America's most wanted: Rap's best actors

  • Article by: NEAL JUSTIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 16, 2012 - 6:54 PM

Here are seven rappers who've made an especially successful transition to acting.

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Will Smith, left, and Tommy Lee Jones in "Men in Black 3."

Photo: Wilson Webb, Sony

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Quick. Try to think of a rapper who dropped a bomb when he or she transitioned into acting. Tough, isn't it? Most have found at least moderate success as thespians. A few even have become cinematic superstars. Here are our magnificent seven.

Will Smith

Strength: An easygoing charm that allows him to be a bit of a bad boy while saving the day.

Signature role: Agent J, "Men in Black."

What's missing: With the exception of "Hitch," the Fresh Prince hasn't had much luck with on-screen romance. Somebody show him some love.

Mark Wahlberg

Strength: A brutal cockiness and an even more brutal Boston accent. Say hello to his mother -- at your own risk.

Signature role: Dignam, "The Departed."

What's missing: More straight-ahead dramas that don't require him to beat up everyone in sight.

Queen Latifah

Strength: The ability to bounce between comedy and drama, sometimes in the same movie.

Signature role: Cleopatra Sims, "Set It Off."

What's missing: A keener eye for material. Latifah hasn't had a sharp script since 2007's "Hairspray." Did you see her and Dolly Parton in "Joyful Noise"? Neither did anyone else.

Ice T

Strength: A don't-mess-with-me attitude that makes him as dangerous as a hand grenade with a shaky pin.

Signature role: Scotty Appleton, "New Jack City."

What's missing: A sense of humor. We won't think of you as less than a man, Ice, if you crack a smile. Promise.

Mos Def

Strength: An almost poetic presence and intelligence in the smallest of roles.

Signature role: Brother Sam, "Dexter."

What's missing: Leading roles. His acclaimed performances on the New York stage haven't resulted in top billing at the movies -- yet.

Ice Cube

Strength: Marketing smarts. Long before Tyler Perry, he was serving up urban comedies to largely ignored black audiences.

Signature role: Craig Jones, "Friday."

What's missing: True grit. Cube's focus on getting laughs almost makes us forget his emotional turn in "Boyz in the Hood."

Sean Combs

Strength: Rat Pack cool.

Signature role: Walter Lee Younger, "A Raisin in the Sun."

What's missing: Experience. Combs has only done three major movies and his TV roles are often little more than cameos.

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