Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, available on Netflix from today, is one of this year’s most anticipated films. In signature Scorsese fashion, it tells the story of the New York mob. Among the three acting legends portraying the three main characters, The Irishman also stars another NY-native, one who’s not familiar to the film’s target audience. That man is the rapper Action Bronson. At first, this may come as a shock, but rappers in films aren’t anything new and this article will look at various rap artists who appeared on the big and small screens throughout the years.
Let’s start with the one who inspired this whole thing. Born in Flushing, Ariyan Arslani worked as a professional chef before turning his focus to rap under the pseudonym Action Bronson. He released his first mixtape, Well Done, in 2011 and since then he dropped four more albums, most recently Lamb Over Rice, just a few days ago. Despite quitting the career as a chef, food is still a big part of his life. Action most notably graced the screens in his VICELAND show Fuck, That’s Delicious, where he and a couple of his friends travel around the world for food. It’s the perfect food show for people who don’t care about how the food is made; it is about the feeling you get while eating. This isn’t his only collaboration with VICELAND, as Action also hosted and executive produced a one-of-a-kind show, Action Bronson watches Ancient Aliens, which is exactly what is sounds like. Action Bronson with friends watch History Channel documentaries about aliens, who supposedly built the ancient cities. It’s not for everyone, but it’s also one of the best things to ever appear on television. His debut and only film credit so far, is in a Netflix original Game Over, Man, a comedy headlined by Adam DeVine, where he plays himself.
Tyler, the Creator and Frank Ocean are household names not just in hip-hop, but in the entire music scene, regarded as some of the best contemporary artists. Before they went into global stardom, they were a part of a rap collective Odd Future. Other notable members include Earl Sweatshirt, Jasper Dolphin and Syd the Kid. Apart from their music, Odd Future also created an Adult Swim comedy show, Loiter Squad. The show was made up of various sketches, as well as reality-TV segments starring the group itself. It ran for three seasons between the years 2012-2014 and its popularity can be seen by fans still quoting lines from the show.
He’s one of the most famous figures in hip-hop as well as the person you most likely think of when you hear “rappers in film”. 8 Mile is a classic by now, not losing any of the spark it had 17 years ago when is originally came out. The film also gave us Lose Yourself, a track which has been dominating gym playlists ever since. Apart from that, he also famously starred in the opening scene of the North Korea-set The Interview.
Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson is one of the biggest stars of early 2000’s hip-hop. His legendary 2003 album Get Rich or Die Tryin’ was even turned into a feature-length film two years later. Since then he had multiple bit parts in various films such as Den of Thieves and Southpaw. More often than not, he plays himself as a cameo or a joke in a film, evident in Popstar or Spy. 50 Cent’s most notable contribution, however, is on the small screen, as he’s the producer of the hit TV show Power, which he later joined as an actor. Next up, we’ll see 50 in the sequel to Den of Thieves, which he’s also producing.
The New York-native and founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan, Robert Diggs was always close to the world of film. At a young age, he was impressed by kung-fu films, which served as an inspiration for Wu-Tang’s name, lyrics and even the name of their first album is a homage to 36th Chamber of Shaolin. He entered the movie business not only as an actor, but also as a writer, director and composer. As an actor, he worked with Jim Jarmusch on Ghost Dog, for which he also composed, as well as this year’s comedy The Dead Don’t Die. RZA’s most ambitious film project is the film The Man With Iron Fists, which he wrote, directed and acted in. The film also spawned a sequel, which Roel Reiné directed. Even in film, he never strayed far away from music, as RZA teamed up with Quentin Tarantino and composed music for both parts of his kung-fu masterpiece Kill Bill. He also worked with Fuminori Kizaki on Afro Samurai and on Soul Plane starring none other than Snoop Dogg.
The West Coast hip-hop artist transcended his genre and, for the past 20 years, became a pop culture in his own right. As an actor, he’s been around roughly since the mid 90’s. 2001 proved to be a breakthrough year for him, as Snoop starred in Antoine Fuqua’s Training Day and the lesser-known Bones, one of the few horror films with a black lead. Throughout the 00s, he acted in comedies such as the aforementioned Soul Plane, Starsky & Hutch and, for some reason, the Arthur & the Invisibles series. One film that stands out from his catalog is a documentary made about Snoop Dogg. Set in 2012, Reincarnated follows Snoop as he lived in Jamaica and immersed himself in the Rastafarian culture, making a reggae album under the moniker Snoop Lion.
The cast of the hit British tv show, Top Boy, could be described as the Avengers of British grime rap. Top Boy centers on two gangsters, Dushane and Sully, expanding their drug empire in the Summerhouse estate. Dushane, the brains of the duo, is played by Ashley Walters who also dropped a few albums as Asher D in the early 2000s. Sully, the muscle, is played by grime legend Kano. The show ran for two seasons between 2011 and 2013, before being cancelled by the network. Luckily for all of us, Drake, a long time fan of the show, partnered up with Netflix and they delivered the highly anticipated third season this fall, in which the show expanded its ranks of rappers-turned-actors by two of the most exciting talents on the scene right now. Standing against Sully, as this season’s antagonist, is the psychopathic one-eyed Modie, played by David “Dave” Omoregie. Little Simz, who released one of the best albums of this year so far, also has a bit part in the show as Dushane’s love interest, Shelley. Filled with amazing performances, Top Boy also showcases the very best from the world of grime.
For all the praise Rihanna rightfully gets, let’s face it, she isn’t a great actress. She doesn’t have many credits, with her most famous role being the lead in the animated comedy Home. Kudos to her though, for trying to pick different roles and experiment with acting. In the past three years, she acted in three various film as three vastly different characters. Valerian introduced her as an alien shapeshifter working as an exotic dancer, Ocean’s 8 as a talented hacker and Guava Island as Kofi, a working class love interest to Donald Glover’s Deni. Unfortunately, none of these roles are especially memorable and all there’s left is to hope that Rihanna’s acting talent will soon wake up.
I don’t think there’s a person who doesn’t like at least a part of the creative genius of Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino. Whether it’s writing, stand-up, making hip-hop/RnB music or acting, this man basically has it all. As a comic, his show Weirdo is borderline legendary by now and at only 60 minutes there’s no reason not to drop everything you’re doing and go watch it. Right Now. As an actor, Donald was introduced to the world on the criminally underrated show Community, later gracing the big screen as one of the most memorable characters in The Martian. When talking about underrated shows, we have to mention Atlanta, one of the best series on TV right now, which he’s writing and acting in. It is comedy gold while also providing biting social commentary on the state of modern American culture. Last year, he was able to show all his charm in Solo: A Star Wars Story, a movie which he was undoubtedly the best part of. During Coachella, he not only gave out his special Adidas collection to his fans, performed an incredible set, but also surprise-released the once mentioned Guava Island, a beautiful musical which is, in all honesty, one of 2019’s best movies.