This week Cadillac Records, starring Beyonce Knowles, Adrien Brody, and Mos Def, hits theaters. It's a music-driven period piece about the great Chess Records label which recorded some of the finest blues and R&B ever captured on vinyl in the 1950s and 1960s. Hip-hop musician and actor Mos Def plays legendary rock 'n roller Chuck Berry, which inspired us to take a look at other rappers who have successfully made the leap to the big screen.
Pop stars in the movies are nothing new; for a long time, it came with the territory. However, since the early 1990s, a number of hip hop artists have seamlessly made the transition from wax to celluloid, often delivering more compelling performances than their classically-trained co-stars. Without further ado, we run down some of the finest thespians in the hip hop game.
West Coast rapper "X to the Z" Xzibit (born Alvin Joiner) released his first record in 1996, but got his real breakthrough a few years later when he joined producer Dr. Dre's cadre of up-and-comers. Rhyming alongside the likes of Snoop Dogg and Eminem, Xzibit followed their lead with small roles in Snoop films The Eastsidaz (2000) and The Wash (2001), and made a memorable cameo as a free-styling factory worker in Eminem's 8 Mile (2002). But another breakthrough was in order: a hosting gig on a new MTV show called Pimp My Ride. The auto makeover show became so successful it spawned spin-offs in countries including Canada, Europe, the Middle East, and New Zealand; more importantly, it helped Xzibit pursue meatier roles in Hollywood. Only a year after Pimp My Ride debuted, Xzibit went on to voice a character in the animated film Hoodwinked, land a supporting role opposite Ice Cube and Samuel L. Jackson in xXx: State of the Union, and appear alongside Jennifer Aniston and Clive Owen in Derailed -- all in the same year. Since then, Xzibit has continued to build his acting resume with roles in Gridiron Gang and The X-Files: I Want to Believe, and will next appear in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans for director Werner Herzog.
Some of us remember back when Common was still calling himself Common Sense and beefing with west coast rappers, but Chi-town's finest (eat your heart out, Kanye) has come a long way since then. Common, otherwise known as Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr., worked his way up from the underground where he maintained a loyal following, eventually got himself a major label record deal, and ultimately landed in the mainstream consciousness with 2005's "Be." Next thing we knew, he was dancing his way through Gap commercials and appearing on Chappelle's Show. Though his acting credits up to that point had only included a few TV show episodes and appearances as "himself," he took the next major step by accepting a role in 2006's Smokin' Aces, a critical bomb that nevertheless featured a slew of big Hollywood names (Ray Liotta, Ben Affleck, Jeremy Piven, Andy Garcia). He continued to add to his resume with appearances in American Gangster, Street Kings, and this year's Wanted, and despite his ongoing rap career (a new album is due in 2009), audiences can expect to see him in the upcoming Terminator Salvation with Christian Bale..