20 Rappers Turned Actors Who Switched Careers

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Many rappers have ventured into the world of acting, and some of Hollywood’s biggest stars are former rappers.

There’s an almost natural progression between rappers moving from music into the world of acting. A host of stars have taken on roles in TV and film with many achieving great success in the industry.

A select number of rappers have given up music altogether, becoming established thespians in their own right, receiving critical acclaim and numerous accolades. While some of the rappers on this list will be familiar to you, you will also find one or two surprises.

Let’s find out more about these rappers turned actors who have made it in both the rap game and Hollywood.

20. T.I

T.I penned his first major-label deal in 1999, two years later releasing solo debut album I’m Serious and also forming southern hip-hop group P$C.

His first acting role arrived in the form of long-running drama series The O.C (2006) before moving into film a year later. T.I took on the part of Stevie Lucas in American Gangster (2007) and Dave the Getaway driver in Marvel movie Antman (2015).

Whilst T.I has numerous music awards to his name he is yet to claim a film accolade, but his roles to date have earned him a reputation as a skilled actor.

19. Nas

Nas’ musical career began in 1989 yet it would be five years before the release of debut studio record Illmatic which is considered to be one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time.

His first role in film was in crime thriller Belly (1998) as gang member Sincere Brown and also ventured into TV playing Gordon Smith in the police drama series Hawaii Five-O.

Nas has yet to win any major film honour for his work within the industry but has established himself as an accomplished actor within the genre.

18. Big Boi

Rising to fame as one half of hip-hop duo Outkast alongside André 3000, Big Boi’s 2010 solo debut album Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty was released to massive acclaim.

In 2006, Big Boi made his TV debut in animation King Of The Hill (2007) voicing the character of Reverend Nealey. He would also appear in several films including crime thriller Superfly (2018) as Mayor Atkins.

Whilst he is yet to win any film or TV related award, Big Boi has proved to be an accomplished and versatile actor, following his transition from the rap music scene. 

17. Tupac

conscious rappers

Tupac is widely considered to be one of the most influential and successful rappers of all time having sold more than 75 million records worldwide.

His first starring role came in American crime thriller Juice (1992) playing lead protagonist Bishop, a teenage gang member from the streets of Harlem. Four years later he went on to portray a Brooklyn drug kingpin called Tank in Bullet (1996) to great effect. 

In the same year, Tupac was brutally gunned down in a drive-by homicide without having the opportunity to truly explore his impressive acting capabilities. As a result, he was tragically never awarded for his talents.

16. Eve

In 1999, Eve released her first album Let There Be Eve…Ruff Ryders’ First Lady which reached number one on the Billboard 200.

She debuted and starred alongside Vin Diesel in action thriller XXX (2002) playing the role of J.J and then appearing as herself in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003) a year later. 

Eve also switched to TV and joined the cast of Glee (2009) playing the show’s choir director Grace Hitchens.

She is widely recognised as a fantastic actor who has built up a huge back catalogue of work in a variety of different TV and film projects. 

15. 50 Cent

50 Cent began to pursue a musical career in 2000, producing the critically acclaimed and heavily bootlegged mix tape Power of the Dollar.

His film debut came five years later when he was chosen to play the role of Marcus in crime thriller Get Rich Or Die Tryin.’ (2005) Since then the rapper has also featured in other gritty crime movies including Vengeance (2014) and Southpaw (2015) a year later.

Yet with no major awards to his name, 50 Cent has perhaps never received the credit owed for his remarkable acting.

14. Method Man

American rapper and record producer Method Man was a member of the East Coast hip-hop collective Wu-Tang Clan and is also one half of the duo Method Man & Redman.

He moved into film during the mid 90s, appearing as himself in sports comedy The Great White Hype (1995) starring among A-listers including Samuel L Jackson.

Later in his movie career he featured in Scary Movie 3 (2003) along with Jay and Silent Bob: Reboot (2019). Method Man has yet to receive any accolades for his work in film.

13. Ice-T

ice t

Ice-T was the co-founder of heavy metal band Body Count and found prominence with 1991 rap album O.G. Original Gangster.

The rapper’s film debut came in Breakin ‘ (1984), the story of a young jazz dancer trying to make his way in the breakdance scene, where he played the role of ‘rap talker.’

He went on to feature in films such as Gangland (2001) and Once Up A Time In Brooklyn (2013), also appearing in the series Law and Order in 2005. He won an MTV movie award for his role in crime drama New Jack City (1991) as the vengeful Scotty Anderson.

12. Bow Wow

Bow Wow was discovered by rapper Snoop Dogg in the late 90s. Aged just 13 and under the name Lil’ Bow Wow, he released his first record Beware of Dog in 2000.

The rapper appeared in TV show Moesha (2001) as Ray-Ray and five years later took on the role of Phantom Wraith Baern in Smallville (2006).

Bow Wow was also cast as Twinkle in Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) along with an appearance in Scary Movie 5 (2013).

11. Ice Cube

ice cube

Former NWA member Ice Cube first featured on the group’s 1988 record Straight Outta Compton before venturing into a solo career in 1990.

He was cast as Doughboy in coming of age crime drama Boyz In The Hood (1991), whilst also featuring in the likes of 21 Jump Street (2012) and 2023’s newly released animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, voicing the character of Superfly.

He has also been nominated for several MTV movie awards including recognition for his appearance in Ride Along (2014).

10. LL Cool J

ll cool j

LL Cool J’s breakthrough in the music industry arrived with his 1984 single ‘I Need a Beat’ soon followed by epic debut album Radio a year later. He released famous collaborations with Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys, becoming one of the foremost rappers of the 90s.

The rapper made a cameo appearance in Krush Groove (1985), eventually attempting more challenging roles in sports drama Any Given Sunday (1999) and Rollerball (2002) playing trainer Marcus Ridley.

LL Cool J claimed several Teen Choice awards including an accolade in 2010 for his part as Sam Hanna in NCIS: Los Angeles

9. Mos Def

mos def

The music career of Mos Def – now known as Yasiin Bey – started in 1994, with the rapper rising to fame as part of the conscious rap duo Black Star alongside fellow Brooklyn-based rapper Talib Kweli. In 1998, the groups released their debut record Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star.

The rapper played Obba Babatund in a story of poverty and homelessness, God Bless The Child (1988). His work as a taxi driver in Brown Sugar (2002) was notable before appearing in blockbusters including Monster’s Ball (2001) and The Italian Job (2003).

In 2004, Mos Def was even nominated for a BET award for his role as ‘Left Ear’ in The Italian Job. 

8. Eminem

After releasing his 1996 debut album Infinite, Marshall Mathers III wouldn’t truly find fame until his shift in persona and follow up record The Slim Shady LP reached number two on the Billboard 100 three years later.

Eminem’s venture into film consists solely of his role in 8 mile (2002) where he plays factory worker turned rapper B-Rabbit.

The legendary rapper received numerous nominations for his portrayal in the movie but received no awards. His work in 8 mile still resonates with film audiences today.

7. Snoop Dogg

Snoop Dogg first found fame in 1992 featuring on Dr. Dre’s debut solo single ‘Deep Cover’ before then recording on the rapper’s legendary album The Chronic.

Following appearances in short music documentaries, Snoop’s actual debut in film was a role in Half Baked (1998) playing a character called Scavenger Smoker. He was later cast in Hollywood Blockbuster’s Starsky And Hutch (2004) and, later, Scary Movie 5 (2013).

He went on to win an MTV film award for his portrayal of a wheelchair bound drug dealer in Training Day (2001).

6. Common

common

Common’s musical debut arrived in 1992 with the record Can I Borrow a Dollar? which gained critical acclaim whilst his 1994 album Resurrection helped build his underground following into the late 90s.

His filmic journey began with a small role in romantic comedy Brown Sugar (2002). He later went on to play family mobster Turner Lucas in American Gangster (2007) and a dystopian soldier in Terminator Salvation (2009).

Common also appeared in TV comedy drama Scrubs in 2004. He claimed several TV awards for his song ‘Glory’ with John Legend which was used in Selma (2014).

5. Ludacris

ludacris

Following a brief stint as a DJ, Ludacris formed his own record label Disturbing Tha Peace in the late 90s and released his debut album Incognegro in 1999. He went on to become one of the most successful rappers of the 90s and early 00s.

His film debut came with the role of Tej Parker in Too Fast Too Furious (2003). He would later go on to feature in Guy Ritchie’s gangster flick Rocknrolla (2008) along with reprising the part of Parker in several other Fast And Furious films.

Ludacris won a Screen Actors Guild award for the role of Anthony in film Crash (2004).

4. Mark Wahlberg

Everyone knows him as an actor, but few people know him as a rapper. Member of the group Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, Wahlberg released his first album Music for the People in 1991 and follow-up record You Gotta Believe a year later.

He made his screen debut in Renaissance Man (1994) with his first starring role in Fear (1996). The ex-rapper also received widespread praise for his performance as adult film actor Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights (1997).

Bigger parts were to come for Wahlberg, playing lead protagonist Captain Leo Davidson in Planet Of The Apes (2001) and as Boxer Micky Ward in The Fighter (2010). He has been nominated for Golden Globes and two Oscars for his roles in both The Fighter and The Departed (2006).

Wahlberg is arguably the most surprising rapper turned actor in Hollywood.

3. Queen Latifah

queen latifah

Queen Latifah released her debut album All Hail the Queen in 1989 which featured the hit single ‘Ladies First.’ The legendary female rapper was just 19 at the time.

Her film debut arrived in Jingle Fever (1991) where she played a waitress but was later offered more prominent roles in Chicago (2002) and as Motormouth Maybelle in Hairspray (2007). 

Queen Latifah received an Academy award nomination for Chicago and won a Golden Globe for her work on television film Life Support (2001). She also won three Screen Actors Guild accolades including a prize for her role in Bessie (2016).

2. Donald Glover

Donald Glover began his music career under the stage name Childish Gambino and released his debut record Camp in 2011 which peaked at number eleven on the Billboard 200. He has achieved huge success in both music and film, becoming one of the most acclaimed rapper-turned-actors of all time.

His first film role came during comedy Mystery Team (2009) where he played Jason before later featuring in larger productions such as Spiderman: Homecoming (2017) and as Simba in the real-life remake of The Lion King (2019).

Glover also appeared in TV sitcom 30 Rock (2006) as Tracy Jordan and then Troy Barnes in Community (2009). He won two Golden Globes, Primetime Emmys and Screen Actors Guilds for his work as Earnest Marks in comedy drama series Atlanta (2016).

1. Will Smith

will smith

Rising to prominence with hip-hop artist DJ Jazzy Jeff in the late 80s, Smith released debut album Rock The House in 1987 which reached number eighty-three on the Billboard 200.

Smith went on to appear in the iconic TV Sitcom Fresh Prince of Bel Air (1990) and made his film debut in Where The Day Takes You (1992) as Manny before featuring alongside Martin Lawrence in action thriller Bad Boys (1995). 

Smith became a Hollywood legend and starred in numerous blockbuster projects including the likes of Independence Day (1996), Men In Black (1997) and The Pursuit Of Happiness (2006). He has won eight major film awards throughout a stellar career so far including an Academy Award for his role in King Richard (2021).


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