What do entertainers Ice-T, Will Smith, Queen Latifah and Ice Cube have in common? They have all made a successful transition from rapper to actor. Since Ice-T’s 1991 debut in “New Jack City,” the movie industry has seen an influx of crossover rappers, many of which are still enjoying successful acting careers.
Debuting also in 1991, rapper O’Shea “Ice Cube” Jackson jumped onto the scene as Doughboy in the movie “Boyz N the Hood.” Since then he has starred in box office hits like “Friday” (1995), “Barbershop” (2002) and “Barbershop 2” (2004). Jackson also retired his gangsta image to star in the 2005 family movie “Are We There Yet?”
Enter Will “Fresh Prince” Smith. In 1990, Smith traded his rap career with friend and colleague DJ Jazzy Jeff to star in a sitcom based on his experiences as a West Philly youth transplanted to Beverly Hills. Smith’s stint on the comedy series, which lasted for six years, propelled him into movie star status, as he accumulated one Blockbuster hit after another with “Six Degree of Separation” (1993), “Bad Boys” (1995) and ”Independence Day” (1996). He also found box-office success with “Bad Boys II” (2003), and “Hitch” (2005).
Similarly, Dana “Queen Latifah” Owens, who is known hip-hop’s first lady, replaced the rap stage with the big screen. Leaving a decade long rap career behind, Owens became well known for her role as Khadijah James in the sitcom “Living Single,” which aired from 1993 to 1998. Her big screen successes include “Set It Off” (1996), “Chicago” (2002) and “Bringing Down the House” (2003).
Other rappers that have made appearances on the big screen include Eminem in “8 Mile” 2002, Busta Rhymes in “Higher Learning” (1995), Snoop Doggy Dogg in “Bones” (2001) and 50 Cent in “Get Rich or Die Tryin'” (2005).
Rappers continue to take center stage in movies. Most recently, Dante Terrel Williams, known to fans as Mos Def, starred alongside Bruce Willis in the successful drama/thriller “16 Blocks” (2006), which opened in theatres on March 3. Williams emersion as one of the more conscientious voices in the hip-hop arena won him fans of all ages.
As an actor, he has also received critical acclaim as he received an NAACP Image Award nomination for his role in the 2002 romantic comedy “Brown Sugar.” He has also been nominated for an Emmy, a Golden Globe Award, and a Golden Satellite Award for his role in the HBO movie “Something the Lord Made” (2004).
Following the beaten path of his predecessors is Atlanta rapper Tip “T.I.” Harris, who will make his acting debut in the 2006 movie “ATL,” which is set to open on March 31.