Rappers in movies: the 10 best performances
Maybe it’s the facility with language, or the practice at telling tall tales. One way or another, a career as a rapper sure seems to prepare MCs for starring roles in movies that earn big box office bucks and — quite often — raves from critics. In ATL (opening March 31), a coming-of-age drama set in Atlanta, local hip-hop heroes Antwan ”Big Boi” Patton (of OutKast) and Tip ”T.I.” Harris (pictured) are the latest chart-topping rappers to attempt such crossover success.
The transition from pop star to movie star used to be a rough one. Before the hip-hop era, only a few top recording artists (Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby) became successful screen stars, while most (Elvis Presley, Madonna, Mick Jagger, Prince, Bob Dylan, David Bowie) had mixed results at best. That changed, however, after Mario Van Peebles cast Ice-T as a cop in New Jack City (1991) and John Singleton cast Ice Cube as a Los Angeles gangbanger in Boyz N the Hood (also ‘91). Soon, an ever-growing roster of rappers, including Will ”Fresh Prince” Smith and Queen Latifah, delivered memorable performances that drew throngs to the multiplex.
”Rappers are natural actors,” director Rob Cohen told Entertainment Weekly in 2002. (He directed Ja Rule in The Fast and the Furious and Eve in XXX.) ”Between their videos and their own onstage theatricality, it’s very easy to direct them once you explain the language of film.” Plus, many rappers may have the quality director Curtis Hanson saw in Eminem when he directed him in 8 Mile. ”What he had from the beginning is a natural charisma,” Hanson told EW, ”a thing that makes you interested in watching him and hearing what comes out of his mouth. As frustrating as it is to all the wannabe actors out there, that’s God-given. You either have it or you don’t.”
Do T.I. and Big Boi, both making their screen debuts in ATL, have it? The film marks T.I.’s bid for leading-man status. Big Boi plays a supporting role, but he’ll have a co-starring role opposite his OutKast partner Andre 3000 (a.k.a. Andre Benjamin) later this year in the musical Idlewild. In the meantime, here are the past performances you need to see — by 10 rappers who definitely have it.