Making Movie Money: A 25-Year Analysis of Rappers' Acting Roles in Hollywood Movies

By Tyree, Tia | The Journal of Hip Hop Studies, Fall 2017 | Go to article overview

Making Movie Money: A 25-Year Analysis of Rappers' Acting Roles in Hollywood Movies


Tyree, Tia, The Journal of Hip Hop Studies


As 2016 ended, Will "Fresh Prince" Smith's1 Collateral Beauty was released in theaters. With more than twenty-five movies to his credit, it might be hard for some to watch his dramatic cinematic portrayal of a father struggling to accept the death of his daughter and remember he earned his notoriety as the pop rapper Fresh Prince. He is arguably one of the most popular actors in entertainment. Fresh Prince topped the Ulmer Scale's "Hot List" multiple times, which scores an actor's worldwide bankability on a scale from zero to one hundred, and it is based on several criterion, including risk factors, value in the film worldwide marketplace, professionalism and talent. 2 Further punctuating his success in the film industry is the lifetime gross of his films tops more than $3.1 billion. 3 Yet, Fresh Prince, and many other rappers, transitioned from rapping to acting and penetrated the movie industry with fervor for decades.

O'Shea "Ice Cube" Jackson, Dana "Queen Latifah" Owens, Tracy "Ice T" Marrow, James "LL Cool J" Smith III, Calvin "Snoop Dogg" Broadus Jr. and others have moved from the stage to the movie screen. According to successful rapper, screenwriter, actor and producer Ice Cube, rappers had a term for the lure of large Hollywood paychecks. He called it "movie money," and he said it drove rappers to put down their microphones and pick up movie scripts. 4 However, at the time, Ice Cube noted Hollywood movie producers - more than other actors and directors - were more likely to accept rappers as actors. Ice Cube insisted producers look for any "edge" in the marketplace to attract moviegoers to theaters and rappers gave them a competitive "edge." Further, actor, screenwriter and producer Spike Lee was noted as stating that Hollywood producers must seriously take into consideration the presence of rappers in film. He said, "You can't deny it, you have to deal with it, or you're making very uncool movies. And if you don't make them, your competitor will."5

From LL Cool J's role in Krush Grove in 1985 to Yasiin "Mos Def" Bey (Dante Smith) and Queen Latifah's leading roles in the Just Wright in 2010 to Christopher "Ludacris" Bridges role in the Fast & Furious movie franchise, the occurrences and significance of the roles rappers play in Hollywood movies has evolved over the last two decades. Rappers are not only obtaining roles, but prominent ones. A review of scholarship concerning rap and Hip Hop indicates scholars are focusing on certain aspects of these movements, but have not systematically chronicled the quantity and type of appearances of multiple types of rappers as a cohesive group within the movie industry over an extended period.

Much scholarly research has been written about the history and current influence of Hip Hop on culture; its influence on fashion, art, culture and behavior; impact on youth, and even its influence in the movie industry. 6 Yet, this research fills a muchneeded gap by providing a comprehensive analysis of the number and types of acting roles of rappers in Hollywood without prejudice to the types of movies or rappers being investigated.

In the movie industry where studio executives covet a sure thing, rap artists bring hordes of young Black, White, and Latino moviegoers to urban and suburban theaters, and rap artists have appeared in some of the highest grossing and most profitable films in Hollywood. 7 Rap artists' natural stage presence and fan base make them shine on the big screen. 8 By investigating how rap artists emerged and staked a considerable claim within the movie industry, this study will be significant, because it will be the much-needed analytical scholarship used to assess exactly how this pop culture phenomenon materialized and blossomed over more than a twenty-five year period. Furthermore, this work describes how influential certain rap styles or personas were within the movie industry.

Theoretical Underpinnings: The Social Construction of Reality and the Rapper

Ultimately, rap is not just words; it is multidimensional. …

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