There are few career avenues that are more predictable than the one of hip hop artists transitioning to becoming actors. Over the years, many rappers have ventured onto the silver screen, trading verses for scripts and demonstrating their versatility in ways that continue to redefine the intersections between these two art forms.
The history of rappers turned actors is marked by trailblazing figures such as Ice Cube, whose meteoric rise from gangsta rapper to Hollywood sensation exemplifies the tremendous potential of this crossover. From his roots as a member of the groundbreaking group N.W.A., Cube transitioned seamlessly into film, scripting and starring in enduring classics like the Friday series and exhibiting his range in critically acclaimed dramas like Boyz n the Hood.
Similarly, the evolution of Will Smith from the fun-loving Fresh Prince to a Hollywood powerhouse demonstrates the breadth of talent that can exist within a single individual. The Philly rapper’s career transition from rapper to actor was not just successful—it was stellar. From his start on the small screen with The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to his eventual establishment as one of the most bankable stars in the history of Hollywood, Will Smith’s journey has truly been remarkable.
So let’s get into it. From DMX, Ice Cube, 2Pac and Eminem to 50 Cent, Ice-T, Xzibit and LL Cool J, here are the top 25 best rappers turned actors of all time.
25. Bow Wow
Notable acting credits: All About the Benjamins, Like Mike, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Scary Movie 5
One-time child rap star, Lil Bow Wow dropped the ‘Lil’ as he matured not only as a rapper but as an actor too. Starting with Like Mike, where he held his own against seasoned actors, Bow Wow has proven his acting chops are as honed as his musical ones. He has shown his versatility by stepping into comedic roles, dramas, and even reality TV, proving he’s a contender, not just a novelty.
Notable acting credits: Belly, Ticker, Monster
Nasir Jones, hailed as one of the greatest lyricists in hip hop, has made strategic appearances in films that often mirror his persona in music: deep, reflective, and socially aware. From his role in Belly, where he plays a streetwise hustler with a desire for something more, to his narrating the Netflix series The Get Down, Nas’ forays into acting are characterized by their thoughtful material.
Notable acting credits: Barbershop, XXX, Barbershop 2: Back in Business, The Woodsman, Barbershop: The Next Cut
From a fierce MC rippin’ it up with the Ruff Ryders to lighting up the silver screen, Eve’s journey has been fascinating. With her role in the Barbershop franchise, she demonstrated her comedic timing and ability to hold her own with established actors. She diversified her portfolio with roles in TV series like Eve and Glee, showcasing her depth as an actress and proving her pivot from music wasn’t just a one-off gig. Eve’s duality as an actress and rapper embodies the multifaceted black woman, both tough and tender, and always a force to be reckoned with.
Notable acting credits: ATL, American Gangster, Takers, Identity Thief, Get Hard, Ant-Man, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Dolemite Is My Name
T.I. is an example of an MC who has successfully navigated the waters from the music industry to the film business. His charisma, typically delivered through his smooth Southern drawl, has been applied impressively to the big screen. From his memorable role in ATL to his work in the Ant-Man franchise, the Atlanta rapper has shown his knack for choosing roles that allow his natural charm and street-acquired wisdom to shine. His acting career has added another layer to his legacy, proving there’s more to the King of the South than just bars.
21. Tone Loc
Notable acting credits: FernGully: The Last Rainforest, Poetic Justice, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Heat, Spy Hard
Tone Loc’s gravelly voice and comical charisma made him a standout character in the Golden Age of Hip-Hop, but those same traits have also made him an unforgettable figure in Hollywood. Most know him for his 1989 hit “Wild Thing,” but they also remember his vocal performance as the giant car-loving baby in Bebe’s Kids or his role in the children’s classic FernGully. Tone Loc’s transition to acting has been seamless because he’s consistently played roles that capitalized on his unique voice and carefree spirit.
20. Sticky Fingaz
Notable acting credits: Clockers, Dead Presidents, In Too Deep, Next Friday, The Shield, Blade: The Series
Born and raised in Flatbush, Brooklyn, Sticky Fingaz first broke onto the scene as the frontman of the hardcore hip-hop group Onyx. But his gruff voice and aggressive delivery weren’t just for spitting rhymes; they also translated well into acting. Sticky’s most notable role was playing Blade in the television series based on the comic book character. His ability to capture the tough, resilient spirit of the character impressed viewers and solidified his reputation as a talented actor. Sticky Fingaz is one of the few rappers who can bring the same energy to the camera that he does to the mic.
Notable acting credits: The Wash, 8 Mile, Funny People, The Interview
If you thought Slim Shady was only about controversial lyrics and dizzying rhyme schemes, think again. Em proved he could act with the semi-autobiographical 8 Mile, earning critical acclaim for his gritty, honest performance. His portrayal of Jimmy ‘B-Rabbit’ Smith Jr. was more than just believable, it was raw and real, much like his music. Though he hasn’t been as prolific in acting as in rap, that Oscar-winning debut left an indelible mark, showing the world that the Rap God could command the screen too.
18. Method Man
Notable acting credits: Belly, How High, My Baby’s Daddy, Garden State, Soul Plane, Scary Movie 3, The Wackness
As one part of the iconic Wu-Tang Clan, Method Man already had a larger-than-life presence in hip-hop. But his transition to acting showed that his talents weren’t confined to the booth. With roles in The Wire, How High, and Garden State, Method Man has shown a knack for balancing dramatic roles with comedic turns, earning the respect of both critics and fans. From Staten Island to Hollywood, his charisma and talent have proven to be irresistible.
Notable acting credits: The Wash, 8 Mile, XXX: State of the Union, Derailed, Gridiron Gang
Best known in the music world for his hardcore lyrics and unapologetic West Coast attitude, Xzibit took those same qualities into his acting career. Gaining widespread recognition through MTV’s Pimp My Ride, he transitioned into more serious roles, leaving a mark in films like 8 Mile and Gridiron Gang. His larger-than-life persona translated seamlessly onto the big screen, turning Xzibit from a rap star into a multifaceted entertainer.
16. Queen Latifah
Notable acting credits: Juice, Set It Off, The Bone Collector, Taxi, Stranger than Fiction, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, Ice Age: Continental Drift, Ice Age: Collision Course, Hustle
The Queen’s reign extends beyond hip-hop. After dropping knowledge on tracks like “U.N.I.T.Y.,” she moved on to conquer the acting world with an equally formidable presence. She first grabbed the spotlight on the small screen with Living Single and then commanded the big screen with Set It Off. Her ability to command the screen was truly highlighted with her Oscar-nominated performance in Chicago, showing she could sing, dance, and act with the best of them. Whether she’s a talk-show host, a jazz singer, or a gritty urban matriarch, Queen Latifah embodies each role with authenticity and grace, always staying true to her hip-hop roots.
15. Busta Rhymes
Notable acting credits: Who’s the Man?, Shaft, Narc, Halloween: Resurrection
The vibrant, larger-than-life persona of Busta Rhymes that electrified the hip hop stage translated unsurprisingly well to the silver screen. Known for his rapid-fire lyrical flow and animated style, Busta’s on-screen presence was similarly commanding. His most notable role was in John Singleton’s Shaft, but his appearances in Higher Learning, and Narc, along with a fun cameo in Halloween: Resurrection, showcased his versatility as an actor.
14. Snoop Dogg
Notable acting credits: Murder Was the Case, Training Day, Soul Plane, Mac & Devin Go to High School, Dolemite Is My Name
The D-O-double-G, Snoop Dogg, with his unmistakable voice and laid-back persona, stepped into acting like it was a ‘G Thang.’ From his debut in the Death Row-produced Murder Was the Case short film to comedic roles in Starsky & Hutch and Scary Movie 5, Snoop’s unique charisma has always shined. But it’s in projects like Mac & Devin Go to High School where Snoop’s real gift to cinema lies: his ability to bring that authentic West Coast cool to any character he plays, always keeping it 100% Snoop.
Notable acting credits: Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Derailed, American Gangster, Funny People, The Man with the Iron Fists, Minions: The Rise of Gru
Bobby Digital, The RZArector, The Abbot of the Wu-Tang Clan, but in Hollywood, he’s simply RZA. His breakthrough came in Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, and he continued to impress in films like American Gangster and The Man with the Iron Fists, which he also directed. RZA’s performances always carry a certain gravitas and philosophical depth, similar to his production work, making him a formidable talent both in the booth and on screen.
12. Mark Wahlberg
Notable acting credits: The Basketball Diaries, Boogie Nights, The Departed, The Fighter, Ted, Pain & Gain
Before he was a household name in Hollywood, Mark Wahlberg was known as Marky Mark, the frontman of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. Their debut album Music for the People was a commercial success, driven by the infectious hit single “Good Vibrations.” Yet, it’s in acting where Wahlberg truly made his mark. His transition from rapper to actor was meteoric. With standout performances in critically acclaimed films such as The Departed and The Fighter, Wahlberg has proven his versatility and prowess as an actor, earning both commercial success and critical acclaim in a way few rappers have managed.
11. LL Cool J
Notable acting credits: Toys, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, Deep Blue Sea, In Too Deep, Any Given Sunday, Charlie’s Angels, S.W.A.T.
LL Cool J, born James Todd Smith, showed us he was more than just a ladies’ man with a hot 16. Dude has serious acting chops. From his early roles in In the House and Deep Blue Sea, LL showed he could be both charismatic and compelling on screen. But it’s his long-running role as Sam Hanna on NCIS: Los Angeles that really flexes his dramatic abilities. His transition from the mic to the camera has been smooth, like one of his R&B-flavored hip hop tracks.
10. 50 Cent
Notable acting credits: Get Rich or Die Tryin’, Righteous Kill, Southpaw, Den of Thieves, Escape Plan 2: Hades, Escape Plan: The Extractors
Coming straight out of South Jamaica, Queens 50 Cent’s raw storytelling as a rapper formed the backbone of his acting career. His life story, from the tough streets of New York to international stardom, was brought to life in Get Rich or Die Tryin, mirroring his real-life rise. Roles in Den of Thieves and the Starz hit series Power cemented his status as a capable actor, with 50 showing he could hold his own alongside seasoned stars. His ability to portray complex characters, often drawing from his own experiences, as well as his savvy business mind and production prowess has solidified his position in the acting world.
Notable acting credits: Belly, Romeo Must Die, Exit Wounds, Cradle 2 the Grave
Earl Simmons, better known as DMX, the rugged and raw rapper from Yonkers, took his talents to the screen with the same unapologetic intensity that characterized his music. He made a successful transition to film with major roles in Belly, Exit Wounds, and Cradle 2 the Grave, among others. His performances, marked by his unmistakable gravelly voice and visceral emotionality, were as gripping and real as his chart-topping tracks, leaving a lasting legacy in both music and film.
Notable acting credits: 2 Fast 2 Furious, Hustle & Flow, RocknRolla, Fast FiveFast & Furious 6, Furious 7, The Fate of the Furious, F9, Fast X
With his larger-than-life personality and charismatic presence, it was only natural for Ludacris to pivot to acting. Having mastered the rap game with his distinct flow and humorous lyricism, Luda brought the same charm and energy to the screen. His most renowned acting gig is undoubtedly his recurring role as Tej Parker in the blockbuster Fast and Furious franchise, where he became a fan favorite. His versatility also saw him in critically acclaimed films like Crash and Hustle & Flow, proving his acting chops.
Notable acting credits: Smokin’ Aces, American Gangster, Street Kings, Wanted, Terminator Salvation, Suicide Squad, John Wick: Chapter 2
From Chi-Town’s lyrical poet to Hollywood’s screen stalwart, Common’s acting career has been as successful as his music one. With his soulful rhymes, he’s always been a storytelling rapper, and that narrative skill has translated well to his acting roles. He’s shown considerable range, starring in hard-hitting dramas like American Gangster and Selma, action thrillers like John Wick: Chapter 2, and even romantic comedies like Just Wright. His performance in Selma is particularly notable as it won him an Academy Award for Best Original Song, underscoring the successful fusion of his musical and acting talents.
6. Andre 3000
Notable acting credits: Be Cool, Four Brothers, Revolver, Idlewild, Fracture, Semi-Pro, Showing Up
As one half of the legendary Outkast, Andre 3000’s eccentric and innovative approach to hip-hop was a game changer. That creativity has been mirrored in his acting career. Andre 3000, or Andre Benjamin as he’s known in Hollywood, has taken on diverse and challenging roles such as Jimi Hendrix in Jimi: All Is By My Side. His ability to bring complex characters to life has been well-received, showing the same depth and nuance in his acting that we see in his verses.
5. Mos Def
Notable acting credits: Monster’s Ball, Brown Sugar, The Italian Job, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, 16 Blocks, Be Kind Rewind
Known as Yasiin Bey in recent years, the Brooklyn-born MC’s pivot to acting was as natural as his flow. Known for his socially conscious lyrics and mellow beats, Mos Def brought that same introspective energy to his roles. From his comedic chops in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to the grittier Something the Lord Made, for which he earned an Emmy nomination, Bey proved that his acting skills were as profound as his bars.
4. Ice Cube
Notable acting credits: Boyz n the Hood, Higher Learning, Friday, Three Kings, Barbershop, Are We Done Yet?, 21 Jump Street
A founding member of the legendary N.W.A. and one of the most important rap voices to emerge from the West Coast, O’Shea Jackson is a cornerstone of gangsta rap. Yet, Cube didn’t just stick to spitting bars about life on the streets of L.A. He took those storytelling skills to the silver screen, writing and starring in the Friday film series and showcasing his comedic prowess. But let’s not forget his dramatic roles in films like Boyz n the Hood, which further solidified his status as a multi-talented force in the entertainment world.
3. Tupac Shakur
Notable acting credits: Juice, Poetic Justice, Above the Rim, Bullet, Gridlock’d, Gang Related
One of the most influential figures in hip-hop history, Tupac’s gift was his raw emotion, both in his music and on screen. After making a name for himself as a talented rapper with his debut album, 2Pacalypse Now, Pac showcased his acting chops in movies like Juice and Poetic Justice. His characters were always vivid and authentic, embodying the same passion and intensity that we saw in his music. It’s an undeniable fact that Pac’s career was cut tragically short, but his influence in both hip-hop and film continues to resonate.
Notable acting credits: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, New Jack City, Ricochet, Who’s the Man?, Johnny Mnemonic
Before he was Detective Odafin Tutuola on Law & Order: SVU, Ice-T was one of the pioneers of gangsta rap, weaving cinematic tales about the harsh realities of street life in South Central LA. His transition to acting was as smooth as his rhymes, landing roles in New Jack City and Ricochet before joining the Law & Order franchise. His portrayal of hard-nosed detectives shows a level of gravitas and authority that has made him one of television’s most recognizable faces.
1. Will Smith
Notable acting credits: Bad Boys, Independence Day, Men in Black, Enemy of the State, Ali, The Pursuit of Happyness, I Am Legend
The Fresh Prince started his career rapping about summer vacations and parents who just don’t understand. He then smoothly transitioned from the microphone to the small screen with The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, before becoming a Hollywood superstar. His range as an actor is as wide as his infectious grin, from comedic roles in Men in Black and Hitch, to dramatic turns in Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness. Smith’s charisma is infectious, his talent is undeniable, and his impact on both hip-hop and Hollywood is truly unmatched.