Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Rhyming Actors: Donald Glover, Mos Def, Will Smith and the Evolution of the Lyrical Thespians

“Wait, he’s an actor?” I said as I enjoyably listened to his fre(EP).

I had no clue about who Childish Gambino was. At that moment, “who” he was lost precedent to what he could do. I really did not care about his past. I was not concerned about where he was born. I didn’t see any importance in knowing where his parents used to work. All I cared about was that he could rap over leaps and bounds.

And then I found out it was Donald Glover. Oh, wow.

For the uninformed, Donald Glover is the young actor that plays on “Community” as Troy Barnes. Many have seen his Youtube comedy sketches and laughed all the way through (Google Derrick Comedy to see what I am referring to). Also, he writes for NBC. In turn, Donald Glover is a worthwhile thespian.

Knowing that he is an actor, many will probably take issue with his musical aspirations. There are (and will be) quizzical comments about Donald and his true skill. From many different references, people already do. He even made a comment about it in one of his songs. Thus, he is well aware of the naysayers.

The real issue isn’t that he isn’t talented in both. The bigger issue is that so many actors and musicians try to switch trades that it can become nauseating for the fans.

What tends to exacerbate the queasy feeling for most fans is the lack of talent in the acting to music switch. In 2004, Tyra Banks tried to release a song called “Shake Ya Body”. It crashed as soon as it left the ground. Kevin Federline released an album back in 2006 that nobody cared about. Kim Kardashian suffered the same fate when she released “Jam (Turn It Up)” this year. It remains to be seen how many more will knowingly try to become talentless musicians.

The same can be said for some rappers trying to be actors. Nas did very little for his uncharismatic role in Belly. The Game’s acting roles have left much to be desired. 50 Cent has gained very little admiration for his acting prowess. Xzibit? Eh. Andre 3000? He has been cool, but nothing amazing. Even with rappers (some of the biggest actors in entertainment if you get my drift), there are examples of lackluster performances or overall catastrophe.

Thus, there is very little wonder as to why people roll their eyes at the idea: so many people have tried and bombed.

The failures tend to outshine the obvious successes, however. And those obvious successes deserve our unbridled attention.

One of hip hop’s most accomplished lyrical thespians happens to be Mos Def. UTD’s own Dante Smith had the luck of starring in the shortlived Cosby Mysteries. Since then, Mos has appeared in Bamboozled, Monster’s Ball, The Italian Job, Cadillac Records, and Lackawanna Blues. In addition, he was nominated for an Emmy, a Golden Globe and an Image Award for his role of Vivien Thomas in Something the Lord Made. Mos Def, in conclusion, is one of the most established and revered rapper-actors.

When it comes to bankability, Will Smith wins out hands down. The Fresh Prince has been synonymous with blockbuster movies. From the Turner Broadcasting classic Independence Day to the lovingly witty Hitch, Smith brings in the money. Even his least appealing movies (Wild Wild West) can turn a hefty profit ($170 million to make; $222 million at box office). Therefore, Will Smith’s movies and money making tend to be synonymous.

 The man formerly known as Marky Mark may now be known more for acting than music. Although he started acting in 1995, Mark Wahlberg has made his mark (no pun) in the industry. With films like The Italian Job (along with Mos Def), Shooter, and The Boxer under his belt, he has proven to possess star power. Even as a costar, he can be caught stealing scenes in movies such as The Departed, Date Night, and I Heart Huckabees. Oddly enough, his acting carer has eclipsed the prominence and existence of his musical apsirations. Still, no one can complaine about the switch.

Another rapper to carve their acting niche is LL Cool J. LL, presently known for his role of Sam Hanna in NCIS LA, can be considered a seasoned actor. With a career that went full blown in 1991, he has had numerous roles. LL has appeared in movies like Any Given Sunday, SWAT, Kingdom Come, and Deliver Us From Eva. He also had a role on the TV show In The House. In turn, LL developed an acting career spanning 20 odd years.

Queen Latifah is, by far, the most successful female rapper-actor. Starting out in 1989 (right after her music start), she has appeared in Set It Off, Beauty Shop, And Stranger Than Fiction. Her role in Chicago as Mama Morton garnered her plenty of acclaim and awards, including an Oscar Nomination for best supporting actress. Equally impressive is her role of August Boatwright in The Secret Lives of Bees. Emphatically, Queen Latifah has earned many accolades and warm receptions from the film industry.

None of the list is more ironic than Ice Cube, however. Doughboy started out in the classic Boyz-in-the-Hood. From there, he has been in Higher Learning, Three Kings, Ghost of Mars, and All About the Benjamins. Yet, his biggest successes have come from his Friday series of movies. Serving as a writer and producer/executive producer for each movie, he has grossed over $120 million with modest budgets. The irony of it all: they are comedy movies. Hilariously, Ice Cube, a prominent gangster rapper, has made bank from comedies.

The biggest surprise has to be Ludacris. Chris Bridges is really working to become a well versed actor in different types of roles. From the intelligently angry urban philosophizer which was Anthony (Crash) to playing a hardcore hood rapper (Skinny Black in Hustle and Flow), Luda goes for diversity. Even with roles of Mickey (Rock’n Rolla) and Jim Bravura (Max Payne), he works to do something different. The biggest surprise was his role of Wallace, the sarcastic wisecracking bartender in No Strings Attached. In turn, Ludacris worked to avoid being typecast.

Oh, and special shout outs to go Common, Eminem, and T.I. for making big screen splashes. They are doing great. However, they haven't dominated like all the others. Their time is coming, though. 

Donald Glover finds himself within solid company. Whiles others have failed miserably, there is still a list of people that succeeded. The most important thing to learn from this is that those that were the most successful put work into their craft. When that effort, that labor of love, is given maximum application so much is achieved. Donald Glover has nothing to worry about though: even if he fails he has already succeeded past what many expected him to do anyway.

‘Nuff said and ‘Nuff respect!

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