Best Acting Performances by RappersOver the years, several hip hop performing artists have given a shot at acting. Some rappers shone on the big screen, while some did not. Some even decided that they wanted to become full time actors and ditched the hip hop scene altogether. It's a difficult endeavor to enter a separate profession when one is so adept and used to another, which makes these performances even more impressive. Here are the ten greatest performances given by people who were hip hop recording artists at one point in their careers.
The early 90's were a busy time for Ice Cube. He had recently left the legendary rap group N.W.A and he had released two acclaimed solo albums. Simultaneously, Los Angeles was at a state of unrest with race relations being worse than they had been in a long time. With his star rising, Cube partnered up with filmmaker John Singleton to form what many call the greatest hood movie ever. Ice Cube is so believable as an actor in this movie and you can feel the intensity and weight of every action he takes. In such a gripping story, O'Shea Jackson proved that he could hold his own as an actor. This led to him starring in many famous films for years to come such as the cult comedy Friday and the Barbershop and 21 Jump Street franchises.
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The Fresh Prince is from west Philadelphia, born and raised. On the playground is where he spent most of his days. You know the rest. Will Smith heading into 2006 was known as a bigtime A-list actor who had starred in a variety of box office and critical hits in the previous decade. That did not stop him from digging deep and pulling out what a lot of people consider to be his finest acting performance in a motion picture. He portrays real life entrepreneur Chris Gardner, who worked his way from homelessness to become a successful businessman. Every second on screen you are invested in Gardner's journey, and that is 100% attributed to Smith. He, rightfully, received his second Oscar nomination for his performance. What was his first? You'll find out.
Eminem was probably the biggest name in the music industry from 1999 to 2002. He was a white rapper in a field predominantly dominated by African Americans, and had a vocabulary that could and did offend everybody. When he signed on to play the lead in Curtis Hanson's 2002 drama 8 Mile, many had their doubts. Music artists transitioning to leading actors usually did not end well. Hell, Mariah Carey had starred in the bomb Glitter the previous year. Marshall Mathers proved his detractors wrong in a film that portrays a lot of his own life. As a result, his character B-Rabbit oozes with authenticity in every scene. He's a young man who is desperately trying to make a better life for himself and his family in one of the toughest cities in the world. Many people only know this movie for it's theme song "Lose Yourself", but I can assure you, 8 Mile is a great film through and through. Whether you like hip hop or not.
Mark Wahlberg had made major strides in his career at the time Martin Scorsese called on him for his 2006 crime thriller. He had already starred in major box office films and critical smashes. But in his role as a no nonsense Boston cop, Wahlberg really let loose and flexed some serious acting chops. Sgt. Dignam is one tough guy, and Wahlberg sells it completely. In a movie that includes film legends such as Leo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, and Jack Nicholson, he steals the show in every scene he's in. It's hard to believe that this is the same guy who said "What! No! " for M. Night Shyamalan a couple years afterward.
Marky Mark had landed himself a number-one billboard hit in "Good Vibrations" along with his background band The Funky Bunch in 1991. However, his fame as a rapper soon died off as the public soon wrote him off as another Vanilla Ice. At a career crossroads, Walberg decided to pursue another field. After a couple of film appearances, he landed the lead role in the 1997 film Boogie Nights, and managed to prove himself as a thespian. In a controversial movie about one of the most controversial subjects there is, Wahlberg provided a great performance and launched one of the most successful careers in the history of the entertainment industry.
Tupac Shakur is a legend that will be revered for generations to come. His music is so powerful and his voice has inspired thousands of rappers who followed him. A little known fact is that Makaveli had NINE film appearances in his short professional career from 1991 to 1997. And out of those nine movies, his most memorable role came out of the hood drama Juice. In a haunting story that features the day-to-day struggle of several young men, Shakur gives a great and intense performance as Bishop, the leader of the four. While he may have passed on, Tupac Shakur's legacy will continue to live on forever.
Playing a person as charismatic and legendary as Muhammad Ali has got to be a daunting task. How does one manage to encapsulate the identity of one of the greatest warriors and showmen who ever lived? Will Smith stepped into the ring and delivered. He underwent several training regimens in order to gain the build and weight in order to look more like the boxing legend. And unlike many other boxing films, the fighting in Ali was 100% authentic. Meaning that Smith felt every single punch that you see in the movie. That level of dedication is alone admirable, and it's made even better that a great overall performance comes with it.
Friday is truly a one-of-a-kind movie. It's story is very simple. Two guys need to pay back drug money to their neighborhood dealer or face the consequences. But what happens over the course of that one day is what makes this movie such a classic. All the characters that come in and out of the story and the chemistry between Ice Cube and Chris Tucker make it such an entertaining watch. After nearly a decade of performing under a tough and no-nonsense persona, it's great to see Ice Cube be relaxed and deliver a great performance in one of the best comedies of the 90s. Craig is the straight man in a block filled with stoners, bullies, and wackjobs, and Cube's portrayal of him sells the movie outright.
Nowadays, people know Ice-T for three major things. His long-running role in Law & Order, the Geico commercial he was in, and the nonsensical portrayal of him in Rick & Morty. What people don't remember, however, is that he was one of the godfathers of gangsta rap and revolutionized the genre in many ways. He even released a song entitled "Cop Killer", which is obviously ironic considering his two famous roles as a police officer in Law & Order and the 1991 film New Jack City. In the early 90s, he was one of the first rappers to make the conversion into acting, and it sure was a good start for the endeavor.
As we've seen in Ali, it's very difficult to portray an athlete with a huge personality. Another difficult task is being a legendary musician portraying another legendary musician. Andre Benjamin is most famous for being a member of one of the greatest hip hop groups of all time in Outkast. Despite this, he has always been into other entertainment mediums as shown by numerous acting roles and his Cartoon Network series Class of 3000. Out of all his roles, one of his best is his portrayal of legendary musician Jimi Hendrix. Benjamin steps up and gives a great tribute to who many consider to be the greatest guitarist who ever lived.