Hip-Hoppers Storming The Silver Screen

LL Cool J, Ice Cube, Shock-G among rappers looking to gain exposure, career longevity in movies.

Nothing lasts forever, and in the volatile world of hip-hop, many artists are

turning to Hollywood to help gain exposure for their music and, perhaps most

importantly, establish some career longevity.

Following the lead of rap veterans LL Cool J, Ice Cube and Ice-T, a growing

number of rappers have film projects in the works -- in the hopes of both

increasing their exposure and expanding their creative outlet. They include big

names such as Puff Daddy, Snoop Doggy Dogg and Digital Underground's

Shock-G as well as newcomers such as DMX, Jay-Z and Peter Gunz.

"There are bigger things in life than rap," Gunz (a.k.a. Pete Pankey) said of his

aspirations to be on the big screen with his rapping partner, Lord Tariq. "With

this rap game being so funny in a here-today-gone-tomorrow kind of way, I've

got a lot of respect for artists like LL Cool J who are able to stick around for so

long."

The latest project from the rapping duo of Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz is

emblematic of hip-hop's move to the movies. They've collaborated on a script

that is a semi-autobiographical account of their journey from the gritty streets of

the Bronx, N.Y., to the glamour of the pop charts. A common theme among

rappers looking to break into film, the story of an artist's struggle from the streets

to fame is apparently hitting home with fans of both the rappers' music and their

movies.

But why tackle the world of film?

While many hip-hoppers are gearing up for a life in the cinema, veteran rap

DJ/producer Pete Rock said he thinks that too many of them have their eyes on

the silver screen. "These days, a lot of artists are using hip-hop as a stepping

stool to get where they really want," he said. "I really care about [the music

itself]."

Still, DMX (a.k.a. Earl Simmons) is moving along in his big-screen plans.

Earlier this year, he completed his role in "Belly," the first full-length film directed

by hip-hop video director Hype Williams. "Belly," which also features the acting

of rappers T-Boz of TLC, Nas and Method Man, is an urban drama about two

childhood friends who aspire to different lifestyles while involved in organized

crime. DMX plays an ambitious street hustler.

"I get to sell drugs. I get to kill people. I get to do it with girls, drive cars, wear

flashy jewelry ... I get to do it all," said DMX, who recently was arrested on

charges of rape and sodomy. He noted that he had no previous acting

experience and felt honored when Williams approached him about the role in

"Belly."

"I was overwhelmed," DMX said, "[but] I could tell that [Williams] had seen me,

know what I'm saying? I was glad that people were starting to see the type of

person I really am. I'm capable of a lot more than rhymes and shit."

As an established rapper and producer seeking fame on the silver screen, Puff

Daddy (a.k.a. Sean Combs) has formed a film production company called Bad

Boy Films in conjunction with Dimension Films. He is working on a big-screen

adaptation of the George Pelecanos novel "King Suckerman." On the

performing front, he's set to appear in the upcoming Oliver Stone film, "Any

Given Sunday," playing a football player coached by a character played by

acclaimed actor Al Pacino.

Hardcore-rap pioneer Ice Cube (a.k.a. O'Shea Jackson), who acted in the films

"Boyz N the Hood" and "Anaconda," had great success earlier this year as the

producer, director, writer and co-star of "The Players Club." He's continuing

forward with both his rap and film careers, having just signed a two-year "first

look" deal with New Line Cinema with a sequel to his 1995 hit comedy, "Friday,"

in the offing.

LL Cool J (a.k.a James Todd Smith), who appeared in the film "Toys" with Robin

Williams and starred on the television series "In The House," will visit the big

screen again this summer, co-starring with noted actress Jamie Lee Curtis in

the horror film "Halloween H20."

Digital Underground founder Shock-G (a.k.a. Greg Jacobs) previously had

turned down numerous film and television roles, but he will take the lead in the

independent film "Fishes Out Of Water," a surreal comedy that deals with the

issue of racism. Set for release this fall, the soundtrack also will include original

material by Shock-G.

Shock-G said he feels comfortable acting, because "I was always playing

characters, anyway, to have my music interpreted the way I wanted it to be

interpreted."

Other veteran rappers are taking the direct-to-video route first pioneered by

Master P, whose low-budget "I'm 'Bout It" feature was a hit in video stores in

1997. That led to a big-screen distribution deal this year for his self-produced

film "I Got The Hook-Up!" On Tuesday, Master P released "Da Last Don," a

direct-to-video feature in conjunction with his last album of the same name.

Snoop Doggy Dogg, who is scheduled to appear in a big-screen horror film

entitled "Bones," already has logged appearances in the movies "Half-Baked"

and "Ride." He also will be featured in a direct-to-video film entitled "Game,"

which is due in stores on Aug. 18.

And the list grows longer. Earlier this year, rapper Jay-Z (a.k.a. Shawn Cartee)

released "Streets Is Watching," a direct-to-video film that he starred in and co-

wrote. (It's loosely based on his rise from street hood to founder of Roc-A-Fella

Records.) Daz Dillinger is co-writing a film entitled "Three The Hard Way," and

R&B vocalists Sons of Funk told SonicNet Music News earlier this year

that they were writing a film that they hope will serve as an inspiration to their

fans. "It's a gangster movie," group member Rico Crowder explained, "but it's

going to have a positive outcome. It's going to show that we can come together."

Rapper WC (a.k.a. William Calloway), who had a part in "Friday," said he feels

that the hip-hop community and the movie industry will both benefit from

rappers who double as actors and filmmakers. "It's all good for the movie

distributors and artists who are reaching millions of fans," he explained.

"The studios make their money, and maybe I sell a million records after

appearing in a movie."

With that in mind, WC is actively pursuing some film projects that he didn't want

to discuss. He did note that he was preparing for the roles. "I'm taking acting

classes," he said. "I don't want to stink."