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Rappers Like Tupac and Snoop Shine on Camera… DMX? Not So Much

Back in 1992, young rapper Will Smith officially made the transition from vinyl to celluloid with a role in the ensemble flick Where the Day Takes You. He hasn’t looked back since, and what’s more — probably because Smith makes it all look so ridiculously easy — countless other hip-hop stars have followed in his footsteps. But which rappers turned actors have scored big on the big screen and which should never have left the recording studio? Glad you asked.

common-125.jpg Common
It took Common nearly a decade and a half to reach mainstream fame with his Grammy-nominated album Be. It’s no coincidence that since then he’s landed roles in big-time flicks like American Gangster (2007), Wanted (2008), and Terminator Salvation (2009). Next up: a rumored stint as B.A. Baracus in an upcoming A-Team remake, which, judging by Mr. T’s career, may or may not be a good thing. But for now, we’ll say, “Glad you’re giving acting a shot.”


Though his acting career has stalled, DMX did star in a few action flicks early this decade, including Romeo Must Die (2000), Exit Wounds (2001), and Cradle 2 the Grave (2003). After the box-office smashes of Romeo Must Die and Exit Wounds, DMX seemed poised to become a mainstream star, but his music career soon went off the rails and his acting career followed suit. We say, “Relaunch your career in the recording studio. Afterward, we’ll talk about your next movie role.”


Like Snoop Dogg, this enigmatic rapper has had one shining Hollywood moment: playing Jimmy Smith, a talented up-and-coming white rapper in Detroit in the semi-autobiographical hit 8 Mile (2002). Thankfully, no lame Hollywood actor stepped to play Em — er, Jimmy. Instead, Eminem delivers an entertaining effort that plays like a hip-hop version of Saturday Night Fever (1977). We say, “Go ahead. Make another movie!”


Ice Cube
Pioneering N.W.A. member Ice Cube’s acting career has been almost as impressive on screen as off: He’s starred in Boyz n the Hood (1991), Friday (1995), Three Kings (1999), and the Barbershop movies. Cube has been at it long enough to appear in some movies that would make any N.W.A. fan cringe. Remember Torque (2004)? Consider yourself lucky. And who can forget the immortal Anaconda (1997), in which he delivered some of the worst one-liners in movie history? We say, “We’re willing to forgive you. Overall, you’re doing fine.”


LL Cool J
This veteran’s acting career encompasses everything from horror (Halloween: H20), to second-rate action (Deep Blue Sea), and outstanding drama (Any Given Sunday), but recent years have found him stuck in a TV rut as agent Sam Hanna on Naval Criminal Investigative Service. LL recently appeared on hit shows like 30 Rock and House M.D., but his last major movie role was in Queen Latifah’s Last Holiday (2006). Can we call it a comeback if he starts landing better roles? We say, “Please don’t do any infomercials.”

marky-mark-125.jpgMark Wahlberg
Wahlberg ranks right up there with Will Smith in terms of legit actors who cut their teeth in the rapping scene. Unfortunately, Wahlberg’s musical creds as the erstwhile leader of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch make Smith look like a cross between Jay-Z and Beethoven. Still, considering that their single “Good Vibrations” was a huge hit, there’s a good chance you liked it back in 1991. Less shameful? Admiring Wahlberg’s work as an actor in
flicks like The Departed (2006) and The Perfect Storm (2000). We say, “Thank you for stopping rapping.”


Mos Def
This thinking-man’s rapper has recently become a serious actor, despite never attaining superstardom. Though most people couldn’t pick him out of a lineup, he landed a major role in The Italian Job (2003), starred in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005) and 16 Blocks (2006), was nominated for an Emmy for Something the Lord Made (2004), and played Chuck Berry in Cadillac Records (2008). Oh yeah, and he’s still cutting records. Not bad! We say, “Keep doing what you’re doing.”


Snoop Dogg
The ageless Snoop isn’t here for his starring role in Soul Plane (2004) or his cameo in Old School (2003). Even his performance as a wheelchair-bound snitch in Training Day (2001) might not have been enough to merit a place in this hierarchy. Nope — his acting career starts and ends with his pitch-perfect turn as Huggy Bear in Starsky & Hutch (2004). Those ringlets, those furs — no other actor could have possibly pulled off the part. We say, “You the man, Snoop.”


Tupac Shakur
Better known for his visionary music and unsolved murder, Tupac managed to squeeze several great roles into his tragically brief life. His portrayal of a Harlem teenager sliding into an oblivion of crime in Juice (1992) was as heartbreaking a depiction of urban violence as anything this side of Boyz n the Hood (1991). He also more than held his own in a variety of other roles, most notably as a single dad in Poetic Justice (1993) and as a manipulative thug in Above the Rim (1994). We say, “We miss you, Tupac.”

Will Smith
Remember The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air? Smith lasted as a rapper all the way through to his ill-fated theme song for the equally ill-fated comedy Wild Wild West (1999). With his music career receding into the reaches of our collective memory, one might think Smith got his start in Independence Day (1996) or maybe The Fresh Prince. Not so: His humble beginnings include the ’80s rap tune “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” Speaking of which, what ever
happened to DJ Jazzy Jeff? We say, “Mr. Smith made the smoothest upgrade.”


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