Talent does not always translate across art forms. Nowhere has this been proven more true than with acting. Artists from all walks of life — including painters, dancers, writers, and yes, rappers — have tried their hand at pretending to be someone else. While some rappers have pulled off the art of dramatic performance, and a few have even become bona fide movie stars, many more have tried and failed. Sometimes, they have even fallen short at playing themselves.
News broke recently that The Weeknd will become the next in a long line of musicians to try their luck on the silver screen. As we anticipate his debut, let’s take a look at the good, the bad, and the Oscar worthy of rappers turned actors.
39. Kanye West
West has popped up in some short films over the years, and generally we’ve wished that he’d stuck to one of his various other artistic pursuits. Though West is known for trying his hand at various endeavors and figuring out how to make it work, his acting work just isn’t believable. Being larger than life just isn’t a desirable trait in an intimate film performance, and you just don’t buy Kanye as anything but Kanye.
If his acting career is remembered at all, it is remembered for being particularly bad. His work as a rapper turned actor includes forgettable efforts like The Power of Few and Hood Angels. Though it would be hard for any performer to succeed in films like these, Juvenile comes across so poorly that he has been been remember as the the go-to example for rappers who failed to transition to the silver screen.
37. Tone Loc
Tone Loc showed up in a stunning number of projects in the 90s, and many of them sound very weird next to each other. No, he isn’t much of an actor, but who else can say they were in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Heat? While you can’t knock his hustle, you can knock is deadpan, gravely voice and mostly emotionless delivery. It looks like Tone had a good agent, and after a while, even he asked, “What’s the point?”
36. Soulja Boy
You likely don’t remember Soulja boy from his turns in Officer Down and School Gyrls. Calling him a rapper turned actor might actually be a stretch. What few roles he had were as replacement level heavies, and you could imagine pretty much any working actor turning in a more credible performance.
35. Big Daddy Kane
You probably don’t remember the films Big Daddy Kane has showed up in, and that is probably for the best. Titles of these films include I Need A Man, Movie Madness, and Exposed. It isn’t easy to find extended scenes from this these films: most of them didn’t survive the death of VHS. But what you can find shows a Big Daddy Kane who is decent, but smartly chose roles with few lines, so he didn’t have the time to screw up.
Diddy might like to be known as a master thespian, considering he has seventy acting credits to his name. But, audiences have not been particularly charmed by his theaterics, as evidenced by the fact that he is most often cast as himself. When Diddy doesn’t play a version of himself, he comes off as wooden and uninspired. There’s no doubt that he wouldn’t be in these parts if it wasn’t for his fame and financial situation.
33. Vanilla Ice
Neither rapping nor acting quite suited Vanilla Ice. He is probably best remembered for his role in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II, though he also played Mark Twain in The Ridiculous 6. You have to give Ice a little credit for embracing his goofy persona through the years, and being willing to poke fun at himself. That isn’t to say he deserves and Oscar, but his performances usually make you smile.
He has fifteen acting credits to his name, and the only film you might remember Cam’ron from is Paper Soldiers. Cam’ron takes limited roles, usually appearing as a gangster, but when he does show up he blends right into the proceedings and does just fine.
In a modest acting career, Nelly has performed passably in projects like The Longest Yard and CSI: NY. The St. Lunatic brings energy and charm to his performances, but he really hasn’t had much more to do on film than a few one-liners here and there. It seems he has potential, but he never really got to realize it.
30. Master P
Though he has had many successes in life, Master P’s film work is largely forgettable, with credits like No Tomorrow, Dark Blue, Toxic, and other projects that won’t sound very familiar. He is a little wooden onscreen, but is fairly serviceable in a narrow lane of gangster and criminal roles.
29. The Game
Though he has been serviceable in supporting roles as a street tough in films like Street Kings, acting has not been The Game’s strong suit. Nonetheless, he does have a bit more of an edge than some other rappers turned actors, and offers a sense of wildness that brighten up the proceedings when he shows up.
28. Big Boi
Though he has amassed a couple dozen acting credits, none of Big Boi’s acting turns have been as memorable as Outkast mate Andre 3000’s. Some of his work includes small roles in Baby Driver, Animals, and Scream: The TV Series. Big Boi is serviceable and convincing, even if he plays familiar roles like his turn as a music manager in Star.
27. Busta Rhymes
Busta has shown up in small, fun roles here and there in projects like Who’s the Man, The Steve Harvey Show, and The Boondocks. While Busta isn’t exactly a master thespian, his natural goofy charm carries him a long way in film and television performances. He is better in comedy than drama because he gets pretty far on his natural persona.
26. Machine Gun Kelly
Machine Gun Kelly has quietly amassed a number of acting credits in film and TV including Beyond the Lights, The Dirt, Bird Box, and Roadies. Kelly is a convincing and credible actor in the limited roles he’s had so far. You could see him building a nice career for himself as a character actor once his rapping days are behind him.
25. Ja Rule
With a surprising number of credits to his name, you might remember Ja Rule from projects like Scary Movie 3, The Fast and the Furious, and Assault on Precinct 13. Though Ja Rule has become a bit of a joke in the years since his superstardom, his acting is just fine. His charming smile and sense of comic timing carries him through smaller roles, and even if he’s a little too big for the small screen, he is fun to watch.
His turns in b-level action films might spark some fond memories for direct-to-DVD fans from that era. While they aren’t high art, a lot of people enjoyed films like Cradle 2 the Grave and Exit Wounds. DMX has one angry, straight ahead gear as a performer, but it works in the right context.
T.I. has had a host of small roles in film and television including parts in American Gangster, Boss, House of Lies, and Ant-Man and the Wasp. While T.I. can play tough, he also has an aura of vulnerability that has worked well for him, particularly opposed Denzel Washington in American Gangster. He is a fine performer and might go onto a solid acting career.
22. Mos Def (Yasiin Bey)
Bey has acted on and off since 1990, appearing in such projects as Dexter, The Boondocks, Talladega Nights, and The Italian Job. Mos Def has a fun, mischievous feeling in his acting work that makes him perfect for films like The Italian Job. Though he isn’t always perfect for the parts he gets (as was the case in Talladega Nights), when he’s well cast, it really works.
21. Bow Wow A.K.A. Shad Moss
Moss has had a variety of roles throughout his career, though few of them stand out from the crowd. Steady workmanlike film and TV appearances include turns on Entourage, Like Mike, Ugly Betty, and C.S.I. Cyber. While Bow Wow did the bulk of his acting work as a child star, there is no denying that he was everywhere for a while, and could even open a movie. Though his star has fallen a bit, the man can act.
20. Tupac Shakur
Before he passed away, Tupac showed promise as an actor with roles in dramatic films like Juice, Poetic Justice, and Gang Related. Obviously, the greatest loss artistically from Tupac’s death was artistic, he was also an actor who exuded vulnerability and depth. Perhaps if he had more time to work on his acting, he would have emerged as a fine character actor.
Though Nas has a few dozen acting credits on IMDB, many of those are for playing himself. Nas’ most memorable narrative role is as Sincere in Belly opposite DMX. He also received a “story by” credit on Belly, a film that chronicles the lives of violent drug dealers in Queens, NY. Though he has never had an opportunity that quite matched Belly, his work in that film alone is worthy of some serious credit.
18. Andre 3000
The Outkast member has turned up in a few interesting acting roles in recent years. His recent supporting role in High Life earned critical acclaim and he was also well-regarded for his work in American Crime. Other memorable turns include work in Semi-Pro and Four Brothers.
His work in High Life showed what Andre 3000 does best as an actor. He took a strange role and humanized it. While some actors overplay “weird,” he takes the odd and makes it human.
Though his performance in 8 Mile earned him widespread critical acclaim, Eminem hasn’t really pursued acting seriously since. Nonetheless, his turn as Jimmy “B-Rabbit” Smith is still fondly remembered over fifteen years later. The energy and anger that Eminem brought to 8 Mile still stands as one of the great rapper turned actor performances of all time.
16. 50 Cent
50 Cent has amassed a steady stream of acting credits in recent years including a recurring role on Power, which he also executive produces, as well as work on Southpaw and Spy. Though he has been more successful as a producer than as a performer, when 50 Cent does show up on screen he is strikingly sensitive and thoughtful in roles that could often be given to lesser “big man” actors.
15. Snoop Dogg
You wouldn’t exactly call Snoop Dogg a chameleon on screen. The rapper turned actor and entrepreneur tends to play a thinly-veiled version of himself on screen. Audiences enjoy his laid back theatrics, however, and it’s easy to see why. His recent turn in The Beach Bum marked yet another charming cinematic turn from Snoop. Yes, he always plays himself. But there’s a reason he has been asked to do it so often.
Though Xzibit has had a number of acting roles over the years, he has been immortalized as a meme for his work on Pimp My Ride. The simple premise of Xzibit’s team taking junkers and turning them into high-end vehicles was addictive for teens in the mid 2000s. Other memorable Xzibit roles include a memorable turn in 8 Mile and recurring parts on Hawaii Five-0 and Detroit 1-8-7. Xzibit continues to work as an actor and a host because he is just so charming, and that goes a long way, even if he may not be classically trained.
Best known for his martial arts, Wu-Tang adjacent work as an actor in Ghost Dog, and as the writer and director of The Man with the Iron Fists, RZA has some other interesting film credits. Some of his most memorable work is in films as diverse as Coffee and Cigarettes, American Gangster, Funny People, and The Dead Don’t Die. RZA clearly loves cinema and even in tough assignments, he tends to get the tone and style of the film he’s appearing in. Though he hasn’t had a breakout acting career, you are always happy to see him show up.
Drake’s past on Degrassi has been well documented, and has become as important a part of his mythology as the fact he is Canadian. His role as Jimmy Brooks in various Degrassi projects was just one part of his child acting career. Drake also appeared in the film Charlie Bartlett and had small roles on at least a half-dozen other television shows. While most of his acting work happened before his rap career took of, don’t be surprised if he returns to his roots once his music career cools off a bit.
Perhaps more widely acclaimed for his soundtrack and score work than his acting, Common does have some acting chops. His dozens of acting credits include a recurring role on the TV show Hell on Wheels and a part in Selma, for which he also won the Oscar for Best Original Song.
Common does well in period pieces, as he projects a sense of dignity and honor in his work. When he does show up in small roles in this tone, he does well. While he may not have the range to lead a movie, he’ll likely continue to have a strong career in limited roles.
Christopher “Ludacris” Bridges’ work in The Fast and the Furious franchise has made him a beloved supporting player in the long-running blockbuster series. Ludacris has shown up in a lot of other work including Hustle & Flow and Empire, but he is certainly best remembered for playing Tej Parker in the cinematic celebrations of automobile adrenaline.
Ludacris is just natural funny and charming. Not only is he the comic relief, but you can give him lame dialogue and he brings it to life. The Fast and the Furious films have been perfect for him, and it’s likely that when that franchise finally ends he’ll find steady work elsewhere.
9. Method Man
Method Man is more of a character actor than a lot of performers on this list. His acting career includes a dynamic range of tone and style, including dramatic work in projects like The Deuce and The Wire as well as comedic work like How High and The Last O.G.
Method Man might be the most gifted character actor on this list. He is dynamic, shifting from comedy to drama with ease. And he has been able to hold his own with the likes of Tracy Morgan and Maggie Gyllenhaal. His work in The Deuce might have been Emmy worthy if the show had gotten a little more attention.
You might be surprised to hear that Ruff Ryders alum eve has amassed over fifty credits as a rapper turned actress. Some of her most memorable work includes Barbershop, Whip It, and XXX. Though she is sometimes typecast in “tough on the outside, sweet on the inside” roles, Eve always seems up to the challenge. The humanity she brought to relatively minor roles in Barbershop and Whip It leave you wanting her to get more opportunities.
7. LL Cool J
As he’s spent the last 10 years on NCIS: Los Angeles, some of LL Cool J’s other acting credits have faded from memory. The rapper turned actor worked consistently in the feature film world in the late ’90s on projects like Deep Blue Sea, BAPS, and Any Given Sunday.
It is in the rearview mirror, but LL had a moment. His charisma led to big opportunities for nearly a decade. Though he wasn’t quite an A-List leading man, he did good work in a variety of films, and his charismatic turns should be remembered fondly. And there are worse fates than ending up on a hit crime procedural.
One of a number of rappers to find himself glorifying the other side of the law by playing a cop on TV, Ice-T is probably best known for his work as Odafin Tutola on Law and Order: SVU. Though Ice-T is approaching the end of a second decade in the role, Ice-T continues to pursue other acting work. Recently, he voiced a part in the Ugly Dolls film, and he has also done work in films like Tank Girl and New Jack City.
There is no denying that Odafin Tutola is one of the most memorable TV characters of his century, and that alone is an achievement from Ice-T. While some view a twenty year stint on a broadcast TV show as a prison sentence, it’s clear that Ice-T has embraced the opportunity and America has embraced him.
5. Mark Wahlberg
Wahlberg’s hip-hop career under the moniker Marky Mark may not be fondly remembered, but it still counts. That being said, it is fair to say that he has had far greater success as an actor than as a rapper. In recent years, Wahlberg has teamed with director Peter Berg on a series of films that have a tone of hard-boiled Americana. The combination of Berg and Wahlberg has proved a winning one, as they’ve made Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon, Patriots Day, Mile 22, and the forthcoming Wonderland together.
You may not like the politics of his films, but you have to admit that Wahlberg can act. In an increasingly hostile cinema world dominated by Marvel, he can still open an original film and look good doing it. Few stars are as bankable as Wahlberg, who appeals to audiences across America.
4. Queen Latifah
Recent turns in Girls Trip, Empire, and Star have led to an acting resurgence for Queen Latifah, but the industry veteran has been working steadily for over thirty years. Despite her impressive resume, Latifah may still be best remembered for her role in Chicago.
It’s odd to say Latifah is underrated, given how much work she’s done, but it is true. She is one of the most versatile and charismatic actors of the last few decades. Whether it is a sensitive rom-com or a bawdy comedy, Latifah has the ability to both blend in and steal the show. And she has no signs of slowing down.
3. Ice Cube
The sheer number of credits that Ice Cube has amassed as a rapper turned actor is staggering, but he sometimes gets ignored due to the family-friendly bent of his output in recent years. Even if he doesn’t always traffic in the most mature content, there is no denying Ice Cube is a box office force.
Among his 69 acting credits, Ice Cube has appeared in Friday, Are We There Yet?, Ride Along, 21 Jump Street, and many more. Looking at his body of work, you both see versatility in his switch from drama to comedy and sheer dominance of a certain type of comedy. While not all of his movies end up well reviewed, there is no denying the kind of impact he has had on film and television in the last twenty years.
2. Donald Glover
Glover has been a performer as long as he has been a musician, and he has excelled at both. While many know him as Childish Gambino, just as as many people know him as Earn from Atlanta or Troy from Community.
Of course, Glover’s skills don’t simply extend to rapping and acting. Glover is also an accomplished writer with credits on 30 Rock and as the creator of Atlanta. He has also directed four episodes of Atlanta. Glover is currently enjoying a moment where it looks like he can do anything. The only thing holding him back from being continuing his dominance as an A-List actor is his various other interests. Glover can have pretty much the career he wants, and only time will tell if acting will take a front seat as his career progresses.
1. Will Smith
If we’re measuring in terms of box office, Will Smith is the greatest rapper turned actor of all time. Smith is so famous that his blockbuster credits precede him, and it’s a safe bet that most Americans would say they have a favorite Will Smith performance. Some of this greatest hits include Men in Black, Bad Boys, and Ali.
There are only a few leading men: Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, and Denzel Washington, who have enjoyed the same kind of A-List blockbuster career that spans decades that Smith has. Even in lesser films, like Bright, Smith’s charisma and empathy elevates the material. In his better films, Smith has the kind of transcendent appeal that only comes around one or twice in a generation.