Remember when Will Smith was the Fresh Prince? Queen Latifah was in the Native Tongues or when Kid Rock rapped like the Beastie Boys?
There are a handful of former rappers who have taken their careers in new directions and have found so much success that they have never seriously had to consider returning to the genre.
They deserve props for their business savvy.
Here is a list of five old school rappers who clearly knew when it was the right time to make the switch.
It's been nearly 20 years since Kid Rock released his debut album on Jive Records. Back in 1990 when the Romeo, Michigan-bred rapper dropped Grits Sandwiches For Breakfast he was labelmates with DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Boogie Down Productions and Too $hort. His music warranted comparisons to the Beastie Boys bore obvious sonic influences by Run-DMC, LL Cool J, Public Enemy and other popular rappers of the time. He didn't bring in a hit and was dropped by the label.
Kid Rock obtained another record deal and released a few more albums. But he did not make a breakthrough until he found he was signed by Atlantic Records and released Devil Without A Cause in 1998. Unlike Grits, Devil was a rap-rock record that competed with other hip-hop and rock fusions from Rage Against The Machine and Korn. Devil sold 11 million copies. While Kid Rock continued to find success with this sound by 2001, he was ready to move on to another stage of his artistic evolution. His album Cocky displayed his country influences. One of those songs, an acoustic duet with Sheryl Crow was released as a single in 2003, gave both artists their first country hit. The song became Kid Rock's most successful song to date, reaching No. 4 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart and earned a Country Music Award nomination.
Since, Kid Rock has continued recording as a country artist.
Now that Dana Elaine Owens is a spokesperson for dietary company Jenny Craig and has a Golden Globe award and nominations for Emmy and Academy Awards honors, one might forget that this businesswoman got her start as an Afrocentric rapper in the late 1980s. Her demo for "Princess Of The Posse" caught the attention of Fab 5 Freddy, host of Yo! MTV Raps, who helped her secure a recording deal with Tommy Boy Records. In 1989, Queen Latifah released her debut album, All Hail The Queen, that quickly established her as a leading voice for female MCs.
She was also a pioneering member of the Native Tongues collective of MCs that included the likes of A Tribe Called Quest, Leaders Of The New School, the Jungle Brothers, Monie Love and De La Soul.
She released an additional four respected rap albums while simultaneously pursuing a flourishing acting career. Her last hip-hop album, Order In The Court, was released in 1988 and she has since issued two albums featuring her singing.
Spike Lee helped launch her film career in 1991, casting her in a small role as a waitress in his movie Jungle Fever. Her natural on screen chemistry resulted in several more roles in House Party 2, Juice and Set It Off. She also starred in the Fox sitcom Living Single from 1993 to 1998.
As she perfected her acting skills, she was enlisted for more acclaimed projects. She received an Oscar nomination for her role as Matron "Mama" Morton in the Broadway play turned movie Chicago and had co-starring roles in Hairspray, Taxi, and Bringing Down The House.
She is currently working on a new album.
Maybe it's unfair to say that Ice T has evolved from a rapper to an actor when in actuality he first received widespread notoriety on the big screen. While still breaking on the Los Angeles hip-hop scene, the rapper landed a role in the 1984 hip-hop classic, Breakin'.Ice T, born Tracy Morrow, did not release his first album until nearly three years later. Rhyme Pays included his seminal track "6 'N Tha Mornin'" and was the first album to contain a Parental Advisory warning label. One year later, he appeared on the soundtrack for the Dennis Hopper film Colors, recording the title track. Ice T reached gold sales status with his first five albums, but faced censorship issues after the 1992 release of his metal band Body Count.
Body Count's song "Cop Killer" drew criticism from the then Vice President Dan Quayle and President George H. W. Bush. The various protests against Ice T prompted him to exit Warner Bros. Records.
While Ice T's prominence as a rapper began to subside, he maintained a rigorous acting schedule. In 1991 he ironically portrayed an undercover cop in the film New Jack City and in 1995 began a reoccurring role the television series New York Undercover. Since 2000, he has played a detective on the hit television series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
It's hard to believe that Mark Walhberg initially joined his brother Donnie as an original member of mega boy band New Kids On The Block. However, the then 19-year-old who who stayed in trouble with the law had edgier aspirations and soon quit the group, making room for Joey McIntire to take his place.
In 1991, four years after New Kids On The Block's debut, Marky Mark And The Funky Bunch released its first album, Music For The People. The group's first single, "Good Vibrations," was produced by Donnie, and reached No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. The album achieved platinum status.
While Marky Mark And The Funky Bunch released a follow up album in 1992, they were not taken seriously by the rap community. Unfazed, Marky Mark sparked significant interest from other industries. The rapper, who routinely appeared in his music videos shirtless, flexing his muscles, was quickly tapped by Calvin Klein to be an underwear model for its brand. By 1993, he appeared in his first film, a television movie, The Substitute.
Mark followed the steady stream of film opportunities and evolved into a well respected and busy actor, co-starring in major blockbusters such as Boogie Nights, Three Kings, Planet Of The Apes, and The Italian Job.
Will Smith jokes that he owns 4th of July weekends at movie theater boxes offices. And it's hard to argue his point. His films Men In Black, Men In Black II, and Independence Day, are among the top 10 biggest July 4 weekend openers of all time.
Not bad for a kid from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania who got his start in the entertainment business more than 20 years ago as a comical and clever rapper. It was his second album as a member of DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince that brought the duo widespread acclaim. The single "Parent's Just Don't Understand" helped the group sell three million albums and earn the hip-hop's first Grammy award.
DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince released five studio albums that reached gold, platinum or multi-platinum status. By 1990, legendary producer Quincy Jones offered Will his own sitcom, The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air that ran for six seasons.
Will's performance in 1993's Six Degrees Of Separation proved the depth of his acting talents and that he could deliver more than just comedy. Next came a string of annual blockbusters, Bad Boys, Independence Day, and Men In Black. Later he earned Oscar nominations for portraying Muhammad Ali in Ali, Chris Gardener in The Pursuit Of Happyness.
Will, who is married to actress Jada Pinkett Smith, has also released four albums as a solo artist, beginning with 1997's Big Willie Style through 2005's Lost And Found. While his solo records have performed well, it is apparent that his focus is on his acting projects.
- Kid Rock
- Queen Latifah
- Will Smith