Hip-hop runs the world. Rappers are stars all across the board. Creating music, acting in movies and on television, writing books and plenty of other creative disciplines that exists. Popularity and the changing times have allowed hip-hop artists to enter spaces outside their typical wheelhouse, to blossom into anything that they have an interest in. One of those areas is acting, and it only makes sense since rappers are so charismatic and self-confident that getting some screen time feels like a logical next step. While many rhymers have recurring roles or are even stars of their own TV shows, XXL highlights the best guest appearances from rappers where they pop in for one episode and grab headlines while they're at it.
Hip-hop's spotlight on television shows is hardly a new phenomenon. LL Cool J, already a huge rapper in 1994, made a quick cameo on the Nickelodeon comedy show The Adventures of Pete & Pete, which follows two brothers of the same name and their day to day calamities. LL was the younger Pete's homeroom teacher, tasked with alerting the faculty that the mischievous youth wouldn't be in school, leading to a party in the teacher's lounge.
Then there's Method Man, who played Eddie Valentine on Burn Notice in 2008. The rapper showed up as a fictional music exec who used any and all tactics to find out who was stealing his money. Nas locked in a gig as a parole violator who helps solve a crime in Hawaii Five-0 in 2010, and did a good job in his short time on screen. All three of these acts loom large in hip-hop's history, and stepping out on faith to try acting proved to be rewarding for the genre.
In more recent times, there are plenty of rappers who put effort into their TV guest appearances. Of course, Kendrick Lamar's turn as Laces, an extremely intellectual drug addict and hustler on 50 Cent's Power in 2018, made for a memorable moment. K-Dot's true appreciation for the show shined through. Another excellent example is Offset, a guest star on NCIS: Los Angeles. On the episode in 2020, ’Set plays undercover CIA agent Kadri Kashan Khan, and really gets into the role as he goes from his disguise to teaming up with LL Cool J's task force.
Take a look below to witness some of your favorite rappers shock you with their acting in guest roles.
Played Officer McKnight on Empire
Ludacris got his start in radio before he became a rap star, and that natural charisma has been apparent in everything he's done since. That also rings true for his acting gigs, most notably for his ongoing role as Tej Parker in the Fast & Furious movie series. When it comes to TV, he played one of music exec Lucious Lyon's foes on the hit show Empire in 2015. The rapper appeared as Officer McKnight, a correction officer at the prison Lyon found himself in. Even as a "bad guy," Luda has an on-camera ease that explains why he gets these opportunities.
Played Lee on House
Legendary Brooklyn rapper Yasiin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def, has always been a man of many talents—be it music, art or acting. He got to show off his acting chops in 2009, on the Fox medical drama series House. The character he played was Lee, a man who entered a pseudocoma from inhaled metal poisoning, as he worked odd jobs to keep his family from knowing he was going broke. There are scenes where Bey communicates with the main character, House, while he's in a coma, portraying a man at wit's end.
LL Cool J
Played Mr. Throneberry on The Adventures of Pete & Pete
One of the more abstract programs on Nickelodeon's schedule was The Adventures of Pete & Pete, an early 1990's show about the life of two teen brothers with the same name. In the 1994 episode that LL Cool J appeared in, the younger Pete hatched a plan to convince his mom he was too sick to go to school. The rapper shows up as the homeroom teacher. In his quick cameo, he speaks some Hawaiian and announces over the intercom (in code) that Pete, who's known as a troublemaker, isn't coming to school. A party in the teacher's lounge ensues. LL's good-natured humor and propensity to not take himself too seriously would pay dividends in his future acting career.
Played Eddie Valentine on Burn Notice
By 2008, Method Man was already in the Hype Williams film Belly, which put him on a lot of people's radar's acting- wise. He continued to take on roles, one of which was playing fictional music exec Eddie Valentine in an episode of the spy dramedy Burn Notice. In this episode in 2008, he uses the investigators from the show to find out who is stealing money from his record label. In the pictured scene, the rapper is kidnapped and shown later who did it. Meth arguing with a belligerent, anti-rap heckler and suggesting that Kenny G is "too gangsta" for his listening tastes is a peek into the inimitable cool he brings to all his roles.
Played Butterball on Magic City
Rick Ross taking on acting roles makes too much sense, as he has one of the most outsized personas in hip-hop. He's never "off," and has such a majestic way of delivering his thoughts, even in regular conversation. His role as Butterball on the Starz network show Magic City in 2013 was perfect for him. He played a shady gambler decked out in the finest silk shirts and shades. In some of the scenes, you can see the other characters trying to hold back laughter because Ross takes his character seriously while also letting barbs fly so easily. The Bawse was made to be in front of the camera.
Played Murderuss on Monk
Snoop Dogg is an entertainment icon. Music, the big screen and the small screen, YouTube shows, put Snoop on it, and it's a hit. Monk was already a successful show, and they recruited Snoop in 2007 to appear on the show as a rapper named Murderuss, accused of a murder and needing Monk's professional legal help. All of Murderuss' qualities point to him being guilty, but Snoop playing the character with such a lack of self-awareness made you root for him.
Played Kadri Kashan Khan on NCIS: Los Angeles
Migos, as a group, became superstars not only due to their talent and their unique approach to music, but their personalities. Time has revealed Offset as one of the most interesting members due to his many sides. From rap star to family man to dancer and actor, he's versatile. Offset took on his first acting role in 2020, as Kadri Kashan Khan, an undercover CIA agent on NCIS: Los Angeles. The show is led by another rapper-actor, the legendary LL Cool J, and the two shared scenes together. ’Set got to take part in some action scenes, too, and his line delivery was strong, fully enmeshing him with the character. It doesn't feel like a celebrity lackadaisically trying their hand at acting, but more like a world famous rapper committing himself to another discipline to impressive results.
Played Gordon Smith on Hawaii Five-O
Nas has done a few acting roles in his career, most notably in the aforementioned Belly. The Queens rapper stepped into a different role when he appeared on the action drama Hawaii Five-O in 2010, as a person of interest in a murder. Nasty Nas gives off a convincing, albeit short performance as a former criminal trying to get onto the right path. He also inadvertently helps the cops begin to solve the crime that they originally believed he took part in. He's a fluid actor and really sells that he just wants to help how he can to get out of a jam.
Played Regina Bookman on 30 Rock
Queen Latifah's acting chops have been certified for decades. She tackles any role given to her with ease. On 30 Rock, she made a guest appearance in late 2010 as Congresswoman Regina Bookman, a passionate (and dramatic) political figure who wanted the TV network to have more diversity in their shows. As 30 Rock is built on a fictional version of NBC, she came down to the offices and got a look around, and hijinks ensued from there. Queen Latifah is funny, has good chemistry with all of the other talent and has the poise of a regular cast member.
Played Laces on Power
Nabbing the ever-elusive Kendrick Lamar is no easy task. Luckily, the 50 Cent-helmed hit show Power pulled off the near-impossible in 2018, since Kendrick was already a fan of the show. In his one-episode appearance, he played Laces, a profound and thoughtful drug addict who befriends Fif's character, Kanaan Stark, and helps him set up his enemies on the street. K-Dot was very strong in the role, using both frenetic energy and desperation to paint a picture of a man who has been worn down by his environment, while also trying to make things right.