or even a cameo in an action-packed popcorn flick, Eminem went all in, making his feature film debut coincide with his first leading role, when he appeared as Jimmy “B-Rabbit” Smith in the critically acclaimed drama 8 Mile. Loosely based on the rapper’s own pre-success struggles in crime-ridden Detroit, 8 Mile not only won Eminem his first Academy Award for co-penning the film’s theme song “Lose Yourself,” but it also demonstrated his impressive abilities as an actor as his performance gained positive reviews from leading movie critics all over the world.

Unfortunately, Eminem has since decided to stick to rapping, thus ridding movie-goers of another notable performance on the big screen, hence why he is at the bottom of our chart.



9. DMX


The Baltimore-born hip-hop star made his big screen debut in Hype Williams’ rapper-filled Belly in 1998 but it wasn’t until his first role in a major motion picture in 2000’s Romeo Must Die that he was considered a Hollywood convert. The film perfectly demonstrated DMX’s double-trouble abilities as he was also featured on the soundtrack in a duet with the late Aaliyah. The rapper must have made a good impression on the set, as he went on to star in both of Romeo director Andrzej Bartkowiak’s follow-up feature film attempts. The first one, Exit Wounds, had him star opposite action veteran Steven Seagal while the second one, Cradle 2 the Grave, reunited him with former co-star Jet Li.

Following a string of one-off appearances in a couple of TV shows as well as an attempt for his own reality show, DMX returned to the big screen in 2008, starring in Jump Out Boys, Death Toll, and Last Hour. His latest role was in 2009’s The Bleeding in which he partnered with action film bad boys Vinnie Jones and Michael Madsen.



8. Sean “P. Diddy” Combs


After establishing himself as one of the leading rappers and producers of the late 1990s and prior to starring in a string of Ciroc commercials, Sean Combs embarked on an acting career that wasn’t as heavily publicised as those of some of the other guys on this chart. What is even more interesting is that, although his film roster does not feature too many titles, he appears to be following the quality-over-quantity route when it comes to the movies he signs up for. Starting up with a small role in the Jon Favreau written and directed Made, Combs made a positive impression on critics with his turn as the death sentence-awaiting Lawrence Musgrove in Monster’s Ball, opposite Halle Berry in her Oscar-worthy performance. After taking a break to focus on his music career, Combs came back to acting with a leading role in the critically acclaimed TV movie A Raising in the Sun. Combs followed that role with appearances in 2010 comedy Get Him to the Greek and guest starring roles in leading TV shows such as CSI: Miami, Hawaii Five-0 and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. 

Most recently, Combs came back to the big screen in director Ivan Reitman’s sports drama Draft Day opposite Kevin Costner.



7. Snoop Dogg


It’s almost hard to believe that Snoop Dogg has been in more than 25 motion pictures in addition to having a few episodic roles on leading TV shows. As can be expected, a lot of them are either low-budget action films or comedies that pretty much glorify a certain green plant and its effects when smoked. Of the latter, the most prominent are the 1998 cult classic Half Baked and the 2004 star-studded Soul Plane. Apart from those, browsing through Snoop’s filmography, a few titles stand out. They include John Singleton’s Baby Boy in which he shares the screen with another rapper-turned-actor, Tyrese Gibson, as well as the critically acclaimed Training Day, starring Denzel Washington in his Oscar-winning performance. Finally, let’s not forget his hilarious turn in the 2003 star-studded comedy Old School. Even though Snoop played himself, his performance was so funny that it definitely deserves an honourable mention.



6. Tyrese Gibson


Speaking of Tyrese, he is the epitome of the afore-mentioned rapper-turned-popcorn action flick star. Following his debut in Baby Boy, Tyrese went on to become Vin Diesel’s replacement in 2 Fast, 2 Furious opposite Paul Walker and Eva Mendes – a role he would later reprise again and again in Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6. Tyrese followed that with a series of roles in other action films, including Flight of the Phoenix opposite Dennis Quaid, Four Brothers opposite Mark Wahlberg and Death Race opposite Jason Statham. In 2007, he joined another action-packed movie franchise appearing as Master Sergeant Epps in Michael Bay’s blockbuster hit Transformers. The rapper/actor returned for both of the movie’s sequels.

Tyrese is currently busy shooting Fast & Furious 7.



5. Ludacris


Back in the early 2000’s when Ludacris first dabbled in the world of big screen features, it seemed unlikely that he would be taken seriously as an actor, let alone have a successful acting career. However, despite an unremarkable start in the rapper-filled comedy The Wash, the Illinois native snatched the role of Tej in the much anticipated 2 Fast 2 Furious.  Rather than sticking to popcorn flicks, Ludacris went on to appear in two of the most acclaimed films of 2005 – the Oscar winner for Best Picture, Crash, and the Oscar winner for Best Original Song, Hustle & Flow – demonstrating enviable acting skills and a good sense of career management.

Following a string of TV show appearances, Ludacris returned to the big screen in Guy Ritchie’s critically praised film RocknRolla. He followed up his performance by starring in Max Payne, opposite Mark Wahlberg, and Gamer, opposite Gerard Butler. Since then, Ludacris has resurrected the character of Tej twice in Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6 and is currently filming the latest movie of the franchise, Fast & Furious 7.



4. LL Cool J


LL Cool J may not be one of the greatest actors out there and his career may not include some of the finest pieces of cinematic art ever produced, but his omnipresent character and unforgettable charisma are strong enough to place him on such a high spot on our chart.

LL Cool J started his acting career by appearing in a number of forgettable movies during the early and mid 1990’s such as Toys (opposite Robin Williams and Robin Wright), Out-of-Sync (his first leading role), B*A*P*S (opposite Halle Berry) and Woo (opposite Jada Pinkett Smith), before landing his own TV show called In the House which ran for four series. Following a rise in his popularity as an actor, he appeared in the much more commercially successful Halloween H20: 20 years Later, Deep Blue Sea, In Too Deep and, most prominently, Any Given Sunday in which he partnered with Al Pacino and Cameron Diaz.

Some of LL Cool J’s most memorable performances to date include his turn as Deke Kay in the 2003 action S.W.A.T. and Sean Matthews in Last Holiday. The rapper-turned-actor became an audience favourite when he landed the leading role on CBS’ hit TV show NCIS: Los Angeles, partnering with Batman alumnus Chris O’Donnell.



3. Mark Wahlberg


Before becoming an Oscar-nominated actor and producer, Mark Wahlberg was Marky Mark – a so-called rapper whose music style was an intriguing combination between hip-hop and euro dance. With one chart topper in the face of 1991’s “Good Vibrations” and a world-famous ad campaign for Calvin Klein Underwear on his resume, the Boston native switched gears and turned to acting.

Wahlberg’s first notable appearance on the big screen was opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in the critically acclaimed The Basketball Diaries. However, his first big hit did not come until 1997 when he landed the leading role of up-and-coming porn star Dirk Diggler in Paul Thomas Anderson’s cult hit Boogie Nights. Following that, Wahlberg began to establish himself as one of Hollywood’s go-to action movie guys, starring in films like The Big Hit, The Corruptor and The Yards. He also made sure to demonstrate his enviable acting skills, as well as box office appeal, with memorable turns in Three Kings and The Perfect Storm, partnering with George Clooney in both. Wahlberg’s memorable follow-up performances include The Italian Job, I Heart Huckabees and Invincible. In 2006, Wahlberg was cast as Dignam in director Martin Scorsese’s Departed – a role that would land him his first Oscar nomination.

In addition to being an actor, Wahlberg also proved to be a successful producer, bringing to life successful TV shows such as Entourage and Boardwalk Empire, as well as a number of feature films, including The Fighter which earned him his second Oscar nomination when the movie was up for Best Picture in 2011. Most recently, we saw Mark Wahlberg in the leading role in Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor. With seven new movies on the way, Wahlberg has firmly demonstrated that he is an actor who is here to stay.



2. Will Smith


Will Smith started his long-running career as the MC of the hip-hop duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince in the mid-1980s. After a few hit singles and a Grammy, Smith became entangled in tax issues and nearly went bankrupt until NBC decided to build a show around his Fresh Prince character, giving birth to one of the most successful American TV shows in history, as well as Smith’s acting career.

Following the success of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Smith continued acting, turning action comedies into his trademark. His first major box office hit came with Michael Bay’s Bad Boys, followed by blockbusters Independence Day and Men in Black. In the early 2000’s, Smith successfully demonstrated his great acting skills when he took on more serious roles in The Legend of Bagger Vance (opposite Matt Damon and Charlize Theron) and Ali, which earned him his first Oscar nomination.

Will Smith is one of the very few rappers-turned-actors with ever-growing box office appeal. His more recent hits include Hitch, I Am Legend and After Earth in which he shares the screen with his son Jayden.



1. Ice Cube


Topping the chart for rappers turned actors is a man who has been able to build a reputable acting career while maintaining a steady and successful string of critically acclaimed albums. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Ice Cube began his music career as part of the rap group N.W.A. alongside Dr. Dre, MC Ren and DJ Yella, before going solo in 1990. Around the same time, Ice Cube started his acting career, landing one of the lead roles in John Singleton’s cult hit Boyz n the Hood opposite Cuba Gooding Jr. and Laurence Fishburne.

Over the next few years, Ice Cube’s acting skills impressed both critics and audiences alike, turning him into a strong box office attraction. His most memorable roles from the time include Higher Learning, Friday and Three Kings. Similarly to fellow rapper-turned-actor Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube went behind the scenes, serving as producer on various feature films and in 1998 he wrote, directed and starred in the comedy The Players Club.

One of his most famous incarnations to date is that of Calvin Palmer in the 2002 comedy Barbershop and its sequel. In 2005, Ice Cube famously replaced Vin Diesel in the sequel to xXx and starred in the family comedy Are We There Yet? that spawned both a sequel and a TV show. Most recently, Ice Cube appeared in 21 Jump Street and its highly anticipated sequel, as well as director Tim Story’s action comedy Ride Along which is out on Blu-ray and DVD from 30th June 2014 courtesy of Universal Pictures (UK).



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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.



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