Reel Rhymes: When Rappers Become Filmmakers

Oliver Lunn

Not long ago we directed our gaze at rappers in films. As we noted then, there's a cliché that by and large still rings true for most artists: the walls of their cribs are invariably adorned with Scarface posters. But the marriage between hip-hop and the movies goes deeper than bonding over fictional crime lords. Think of Spike Lee's seminal music video for Public Enemy's Fight the Power, or Wu Tang-Clan's interminable kung fu samples in the early 90s. 

Hip-hop and cinema have been content bedfellows ever since the genre emerged – but that's not to say there haven't been any clunkers. Here, we take a look at both the watchable and the unwatchable efforts from the rappers who couldn't resist the allure of the director's chair.  

The Players Club (dir. Ice Cube, 1998) 

Ice Cube's directorial debut raked in $23,261,485 at the box office, which you think would make him a bankable rapper-turned-actor-turned-director for the studios and lead to more Cube-directed features and cash. But alas, this remains the rapper's sole work behind the camera. The comedy-drama features Bernie Mac (who re-teamed with Cube following 1995's Friday) and follows a stripper's endeavours to make a legit living. Unsurprisingly the hip-hop-heavy soundtrack, featuring Ice Cube, DMX, Master P, Jay-Z and others, almost surpassed the film's own popularity. 

Who’s the Man? (dir. Ted Demme, 1993)

Directed by Ted Demme, the genius behind Yo! MTV Raps (who's not admittedly a rapper but had to be mentioned), this comedy caper features what's easily the longest cast of rappers ever stuffed into a movie, ever. Which is reason enough to see the film. Seriously, take a breath and get a load of this stellar ensemble: Doctor Dré, Ed Lover, Badja Djola, Cheryl "Salt" James, Colin Quinn, Denis Leary, Richard Gant, Guru, Ice-T, Larry Cedar, Karen Duffy, House of Pain, Viet Nguyen, B-Real, Andre B. Blake, Bill Bellamy, Bow-Legged Lou, Busta Rhymes, CL Smooth, D-Nice, Eric B, Fab 5 Freddy, Flavor Flav, Heavy D, Humpty Hump, Kid Capri, Kris Kross, KRS-One, Leaders of the New School, Melle Mel, Monie Love, Naughty By Nature, Pete Rock, Phife Dawg, Queen Latifah, Run-D.M.C., Smooth B, Stretch, T-Money, Todd 1, Yo Yo.   

Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap (Ice-T, 2013)

There have been so many hip-hop documentaries. And not many of them have been all that illuminating. So it was refreshing when ageing rapper Ice-T shuffled onto our screens to make a film about the art of rap; meaning the craft behind the rhymes and different rappers' approaches to summoning their lyrical flow. Eminem, for example, blabbers on about cramming syllables into rhymes and the mathematical way in which he breaks down each word, sentence and verse. Of course, you don't have to be a mathematical whiz to flow, ya know. 

The Man with the Iron Fists (RZA, 2013) 

When it was announced that Wu-Tang head honcho RZA would be directing a martial arts flick, we, like most ardent hip-hop fans, gave the legendary rapper-producer an imaginary high five. Our enthusiasm was inflated in no small part because we knew of RZA's comprehensive knowledge and love of kung fu movies. But jeez, we've gotta be honest with ourselves – The Man with the Iron Fists was one of last year's biggest disappointments. Still, it was his first film in the director's chair, so there's still time yet. 

Killa Season (Cam'ron, 2006)

Trading a mic for a camera clearly didn't work out for Harlem rapper Cam'ron. This straight-to-video dud, which features the director's fellow Diplomats 40 Cal, Un Kasa, J. R. Writer and "Chubbie Baby", is the autobiographical tale of a rapper's early life as a hustler, chronicling his transformation from a high school basketball star to a full-time heroin dealer. Having written, directed, produced and starred in the film, it seems as though Cam'ron's ego got the better of him and this is the result. Let's face facts, bro, you're not the next Scorsese. 

The Wash (DJ Pooh, 2001)

Starring the lyrically-refined likes of Dr Dre, Snoop Dog, Eminem and Dj Pooh, The Wash follows a group of dropouts who struggle with rent and land themselves a job at a local car wash (now you get the title). Directed by Pooh, who notably directed 3 Strikes, the mildly funny movie grossed a substantial $10,229,331 worldwide, which we can only put down to the fact that fans of the aforementioned rappers will pay to see them in pretty much anything. The film also earned Snoop Dogg the Stoner of the Year Award at the Stony Awards. Which is actually a legit thing that happens every year, apparently.

I'm Bout It (Master P and Moon Jones, 1996)

Master P is best-known as a rapper for "Mr. Ice Cream Man" from P's album Ice Cream Man. Directing, producing and writing (another big ego in the game), Master P's hit indie movie follows his life in a New Orleans uptown ghetto, and proved profitable for both his No Limit Records label and No Limit Films production company. While it was a hit on its release it has since been resigned to clunkerville, with one IMDb user declaring: "Master P. You made a Master ass out of yourself doing this movie". 

Gunnin' For That #1 Spot (Adam Yauch, 2008) 

After directing Awesome: I Fuckin' Shot That! (2006), the Beastie Boys' Adam Yauch (aka MCA, aka Nathanial Hörnblowér) grabbed a handfull of unlikely subject matter (for a rapper) when making Gunnin' For That #1 Spot. Instead of taking the predictable step into the filmic clichéd realm of rap, fast cars, crime, women and swanning around with a Glock in his pants like he's big in the game, MCA made a movie about eight of the top high school basketball players in the US in 2006, centring around the first annual Boost Mobile Elite 24 Hoops Classic at the legendary Rucker Park in Harlem. This is one of the more interesting results of when rappers become filmmakers and we can only imagine what Yauch would have gone on to direct. RIP Adam Yauch. 

Before I Self Destruct (Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, 2009)

In 2009, Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson made the abominable action-drama Before I Self Destruct, following an inner-city youth raised by a hardworking single mother. After his stench-eminating performance in Get Rich or Die Tryin', Fiddy somehow thought that climbing into the director's chair would be a good idea (it wasn't). Scoring a measly 4.5 on IMDb, the film is pretty much unanimously hated (or at least it should be) with most people agreeing that the rapper will go down in history as one of the worst actors that ever lived. And worst rappers, for that matter. 

Baller Blockin' (Bryan "Birdman" Williams) 

You might know Birdman as the rapper who made "Always Strapped" and other pretty awful songs loosely and regrettably falling under the umbrella of "hip-hop". As a director, his New Orleans-set comedy portrays the everyday trials and tribulations that arise on the Louisiana streets of the Cash Money Millionaires record label. Aside from the so-so story and the tenuous performances from Lil Wayne and Birdman himself, the best thing we can say about Birdman's film is that it has a categorically brilliant poster

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