Versatility is always a desirable trait, especially in the case of artists. Sometimes it might come off as quite the surprise to see someone, in particular, exhibit it. Some rappers have temporarily traded their musical careers for an acting role on the big screen. And you know what? They’ve made an excellent choice, as they were able to deliver performances that were widely acclaimed.
From Ludacris to Tupac, here are the top 10 most enjoyable performances by rappers turned actors…
1. Ludacris as Anthony
Chris Bridges, better known by his stage name Ludacris, wasn’t new to the acting world by the time he landed a role in Crash. Debuting to the general audience alongside Paul Walker in 2 Fast 2 Furious, Ludacris took a leap from the role of Taj with his portrayal of Anthony. In Crash, Ludacris plays the part of a young man who is climbing the ladder of a criminal life, while trying to convince himself and others that he is more than an ordinary thug.
2. Ice-T as Scotty Appleton
New Jack City (1991)
It’s pretty ironic to think that someone who produced a song called Cop Killer would one day step into the shoes of one. Despite having little to no prior acting experience, Ice-T was approached during a party by the director of the soon-to-be-movie New Jack City.
The rapper was initially nervous about accepting the role, mostly due to the fact that the good-guy character of Scotty Appleton clashed with his gangster persona. Fortunately, Ice-T pulled through, having even managed to receive praise for his ability to add multiple layers to a rather standardized cop-prototype character.
3. Mos Def as Eddie Bunker
16 Blocks (2006)
The polar opposite of Ice-T, Mos Def is no stranger to the acting world. His career in entertainment began through movies, though the path to stardom was paved by his contribution to the alternative hip-hop genre.
Before starring alongside Bruce Willis in 16 Blocks, he even received a nomination at the Golden Globes for his performance in the HBO production Something the Lord Made. The movie may have drawn mixed critical reviews, but there was a consensus on the fact that the rapper managed to deliver a surprisingly good performance.
4. André Benjamin as Jimi Hendrix
Jimi: All Is By My Side (2013)
Portraying a non-fictional character must be challenging even for the most awarded and experienced actors. The movie All Is By My Side was supposed to serve as a biography of the legendary guitarist that tells the story of his journey from New York to London, the place where his career truly took off.
It was criticized by people close to Hendrix, but there was a generally positive attitude towards Benjamin’s dedication and portrayal. Raw and subtle, his performance was the result of months of intensive research and practice.
5. Queen Latifah as Big Mama
A movie of Chicago’s caliber clearly needed an actress of Queen Latifah’s caliber. Although she’s made herself known in the hip-hop community thanks to her profound rap songs which thoroughly speak of the issues faced by black women in society, her acting career is no less remarkable.
Her performance in Chicago was iconic and empowering, something that was rewarded with Academy Awards and Golden Globes nominations.
6. Mark Wahlberg as Micky Ward
The Fighter (2010)
Believe it or not, Mark Wahlberg’s ascension to stardom didn’t begin with acting. Initially debuting in the dazzling world of celebrities as the leader of the Funky Beach, going by the name Marky Mark, he then turned to a career in the movie industry.
The Fighter was the movie that truly proved that he’d made the transition from the train wreck Marky Mark to the versatile actor we know today, despite the fact that he may have been outshined by Christian Bale.
7. Will Smith as Chris Gardner
The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
There are few people today who doubt that the Fresh Prince has some serious acting skills hidden up his sleeve. Although he made cinematographic history through memorable roles in Men In Black and Bad Boys, Smith proved with his role in The Pursuit of Happyness that he doesn’t need action and bombings to shine. Starring alongside his son, his delivery was raw and vulnerable, guaranteed to leave a bittersweet aftertaste in your mouth.
8. Eminem as Jimmy “B-Rabbit” Smith
8 Mile (2002)
You knew this was coming. And this is because, despite it being Eminem’s only encounter with the movie industry so far, 8 Mile was a film that truly surprised and awed critics. By telling a story that he’d experienced himself, Marshal Matters managed to showcase a strong performance filled with an array of emotions.
9. Ice-Cube as Darrin “Doughboy” Baker
Boyz N The Hood (1991)
Ice-Cube’s debut in Boyz N The Hood could have tricked anyone into believing that his portrayal was the result of years of acting.
Partaking in a story that conveys helplessness, the difficulties of a life you can’t escape, and the dark undertones of life in “the Hood,” he managed to convince us all that his frustrations were authentic and dire. And now, his dual talent brought him plenty of financial & professional rewards – the direct result of numerous years of acting.
10. Tupac as Bishop
Tupac’s career as an actor wasn’t long-lived, but his performance in Juice was enough to create a convincing portfolio. Audiences were bewildered to see Tupac enter the role of a blatant psychopath when the rapper was especially known for the positive messages in his songs. Viewers were so convinced by the authenticity of his delivery that they wondered if it wasn’t a darker side of Tupac that they were actually seeing on the screen.
Most of the entries on this list aren’t all that surprising when you think about it. These mentioned rappers are artists, who have been able to convey strong and raw emotions in their music. If, as rappers, they were able to deliver authentic messages, then the fact that they were able to move us with their acting performances almost seems like a natural extension of their talent.