Total Recall: Rappers on the Big Screen

We celebrate hip hop's most prolific and successful thespians.

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Queen Latifah

Latifah (Dana Elaine Owens) released her debut album "All Hail the Queen" in 1989 at the tender age of 19, dropping hits like "Ladies First" and "Princess of the Posse" during a time when rap was primarily a man's game. Working with hip hop heavyweights like KRS-One and De La Soul, she achieved instant appeal, and it wasn't long before Hollywood came knocking. Two years to be precise, as 1991 brought her roles in both Spike Lee's Jungle Fever and pop rappers Kid N Play's House Party 2. From there, Latifah's star would only rise, beginning with her first starring role in F. Gary Gray's Set if Off, alongside a pre-Smith Jada Pinkett and Vivica Fox, and continuing on to award-winning roles in Chicago and this year's Hairspray. Sure, she's been the target of her fair share of tabloid rumors, but when you've made a career out of portraying strong, independent women, winning multiple awards for music, television, and movies in the process, you're bound to attract that sort of attention. Still, no one can argue that she was one of rap's pioneering ladies or that she is all the more remarkable for being able to transform that niche fame into a highly successful career in film. All hail the Queen!


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Will Smith

As the Fresh Prince, Will Smith was one of hip hop's earliest mainstream stars, and it isn't hard to see why. At a time when parents and the media were alarmed by the genre's more explicit and political content, Smith spun playful yarns like "Parents Just Don't Understand" and "Girls Ain't Nothing But Trouble" that showcased his amiable personality. (It didn't hurt that he was ably assisted by respected turntablist Jazzy Jeff). He brought his smarts and charm to the boob tube in the hit series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air before graduating to the big screen, winning plaudits as a charming con man in Six Degrees of Separation. With Independence Day, Men in Black, and Enemy of the State, Smith graduated to the big leagues, becoming one of Hollywood's most marketable stars, and despite some setbacks (Wild Wild West, anyone?) Smith has maintained a remarkably high level of consistency. He has even picked up some Academy Award nominations for Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness.


The number of MCs that have traded in their mics for a shot at big-screen glory by no means ends there. Eminem was a one-film wonder in 8 Mile. Bow Wow has turned in some respectable performances in a variety of films, from Like Mike to Roll Bounce. DMX starred in a series of action flicks. Master P directed and starred in numerous straight-to-DVD titles. Both members of OutKast have been featured in theatrical releases in recent years. Both Who's the Man and Belly found nearly their entire casts from hip hop's ranks. And the beat goes on.

Think you know your rapper-actors pretty well? Then have a go at our Rapper Filmography trivia game, which tests your knowledge of the acting careers for various hip hoppers. Additionally, for our list of cinema's greatest fake bands, click here. For our examination of the Beatles' movies, click here. Check out the rest of our Total Recall archives here.

Finally, we give you one of our favorite early examples of rappers making the transition to the big screen: the Fat Boys in Disorderlies:

Written by Jen Yamato, Ryan Fujitani, and Tim Ryan.

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