Total Recall: Rappers on the Big Screen
We celebrate hip hop's most prolific and successful thespians.
Hip-hop heads remember rapper Ice-T (born Tracy Lauren Marrow) as one of the fathers of gangsta rap, thanks to controversial hits like "Cop Killer" that put him on the map in the early 1990s, but how many know that Ice's acting career predated his reign as the definitive OG, thanks to his on-screen debut in the seminal 1984 films Breakin' and Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo?
Although Ice-T did in fact appear in both Breakin' films, he subsequently took a break from acting until 1991, when he decided to join the cast of 1991's New Jack City, a gritty urban crime thriller with Wesley Snipes and Mario Van Peebles that put the now-famous Ice-T (playing a cop, of all things) back on Hollywood's radar. (Two months later, his album "O.G. Original Gangster" dropped to critical acclaim.) Following the success of New Jack City, Ice-T continued to make movies at a rate that quickly outpaced his musical productivity, appearing in everything from Who's the Man? to Tank Girl to Johnny Mnemonic to television's New York Undercover, as well as countless direct-to-video films. Producing and starring in the short-lived crime series Players led to Ice-T's longest and best-known acting role: Detective Odafin "Fin" Tutuola on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," which he's been playing since 2000.
In an interview with RT last year, director Julien Temple lamented the fact that most pop singers have too much star baggage to be convincing as actors. However, Tupac Shakur, who starred in Temple's Bullet, was different. "Tupac had quite an aura about him," he said. Shakur was hardly a typical rapper-turned-thespian; as a child actor, he performed in A Raisin in the Sun as part of Harlem's 127th Street Ensemble, and in high school, he appeared in Shakespeare plays and The Nutcracker. After a stint with the Digital Underground, 2Pac became one of the biggest MCs in the game, and some of his biggest hits, like "Brenda's Got a Baby" and "Dear Mama," contained a sense of cinematic observation and drama. Now a star, 2Pac turned to the big screen, and his air of desperate menace elevated such genre films as Juice and Above the Rim. However, he also displayed nuance as a sensitive mailman in Poetic Justice and as a down-on-his-luck jazz musician in Gridlock'd.
Warning: Clip is NSFW -- language.