Hip-Hop Artists Turned Actors

Music is derived from life.  Movies mimic life.  Maybe that’s why the transition from music to movies is so prevalent.  In music you have to express emotion in your voice and pair it with music that will move the listener.  In movies you have to impart the same sentiment through your facial expressions and body language.  The two ride along the same path together in parallel.  No wonder so many hip-hop stars have made the leap into acting.

Here are some hip-hop performers that have made the transition.  Some are good, some are bad, but they are all memorable:

Ice Cube

Ice Cube Boyz In The Hood

Ice Cube in Boyz n the Hood (1991)
Credit: Colombia Pictures Industries, Inc.

We first saw Ice Cube when the group NWA came out.  Writing Easy-E and Dr. Dre’s lines on their 1988 release, “Straight Outta Compton”, Ice Cube felt emboldened to do his own thing.  Ice Cube’s solo career marks the start of Gangster rap, influencing both west coast and east coast rapper alike.  In 1992, Ice Cube made his film debut in the classic “Boyz in the Hood”.  Now he writes and produces movies too.  Ice Cube was recognized by BET Honors in 2014 for his contribution to the Entertainment industry.

LL Cool J


Chris O’Donnell, LL Cool J and Eric Christian Olsen in NCIS: Los Angeles (2009)
Credit: CBS Broadcasting

LL Cool lit up the mike with songs like “Rock the Bells” and “I’m Bad” but he also blew up the silver screen.  Starting out in “Krush Groove”, LL Cool J has acted in films opposite Robin Williams, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Queen Latifah.  In 1995 he debuted in his first television venture called “In the House”.  LL Cool J is currently on the police drama “NCIS: Los Angeles”.

Queen Latifah

Queen Latifah Joyful Noise

Queen Latifah and Keke Palmer in Joyful Noise (2012)
Photo: Van Redin

Speaking of the Queen, she has parlayed a successful on screen career in her own right.  She had roles in “Juice”, “House Party 2” and “Jungle Fever” but what most people remember her for in the early days is her hot TV show “Living Single”.  She performed opposite a stellar cast that included none other than Tootie from “The Facts of Life” (Kim Fields).  Queen Latifah has gone on to having roles in “Bringing Down the House”, “Barbershop 2: Back in Business”, “Joyful Noise”, “The Secret Life of Bees” and “Last Holiday” among others.  She is currently a talk show host on “The Queen Latifah Show”.

Will Smith

Will Smith The Pursuit of Happyness

Will Smith and Jaden Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
Credit: Colombia Pictures

Will Smith has done it all.  After flooding the airwaves with happy go lucky tunes like “Parent’s Just Don’t Understand” and the quintessential summer tune “Summertime” as one half of the duo “DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince”, he stared in a sitcom that everyone has seen at least one episode of – “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”.  Since then he has been in such blockbuster hits as “Bad Boys”, “Men in Black”, and “The Pursuit of Happyness”.

Honorable mention:  Mose Def, Common, T.I.

You’re probably thinking I’ve only given you good examples.  Good and bad is relative, but here are some of the less notable transitions:  Ahhh!…  You know who they are!

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