Musicians have always been an major influence and contributors for the movie making process. Not just behind the scenes, in movie scoring and soundtracks, but in front of the camera as actors. And not just as one shot cameos, but as supporting characters and film leads. With varying success, musicians the like of Elvis Presley, Barbara Streisand, Madonna, Cher, and Diana Ross have crossed over into film. Many rappers are following in the same tradition by putting down the microphone and venturing onto movie sets. Here's a list as I see it.
In no particular order...
O'SHEA JACKSON has been a part of the rap game for 20+ years. As a member of the influential and controversial group N.W.A., and as a solo artist, he has recorded chart topping albums: Straight Outta Compton, AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, Kill At Will, Death Certificate, The Predator, and I Am the West. Notable films: Boyz n the Hood, Higher Learning, Friday, Anaconda, Three Kings, BarberShop, Are We There Yet?, 21 Jump Street, Ride Along.
LL COOL J
JAMES TODD SMITH burst onto the music scene as a 16 year old with a demo tape and b-boy swag. Chart topping hit albums have followed: Radio, Bigger and Deffer, Mama Said Knock You Out, Phenomenon, G.O.A.T., and Authentic. Notable films: Deep Blue Sea, Any Given Sunday, Deliver Us from Eva, S.W.A.T., Grudge Match, NCIS: Los Angeles, In The House.
DANA OWENS found great success as a female rapper in the male dominated genre by focusing on subjects like harassment, and domestic violence. And even after transitioning into singing soul/jazz music, hit albums have continued: All Hail the Queen, Nature of a Sista, Order in the Court, The Dana Owens Album, Trav'lin' Light, and Persona. Notable films: Set It Off, The Bone Collector, Chicago, Brown Sugar, Bringing Down the House, Beauty Shop, Hairspray, The Secret Life of Bees, Joyful Noise, Steel Magnolias, Living Single.
TRACY MARROW turned a life of crime, gangs, and hustlin' into inspiration for a successful rap career. An O.G. (original gangster) in the rap game, his segue into heavy metal was a surprising risk which also garnered hit albums: Rhyme Pays, Power, O.G. Original Gangster, Gangsta Rap, Body Count, and Manslaughter. Notable films: New Jack City, Ricochet, Surviving the Game, Tank Girl, 3000 Miles to Graceland, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
WILL SMITH may well be the best rapper/actor of his generation. With Golden Globe and Oscar nominations under his belt, as well four Grammy Awards, his chart topping albums are a clear sign of his musical success: He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper, And in This Corner..., Code Red, Big Willie Style, Willennium, and Lost and Found. Notable films: Six Degrees of Separation, Bad Boys, Independence Day, Men in Black, Ali, I, Robot, The Pursuit of Happyness, Hancock, After Earth.
Honorable mentions: TUPAC, RZA (as writer, director, actor, scorer)