The 19 best and worst rappers turned actors

by Tyler Munro

January 29, 2014






Email this article to a friend

There’s many reasons as to why rappers make if not great, then at least employable actors. Maybe it’s because they’re used to playing a character, an exaggeration of the self, the id, or the idealized, or maybe it’s because they’re used to the hustle of showbizness. Whatever the case, MCs have been ironing it out on film for almost as long as the genre’s been about, and while movies like Krush Groove got things started early on, all bets were off once the Fresh Prince popularized the idea with his massively successful sitcom.

Below, we’ll look at some of the best and most of the worst examples of rapper turned actors. And if you can believe it, Last Holiday‘s only mentioned twice. Goodness, that’s a delightful movie!

Will Smith

Will Smith is the gold standard here, and while it’s been more than eight years since his last album, we’ll forever know him first as the charismatic Fresh Prince. Initially little more than a loveable goof on screen, Will Smith’s acting chops slowly rolled out until hitting a fever pitch on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s fourth season. While he’d already delivered a strong performance in his long-forgotten big screen debut Six Degrees of Separation, his end of episode performance in “Papa’s Got a Brand New Excuse” endures to this day.

Curiously, though, Smith rarely forays into such heavy handedness these days, and while his time as a can’t miss box office prospect has dwindled, his dedication is still unmatched. Smith is a student of the medium, and in 2007 he famously told Time Magazine about how he and manager James Lassiter would plan his next movie by studying box office trends. This list is unordered; even still, Smith clearly belongs at the top.

Marky Mark Wahlberg

Marky Mark is a bit of an anomaly, because while he got his first big break as Donnie’s rapping little brother, his one hit wonder hip-hop career fizzled out faster than Wahlberg could put on a shirt and strut into his first audition; more than 22 years after “Good Vibrations,” it’s clear to see he made the right choice. Now Wahlberg is an Academy Award nominated actor and producer with a diverse and acclaimed filmography under his belt. Vanilla Ice was in Cool As Ice; Mark Wahlberg was in The Departed.


Admit it: you forgot about Exit Wounds.

Dark Man X made his acting debut in Hype Williams’ ghastly 90-minute music video Belly, but his first major role was in Romeo Must Die, an Aaliyah-Jet Li Romeo & Juliet send-off that succeeded more than anything to push its star-studded soundtrack. But Exit Wounds… that’s the stuff of legend. In it, DMX plays an eccentric undercover billionaire that butts head with Steven Seagal’s Orin Boyd, a brash do-it-yourself cop who gets demoted for saving the Vice President’s life. The movie sucked, but it did give us DMX’s “Ain’t No Sunshine” cover.

Ja Rule

The Asylum‘s answer to DMX, Ja Rule’s acting career was a little longer but far less illustrious than his barking nemesis. He first starred with Pras—Pras!—in Turn It Up, an ambitious flick that saw Ja Rule stretch his chops from rapper to a rapper’s manager. He’s most famous, we guess, for his roles in movies like The Fast and the Furious and Assault on Precinct 13, but like DMX he also starred with Steven Seagal when the two joined up for Half Past Dead. Now fresh out of jail, Ja Rule says he wants to focus more on acting as he gets older, telling Billboard he’s looking to move beyond just playing thugs. His first movie post-prison? I’m in Love with a Church Girl, in which he plays a pastor-turned-drug trafficker.


Okay, we mentioned him briefly up top, but seriously? This guy starred in a movie? With a $9 million budget? “Ghetto Superstar” was an absolute fluke, since Pras otherwise only had a music career because of his relation to Wyclef Jean. There’s no excuse for putting this dude in front of the camera. Like, seriously: he named his second solo single after the slang for lighting your farts on fire.

Lauryn Hill

Before she lost her mind, went to jail, and went all anti-government, Lauryn Hill was a shining star transitioning out of The Fugees and into a burgeoning solo career. But five years before The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill came Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, an abysmal sequel to Whoopi’s first movie that saw Lauryn Hill as an eye-rolling loudmouth with a secret heart of gold and the voice to match. The movie made a ton of money, and in spite of shoddy reviews, topped the box office. More than that, it showed that Lauryn Hill might have been on track for the EGOT. Today? Not so much.

LL Cool J

LL Cool J stars in two of the ultimate guilty pleasure flicks in Deep Blue Sea and Last Holiday, but since we’ll touch on the latter later, let’s focus on what’s important: hyper intelligent super sharks. We know about his work on NCIS: Los Angeles so instead I’d like to focus on something else… what if Deep Blue Sea took place in the same universe as Under Siege. Right? And what if LL Cool J is, like, the next Casey Ryback? No?


RZA grew up on kung-fu films and famously flopped with his own in 2012, but making up for his total lack of acting ability is the Wu-Tang Clan producer’s inimitable ability to totally steal scene, something anyone who’s suffered through Californication‘s 5th season can attest to.

Sean Combs

Diddy exemplifies the hustle aspect we mentioned earlier, but he’s quietly become great over his last few roles not for an increased acting ability, but for his ability to embrace being disastrously bad. Case in point, his hilarious self-effacing role in Get Him to the Greek and his bass-smacking cameo on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.


A man as well groomed as Common could only go so long before transitioning from hip-hop to movies, and after a while he found himself easing out of Gap commercials into gunslinging roles in Smokin’ Aces, Wanted and Terminator Salvation. Fun fact: he and former rapper Queen Latifah co-starred in basketball flick Just Wright. Against the odds, it was just okay. Today, Common’s perhaps known better for his role on Hell on Wheels than his work on the mic.

Bow Wow

Forget Like Mike for just a second and try to remember Roll Bounce, a rollerskating period piece so nonsensical it might have completely killed Bow Wow’s already fledgling career. Nick Cannon recovered… by never releasing another album… and marrying Mariah Carey.

Queen Latifah

There’s no bigger testament to Queen Latifah’s acting career than the fact she played two different characters on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in the same season. Not a lot can be said otherwise: she’s usually playing the tough but sensitive underdog and, even while typecast, kills it. Can we talk about Last Holiday? Answer carefully: we’ve got a lot to say.

Mos Def/Yasiin Bey

Mos Def went through a weird period post-Black on Both Sides, at first struggling with his hip-hop identity as a blues loving rocker before his brief but startling run at the box office. He killed it in the otherwise maligned Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy adaptation opposite Martin Freeman and goofed it up in Michel Gondry’s quirky-yet-dull Be Kind Rewind. The lesson? Dude is great in so-so movies.


A rapper of permanent potential and endless what-ifs, Tupac Shakur’s acting career quietly traced the expectations of his heavy handed stake in music. Most of his movies were closer to Elvis than Wahlberg, but towards the end there was a hint that dude could have been special. And then he died… or did he? Maybe he’ll soon fool us all with the greatest acting stunt yet—pretending to be dead.


From 2002 to 2006, Eve was almost inescapable. As Scorpion climbed the music charts she quickly found charisma translated to the camera, and before long she’d transitioned from roles in xXx and Barbershop to her own sitcom. Eve lasted three seasons and was strong enough to keep Eve’s acting career going; she’s since been on shows like Glee and in movies like Whip It!.

Ice Cube & Ice T

We’re lumping these two in for convenience’s sake: two cop-killing MCs that two decades later can be seen donning a uniform on television and cinema screens. While Ice-T’s acting career is far from as fleshed out as Cube’s, his fourteen year run on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is nothing to scoff at. Ice Cube meanwhile has been on camera as everything from a family man to a super spy to a cop—twice.


Luda’s career arc from spitfiring battle rapper to punchline peddling crossover was made all the more interesting by his forays into film, but who could have seen the guy who wrote “Move Bitch” crossing over into rom-com territory as the comedic everyman in the otherwise dreadful No Strings Attached?


Marshall Mathers barely counts. The guy has one film credit in 8 Mile wherein he plays… himself, basically. But the movie did damage at the box office and showed fans that his passion could translate to film, even if the role was far from a stretch.

Tags: Music, Lists, News, 2 Pac, be kind rewind, Bobby Digital, Diddy, douglas adams, Eminem, Fugees, Ice Cube, Ice-T, Ja Rule, Lil Bow Wow, LL Cool J, Ludacris, Mark Wahlberg, Mos Def, Queen Latifah, rza, Sean Combs, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Fugees, Tupac Shakur, will smith, Wu Tang Clan






Email this article to a friend