ByMark Anthony Wade Lynch, writer at
Trying to become Earth's Mightiest writer or at least one that people look for.
Mark Anthony Wade Lynch

Hip hop is an artistic movement that has been around since the '70s, and many of the artists involved with the genre have now been popular for decades, developing their skills over time. What started as a way of life in urban neighborhoods has turned into a billion dollar industry that has spawned renowned artists such as 2-Pac, The Notorious B.I.G. and Wu Tang Clan. Many popular rappers have even found a way to turn their musical popularity into profitable acting careers. Beyond their musical aspirations, here are some of the most popular hip hop artists to have showcased their acting talents on the big screen.

6. Ice T: An Impressive 17-Year Run On Law And Order

Ice T in 'Law & Order: Special Victims Unit' (Credit: NBC)
Ice T in 'Law & Order: Special Victims Unit' (Credit: NBC)

In the 1980s, Ice T was one of the most hardcore rappers out there. When he said he was going to shoot you or that he was a pimp, you believed it. Whether it was true or not remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: he was not the type of guy you wanted to mess with. Ice T's music career was short-lived, but his career as an actor blossomed quickly.

In 1991, Ice T co-starred in one of the best gangster flicks ever, New Jack City. The funny thing is that despite Ice T's persona in rap, Ice T played an undercover cop set on taking down Nino Brown (Wesley Snipes). Ice T's time spent as a detective didn't stop there, as he went on to play Detective Odafin Tutuola on Law and Order: Special Victim Unit. In fact, Ice T has been one of the show's longest running character having been on for seventeen years (starting in 2000).

Accolades and Awards:

Ice T has been nominated for four Image Awards for his role on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit (winning in 2002) and a nomination for his amazing role in New York Undercover. Despite his award wins, Ice T's greatest on-air accomplishment has to be that he is one of the longest running black actors on a show, having been on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit since 2000.

5. The RZA: Action Movies & A BAFTA Award

If you go back to the early '90s, the RZA was not a household name. However, if you were a fan of hip hop, you knew him as the one behind 'C.R.E.A.M.', 'Triumph', and 'All That I Got Is You', and so many more Wu Tang tracks. He was the man with an unorthodox but great flow. So, who would have thought that this same guy would break into movies?

As a musician, the RZA went on to do music for Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained and Kill Bill, as well as Adult Swim's Afro Samurai. But his career in movies was more than just music. RZA also has thirty-three acting credits, including a role in American Gangster, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, and a reoccurring role in Californication. He also starred in The Man with the Iron Fist.

RZA still may not be a household name, but he has made himself a one heck of a career.

Accolades and Awards:

The RZA won a BAFTA Award for his Kill Bill: Volume 2 score. His music in that movie is one of the main attributes that makes the film so amazing, setting every scene beautifully.

4. Queen Latifah: LGBT Representation & Oscar Nomination

In 1998, Queen Latifah came onto the hip hop scene with her ambitious debut album, All Hail the Queen. She was part of the hip hop revolution that focused on the positive aspects of being black, rapping about ways of building up black people with uplifting lyrics.

While hip hop was predominantly a boy's club, The Queen kicked in the door and made herself a player, becoming one of the most recognized figures in hip hop. Without The Queen's influence, many women may not have gotten the chance to be popular rappers or successful hip hop artists.

However, Queen Latifah didn't spend a lot of time as a hip hop artist herself. The Queen went on to become an actress, and an extremely popular one at that. Before there was Friends, The Queen (along with a great cast) starred in Living Single.

For me, Queen Latifah's big moment was Set It Off. The Queen played a dominant woman, and also played an LGBT character while it was still a taboo move for a performer. While this performance was great, it was her role in Chicago that got her tons of notoriety and nominations from almost every award show around (Screen Actors Guild, BET Awards, Golden Globes).

Her acting career started in 1991, and doesn't seem to be stopping any time soon.

Accolades and Awards:

Queen Latifah has been in over thirty movies and has also been nominated for over 50 awards for her time as an actress. That includes a Grammy Award, with six nominations, a Golden Globe Award, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, with two nominations, two NAACP Image Awards, including thirteen nominations, one Emmy Award, with three nominations and an Academy Award nomination. The Queen is also is the first female rapper to be nominated for an Oscar.

3. LL Cool J: A Powerful Acting Range & People's Choice Awards

LL Cool J in 'Deep Blue Sea' (Credit: Roadshow Entertainment)
LL Cool J in 'Deep Blue Sea' (Credit: Roadshow Entertainment)

Drake should be texting LL Cool J every day, thanking him for his career. Before LL came out, it wasn't cool to be both a lover and a fighter in the rap industry. But LL Cool J found a way to be 'Ladies Love Cool James' and also maintain a hardcore image. He could put out 'I need Love' and then hit you with 'Momma Said Knock You Out'.

In 1992, LL Cool J was in Toys with Robin Williams, but this was just the beginning of LL's career. In 1995, LL starred in a sitcom called In the house. The show was on for four years, but even this didn't elevate him to the success that he would eventually achieve.

In 1999, LL Cool J had three movies that showed his range as an actor. He played the comic relief in Deep Blue Sea, an arrogant professional football player in Any Given Sunday, and a kingpin in In Too Deep. This was a guy who had everything it took to be a star, and was ready to take hit chances. LL currently hosts Lip Sync and has starred in NCIS: Los Angeles since 2009.

Accolades and Awards:

LL Cool J has nine Grammy nominations and two wins ('Momma Said Knock You Out' and 'Hey Lover'), as well as four NAACP nominations and wins. As an actor, LL has over twenty award nominations including a Prime Time Emmy nomination for Lip Sync Battle and two People's Choice awards for his role in NCIS: Los Angeles.

2. Will Smith: From 'Summertime' To One of The World's Biggest Movie Stars

When people think of classic rap artists, Will Smith doesn't usually pop into the heads of fans immediately. The funny thing is, Will Smith has more than just a few classic hits. First and foremost, there's 'Summertime'. For a lot of people, it isn't summer until the radio plays Smith's track on a 90-degree day. Before this, he had 'Parents Just Don't Understand', 'Girls Ain't Nothing But Trouble' and a song about his son, 'Just the Two of Us'.

He isn't as lyrical as Common or Nas, but Will Smith has carved out a better career than most - especially when you look at his acting career. In 1990, Will Smith starred in Fresh Prince of Bel Air, a series that has become known as one of the many classic sitcoms of the '90s. Will played a goofy character, but had more than a few dramatic moments (Will crying to Uncle Phil still brings tears to my eyes). Will Smith later went on to star in a plethora of classics, such as Independence Day, Hitch, The Men in Black trilogy, Ali, Bad Boys, I, Robot, and The Pursuit of Happyness.

In fact, Will Smith may be the most famous movie star to have come out of the rap industry.

Accolades and Awards:

As an rapper, Will Smith has been nominated for eight Grammys, winning four (Best Rap Performance for' Parents Just Don't Understand', Best Rap Performance By A Duo or Group for 'Summertime' and Best Rap Solo Performance for 'Men in Black' and 'Gettin' Jiggy with it').

As an actor, Will Smith has Academy Award nominations for Pursuit of Happyness and Ali, and four Golden Globe nominations for his role in Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Pursuit of Happyness, Concussion, and Ali.

1. Ice Cube: A Multi-Talented, Freedom of Speech Activist

Ice Cube in 'Friday' (Credit: New Line Cinema)
Ice Cube in 'Friday' (Credit: New Line Cinema)

The youth of today have a different view of Ice Cube and his contributions to entertainment. However, the older generation will remember what he has done for hip hop and freedom of speech. As a crucial member of NWA, Ice Cube helped tell the stories of people on the street. To some, these were stories that glorified gang lifestyles, but I personally found it amazing to see someone telling important street stories, giving a voice to the voiceless. Even after Ice Cube left NWA, he continued to be one of the most recognized faces in hip hop, with one classic hit after another.

He went on to write, co-produce and star in Friday, a film that is recognized as one of the best comedies of all time. Besides Friday, Ice Cube also starred in Boyz in da Hood, XXX: State of the Union, Ride Along, and created the hit movie Straight Outta Compton with his former NWA partner, Dr. Dre.

Accolades and Awards:

Surprisingly, Ice Cube doesn't have the awards and nominations of the previous artists, but what he does have is an extremely impressive resume when it comes to his work: forty-two credits as an actor, twenty-nine credits as a producer, and nine credits as a writer. The reason Ice Cube tops this list is because he's been able to accomplish so much in so many different ways - which is surely something he should be praised for.

These are only a few of the hip hop artists that have made their way onto movies and TV. There are those like Method Man and Sticky Fingaz who have found their way to tons of television and acting credits - and then there's also Marky Mark. He's always had...Good Vibrations!

What are your favorite hip hop artists who have taken on acting roles?Let me know in the comments below.


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