The idea of rappers becoming actors is no longer a big deal, and a lot are actually not that bad. But what they really want to do now is direct. It’s not for everyone, whether because it’s more difficult a job to do or more difficult a job to get. So, some might at least produce films, often starring vehicles for themselves.
Former Wu-Tang Clan member RZA is the latest rapper turned filmmaker with his directorial debut, The Man with the Iron Fists, out this Friday. This was an inevitable career move, and not just because the film lover has been acting in and composing for films since 1999’s Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai. Long ago he started a film to showcase his “Bobby Digital” alter ego, but it was never finished. In the meantime, he’s been helming music videos in preparation for this moment.
And other rappers will surely follow him. But he’s hardly the first to make the move behind the camera. Here are eight more MCs that have directed movies:
Ice Cube - The Player’s Club (1998) and Straight Outta L.A. (2010)
One of the very first rappers to make a notable transition to acting, Ice Cube quickly moved to filmmaking as well. First, he cowrote the screenplay for Friday, after which he was given the opportunity to direct his next script, The Player’s Club. Though a financial success, the film didn’t immediately lead to more directorial projects. Instead he wrote more films, including two Friday sequels, and produced many more, including the Barbershop and Are We There Yet? franchises. Recently he returned to directing for the ESPN “30 for 30” documentary Straight Outta L.A., which is about the link between his old group, NWA, and the Raiders, during the football team’s stint in Southern California. He’s expected to go behind the camera once again for another Friday sequel, which he’s writing, titled Last Friday, and says he’ll direct more movies if he finds worthy pet projects but otherwise will keep producing.
Fred Durst - The Education of Charlie Banks (2007) and The Longshots (2008)
Interestingly enough, one of Ice Cube’s many starring roles is in The Longshots, which is the sophomore film from Limp Bizkit front man Fred Durst. While his band was on hiatus, the rap-rocker made his directorial debut a year prior with the indie coming-of-age drama The Education of Charlie Banks, which stars Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Ritter. Neither predominantly negative reviews for that and the follow-up nor the regrouping of Limp Bizkit have totally kept Durst from continuing his filmmaking career, though his planned third feature, Pawn Shop Chronicles, has gone to another director.
MCA - Awesome; I F**kin’ Shot That! (2006) and Gunnin’ for That #1 Spot (2008)
A founding member of the Beastie Boys who tragically died of cancer this year, Adam “MCA” Yauch is celebrated almost as much for his contribution to cinema as for his work in music. This is in part because he started a successful distribution business within his company Oscilloscope Laboratories. But after honing his talent helming music videos under the alter ego Nathaniel Hornblower, he also directed a few films himself, including a collaborative concert film (as Hornblower) that put the cameras in the hands of Beastie fans, which is called Awesome; I F**kin’ Shot That!, and a feature documentary titled Gunnin’ for That #1 Spot about teens competing in a basketball tournament to determine the best of the best high school players. He made the recent comedy short Fight for Your Right Revisited and produced the 1998 concert film Free Tibet.
50 Cent - Before I Self Destruct (2009)
His film debut, as an actor, was Get Rich or Die Tryin’, which many people call an autobiographical work. But Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson neither wrote nor directed the film, so that’s not really accurate. He obviously had some creative input, however, and at the time he had already stepped into the industry with his company G-Unit Films, through which he produced the 2005 concert film The Game. Following a few more acting roles, he wrote and directed the crime drama Before I Self Destruct, in which he also stars. Since then, he’s continued writing films (Gun and All Things Fall Apart) and producing others (including new releases Freelancers and Fire with Fire), but so far nothing else from the director’s chair.
Kanye West - Runaway (2010) and Cruel Summer (2012)
Unlike most of the others on this list, West didn’t first make a notable turn to acting, save the long-form music video collaboration he did with Spike Jonze (titled We Were Once a Fairytale) for “See You in My Nightmares,” and that actually makes sense given how different his directorial work has been. The first effort was Runaway, a musical short film tied to the rapper’s "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" album, which, as a narratively linked video compilation, is kind of like his Moonwalker. This year he premiered Cruel Summer, a groundbreaking short codirected by Alexandre Moors that was filmed with a special camera rig allowing for multiple angles to be shot simultaneously, and the film is projected on seven screens that surround the audience. West is clearly the most experimental yet forward-thinking filmmaker on this list.
Ice-T - Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap (2012)
Acting almost as long as he’s been rapping, this star of the Breakin’ films and now TV’s Law & Order: SVU has also been a longtime movie producer, having started with a handful of titles in 1999, including Judgment Night and Corrupt. This year, he’s a producer of two documentaries, Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp and Something from Nothing, the latter of which is his directorial debut. He claims to have now caught the directing bug and wants to make features (narrative?), but he says he’s having a problem deciding what to do next. He knows he wants to go the Sundance route, though, like he did with his first.
Plan B - Ill Manors (2012)
The English rapper known as Plan B may not be too well-known in the U.S., but if you aren’t familiar with his music you might have seen him, credited under real name Ben Drew, on the big screen in the film Harry Brown. His other acting gigs are also obscure here, and there doesn’t seem to be an American release date for his recent directorial debut, although it did recently screen at the Toronto International Film Festival. Titled Ill Manors, the crime drama was also written by Drew, who cites Quentin Tarantino, Shane Meadows and Nicolas Winding Refn as influences, and features a soundtrack full of new Plan B songs. Having received great reviews, modest box office success and a growing fanbase through its early October video release, the film could find a cult audience here through import, and then maybe we’ll hear more about and from Plan B/Ben Drew in the future.
Prime Minister Pete Nice - Rooters: The Birth of Red Sox Nation (2007) and The White Negro (?)
It’s been a number of years since this former member of 3rd Bass mentioned plans for his directorial debut. After his group broke up, Pete Nice -- real name Peter Nash -- became a baseball historian and has written books about players buried in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery and about early fans of the Red Sox. The latter was adapted for a documentary he produced called Rooters: The Birth of Red Sox Nation, and he told the New York Times that he was working on another doc about white appropriation of black music and culture. Titled The White Negro, its status is currently unknown. Since the Times article, Nice/Nash and Dropkick Murphys bassist Ken Casey opened McGreevy’s 3rd Base Saloon, so maybe that’s taking too much of his time. If so, let this be a call for him to finish the film, which I and other fans of music history are very interested in seeing.