From the stage to the big screen, countless rappers have made their mark in the acting world, introducing their talents to new audiences. Whether they played a version of themselves or a completely different person, some rapper-actors have received better reception than others. Not many lyricists can say they have been given an award for their acting chops, but the ones on this list are among the few who can.
From Will Smith to Queen Latifah, these entertainers boast some of the most revered on-screen moments across the board in addition to having bars. See who made the cut below.
1. Will Smith
Arguably the most famous rapper-turned-actor, Will Smith completely transcended from his humble beginnings as the Fresh Prince to pursue an acting career. Smith began rapping in his hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, filling in for DJ Jazzy Jeff’s hype man at a 1985 house party.
Smith and Jeff began performing together and eventually signed a record deal. The duo later became the first winners of the Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance. What skyrocketed Smith’s star level was a sitcom built around him called “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” where he played a fictional version of himself.
In 1993, Smith won his first thespian award, the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Television Series. From there, he pursued numerous movie gigs, promising to become “the biggest movie star in the world.” Today, Smith is an Oscar winner and one of the world’s most prolific actors.
Eminem, born Marshall Mathers, had a small role in a 2001 film called The Wash. However, he famously starred in the semi-autobiographical movie 8 Mile, released in 2002. He played a significant role in making the soundtrack, which won big in 2003 when the single “Lose Yourself” won an Oscar for Best Original Song. The offering was the first hip hop song to receive the award.
3. Snoop Dogg
Snoop Dogg has made many cameos and appearances in numerous television shows and movies, but has only won a single award for his acting chops. The “Gin and Juice” icon has a 2002 MTV Movie Award for Best Cameo in the movie Training Day starring Denzel Washington.
4. Queen Latifah
Queen Latifah is one of the pioneers of female hip hop, but the “U.N.I.T.Y.” rapper was also making waves as an actress at the same time. From 1993 to 1998, Latifah had a starring role as Khadijah James on the Fox sitcom “Living Single.” Her role in the 1996 box office hit Set It Off won her an award for Outstanding Performance – Actress at the American Black Film Festival. She has also received a Golden Globe, Gracie, Critics’ Choice and Image Awards, to name a few. Latifah has also been nominated for an Oscar.
5. LL Cool J
LL Cool J has appeared in several films and television shows over the years, most notably his role in the CBS crime drama “NCIS.” He also appeared in the 1999 drama Any Given Sunday. The “Loungin’” rapper has many acting honors under his belt, including NAACP Image Awards and a Blockbuster Entertainment Award for his role in Deep Blue Sea. He has also been nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award.
6. Donald Glover
Donald Glover has been a mainstay in the acting business since his teenage years. Glover went to New York University for Dramatic Writing, and while there, he also produced his first independent mixtape. He began DJing and producing electronic music while in college; then, he was hired in 2006 to write for the NBC sitcom “30 Rock,” which he occasionally appeared on as an actor.
In 2008, Glover and his co-writers won the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Comedy Series. While still a budding rapper under the name Childish Gambino, the young star performed stand-up comedy and starred on NBC’s “Community.”
In 2014, Glover began starring in, writing and executive producing his FX series, “Atlanta.” Through his work on the show, the multihyphenate has earned Golden Globes and Primetime Emmys, among other honors. The rapper-actor is also a five-time Grammy winner, selling over 2 million albums in his career.
7. Ice Cube
Ice Cube, born as O’Shea Jackson, began rapping at the age of 16 in trio C.I.A. before joining N.W.A. soon after. He released his debut solo album, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, in 1990. The veteran emcee also has an extensive acting career, beginning with 1991’s Boyz n the Hood. He later began appearing in a slew of movies, including The Glass Shield and Higher Learning.
Director John Singleton encouraged Cube to start writing movies, and he co-wrote the screenplay for the 1995 comedy Friday, which drew approximately $28 million dollars worldwide. Friday spawned two sequels, and it is considered a cult classic. The rapper-actor has won many awards for his long onscreen career, including four NAACP Image Awards and three MTV Movie & TV Awards.
Ludacris began his storied entertainment career as an intern and DJ at Atlanta’s Hot 97.5 radio station. He met Timbaland through the job and was featured on the producer’s 1998 debut solo album, Tim’s Bio: Life from da Bassment.
Ludacris independently released his debut rap album, Incognegro, in 1999. This was quickly followed by his major label debut, Back for the First Time, in 2000. His first film appearance was in 2001’s The Wash with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg.
He then appeared in the 2003 film 2 Fast 2 Furious. Ludacris won a Screen Actors Guild Award for his role in Crash. Today, the Grammy winner produces an animated children’s series called “Karma’s World,” inspired by his oldest daughter, Karma Bridges.
Common is a Grammy Award-winning and Academy Award-winning actor and rapper with a long list of television and movie appearances. He began rapping in his hometown of Chicago in the late 1980s under the name Common Sense.
Throughout the 1990s, his solo work and collaborations with artists like Lauryn Hill, De La Soul and The Roots cemented him as a critically acclaimed emcee. Common first appeared as himself in the 2002 movie Brown Sugar before taking a role as Omar in the television series “Girlfriends.” He also won an NAACP Image Award for his role in the 2014 movie Selma.
Ice-T, born Tracy Marrow, began his entertainment career in high school, opening shows alongside the institution’s singing group. He was enlisted in the army in 1977, where he first became interested in hip hop. After his stint in the armed forces, the budding star began DJing and gained more attention for his rapping skills.
In the mid-1980s, Ice-T began releasing rap singles and landed a label deal with Sire Records. His first film appearances were in 1984’s Breakin’ and its sequel, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. In the following years, he began taking on more film roles in New Jack City and Ricochet. The entertainer won an NAACP Image Award for his recurring role on the television show “New York Undercover .” Ice-T has also been a cast member on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” since 2000, and he won an Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in the same year for that role.