Just as many actors long to direct, many rappers long to act. A successful career for some rappers includes the cross over to acting, often starting out playing pimps and drug dealers and then moving on to play detectives, cops and cooks on research ships. Fortunately or unfortunately, the acting bug usually greatly diminishes the anger and/or drive needed to keep producing songs like “Home Of The Body Bag,” and “Why We Thugs.” Although it’s clearly not for everyone – thankfully no acting careers for Snoop, Dre or Chuck D yet – here is a look at the Holy Trinity of Rappers Turned Actors – T, Cube & LL – and a look at the points when their dual careers reached their zeniths.
Birth Name: Tracy Marrow
Grew Up In: Was born in New Jersey and spent his early years there, despite being closely identified with the West Coast rap scene. He moved to LA when he was about 11 or 12, after both of his parents died of heart attacks within 4 years of each other, and was raised by an aunt.
Surprising Fact: Served in the U.S. Army for 4 years
Not-So-Surprising Fact: He claims to have had extensive “pimping experience” prior to getting into rap and acting. He discusses this in his song “Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy.” It’s certainly not the stroll in the park that being a prostitute is! Those gals have it soooo easy.
Early Gig: In 1984, he wrote the raps for Mr. T’s motivational video called Be Somebody… or Be Somebody’s Fool!
This clip doesn’t include any of Ice-T’s raps:
Rap Career: Became a rapper in the mid-to-late 1980s; best known for 1991 record and hit song OG: Original Gangsta and the song “Cop Killer.”Â I believe this song was about gunning down cops. It really upset some cops.
Here’s what Ice-T looked like as a young(ish) rapper:
Acting career: First appeared on film in the movies Breakin’ and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. In 1991, he appeared in New Jack City, playing a gang leader. Then there were a bunch of other films in which he played characters with names like J-Bone and T-Saint. In 1995 he was on the TV show New York Undercover, in which he played a drug dealer. Somehow this led to him winning a NAACP Image Award. Wha?
Since 2000, he’s been on Law & Order: SVU. My biggest concern here is how/why that show has been on the air for over ten years.
Books: In 1994 he came out with The Ice Opinion: Who Gives A Fuck? which, sadly, seems to be out-of-print but available used. This year, however, gives us another chance to learn more about Ice-T’s inner workings when Ice: A Memoir of Redemption – From South Central to Hollywood is released in April.
Under The Radar Project: Leprechaun: In The Hood (2000). Plot: Three wannabe L.A. rappers accidentally free a Leprechaun that was imprisoned by record producer Mac Daddy O’Nassas (Ice-T) 20 years earlier. They attempt to evade the powerful Leprechaun and violent Mac Daddy, both of whom want a magical flute with mind-altering capabilities that the rappers have in their possession.
That is so going on my Netflix queue.
So, to sum up, if we were to look at Ice-T’s rapping and acting career in graph form, we’d have something like this:
Birth Name: O’Shea Jackson
Grew Up In: South Central Los Angeles
Surprising Fact: His cousin is Teren Delvon Jones, also known as Del tha Funkee Homosapien, who is part of the rap group Hieroglyphics.
Not So Surprising Fact: Ice Cube left the rap group NWA because the group’s manager, Jerry Heller, was not giving him all the money he was entitled to.
Remember This?: After Ice Cube left NWA for a solo career , NWA, led by Eazy-E, disparaged him in their song “100 Miles & Runnin'” and on their next album.
Here is a photo of the young Ice Cube with N.W.A. members Eazy, Dre and mystery guy:
Rap Career: Ice Cube started out releasing a single with Dr. Dre under the name CIA. Then they formed N.W.A. (Eazy-E, Dr. Dre and Cube mainly but also DJ Yella, MC Ren and Arabian Prince). Cube wrote half of N.W.A.’s huge hit album Straight Outta Compton (1988) and also put in considerable effort on Eazy-E’s solo album Eazy-Duz-It. Then there was the big break-up (Dr. Dre also wanted out) and the Cube went solo. His first album, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted was a big hit but his most successful record was The Predator (1992). It contains the song “It Was A Good Day,” which is a good song. More albums followed, and there was the kick-ass Up In Smoke tour of 2000 with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dog, but the pinnacle had already been reached.
Just as an aside, Eazy-E died of complications due to AIDS in 1995. Arabian Prince also left N.W.A. to go solo but his records did poorly, although you can’t say he didn’t put in the effort on his fourth album Where’s My Bytches (1993). DJ Yella credits himself, according to Wikipedia, with producing over 150 adult films. And MC Ren also went solo, experiencing a burst of success with his 1992 debut entitled Kizz My Black Azz, which went platinum. Alas, since then, none of his solo efforts have garnered him much attention. It’s a different game these days.
Acting Career: Ice Cube is probably still best known for his breakout role as Doughboy in John Singleton’s Boyz N The Hood (one of the best movies from the 1990s), which took its name from a N.W.A. song. From there more movie roles followed: Higher Learning, Friday (followed by Next Friday and, of course, Friday After Next), The Player’s Club (which he wrote and directed), Three Kings and Barbershop. Then came those puzzling but successful movies Are We There Yet? followed by Are We Done Yet followed by the TV series Are We There Yet. Whew. Perhaps it’s Ice Cube’s ability to milk a franchise that served as major inspiration for Tyler Perry.
Books: Ice Cube does not appear to be an author yet, although that can’t be far away. Console yourself in the meantime with The Words and Music of Ice Cube.
Under The Radar Project: Ice Cube does a tidy business contributing songs, most of them from his earliest albums, to movie soundtracks. He’s contributed to 47 soundtracks to date.
The graph of his dual careers, would look something like this:
LL COOL J
Birth Name: James Todd Smith (Ladies Love Cool James)
Grew Up In: Bay Shore, New York
Surprising Fact: He crafted his first single “I Need A Beat” with Rick Rubin. It sold 100,000 copies and got him a deal with Def Jam and Columbia Records to make an album.
Not So Surprising Fact: His early success, coming at age 16, made dropping out of high school seem like a good idea, probably because, according to online sources, he had an unhappy home life.
First Gig: First appeared on film in the movie Krush Groove in 1985, about the early days of Def Jam recordings.
Can you say “young turk?”
Rapping Career: Of the three, LL Cool J has been the most prolific in music and maybe most successful, perhaps because he branched out and made rap/pop ballads that got into people’s heads, like “Around The Way Girl,” and “I Need Love.” His albums include Radio, Bigger and Deffer, Walking With a Panther, Mama Said Knock You Out, 14 Shots To the Dome, Mr. Smith, etc. etc.
This nugget on Wikipedia is disturbing though:
“In September 2009, LL Cool J released a song about the NCIS TV series. It is a single and is available on iTunes. The new track is based on his experiences playing special agent Sam Hanna. ‘This song is the musical interpretation of what I felt after meeting with NCIS agents, experienced Marines and Navy Seals,’ LL Cool J said. ‘It represents the collective energy in the room. I was so inspired I wrote the song on set.'”
Acting Career: The best movie LL Cool J has ever appeared in is Deep Blue Sea. Currently he’s on NCIS: Los Angeles and he’s been in other movies and TV shows for well over a decade but the only one that matters is Deep Blue Sea.
Books: He has four. I Make My Own Rules is an autobiography. He also has a book for kids called And The Winner Is… He has a fitness book called The Platinum Workout. And then there’s LL Cool J (Hip Hop Stars) which is, I guess, about him again.
Under The Radar Project: He works hard to keep up the guns.
So, for a final summary, we have LL Cool J’s graph: