Aside from 82 credits playing himself, Marshall Mathers was awesome in 8 Mile, where he played himself but with a different name. So the guy can't stretch - but he did win an MTV Movie Award and a Teen Choice award. And while those means as much in the industry as an associate producer credit, I was still impressed that he did a movie with Kim Bassinger and he came out looking like the better actor. Also that of every one in a rap movie about inner city Detroit, Brittany Murphy was the first cast member to die.
6) Chris Bridges (aka Ludacris)
He was great in the critically acclaimed Crash - but what really made him stand out were his performances on Law and Order: SVU. Twice, Luda played Fin Tutuola's nephew. That's especially funny since Tutuola is played by Ice-T, who couldn't act his way out of a paper bag (even if it was filled with crack). And he even showed some range with a funny role in Fred Claus, a movie so bad it reminded me of Ice-T's acting ability.
5) Trevor Smith (aka Busta Rhymes)
Rhymes was great as the older brother in Finding Forrester. Of course, he knows drama - his original group, Leaders of the New School, broke up on the set of Yo! MTV Raps. But he can also do comedy - the role I liked him best in was Who's the Man? In an otherwise terribly forgettable Ed Lover/Dr. Dre vehicle that gave me one more reason to dislike Dennis Leary, Rhymes brought some much needed comic relief - to a comedy. With the exception of Leary, the cast was a who's who in black Hollywood, and the part of Night Train was played by Ice-T. I'll let you guess how he did.
4) Cordozar Broadus (aka Snoop Dog)
A recurring voice on The Boondocks, and a guest star on Weeds, Monk, and Entourage, Snoop is fantastic at playing the laid back stoner. Okay, so you won't see him in a production of A Raisin in the Sun any time soon, but you will see him in 59 roles. Wow - there are real actors who don't work that often. He's also made 211 appearances as himself. So that's 270 roles as a laid back stoner.
3) Dante Smith (aka Mos Def)
Mos Def is a bit of an exception, since he's an actor-turned-rapper-turned-actor. In the mid 90s, Smith had bit parts in everything from The Cosby Mysteries to NYPD Blue. In the late 90s, Mos Def and Twalib Kweli formed Black Star and suddenly Dante Smith took a back seat. But since then, Smith has had hilarious roles on Chappelle's Show and in Next Day Air, as well as absolutely carrying The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. And in continued proof that the rapper/actor world is a very small one, he was also great in The Italian Job. I would have loved to see a Marky Mark/Mos Def collaboration.
2) Mark Wahlberg (aka Marky Mark)
This is probably the most surprising on the list, since we met Mark Wahlberg as the pants-around-the-ankles rapping little brother of a New Kid on the Block. And then suddenly, he was the breakout kid in Boogie Nights, the action hero in The Italian Job, and the Oscar nominated star of The Departed. Which is especially surprising to me - not because he out-acted Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Alec Baldwin, and Martin Sheen, but because Wahlberg's role was originally offered to Denis Leary.
1) Will Smith (aka The Fresh Prince)
Big Willie gets the number one spot for a few reasons. 1) Two Oscar nominations, four Golden Globe nominations (two drama, two comedy), and MTV Movie Awards (or nominations) for NINE separate movies. 2) While acting in some of his hit movies, he also released a string of hit singles. 3) Who the hell saw this coming? We met Will Smith as half of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, singing Parents Just Don't Understand. What I don't understand is how that same guy could be the actor from I Am Legend. Smith currently has 28 projects in development, including Harold and the Purple Crayon and Flowers for Algernon. Of course, if he could get his son to stop ruining Karate Kid, that'd be even more impressive.
Did we leave anything out? Disagree with these choices? Then tell us how we could have done better.