Reboots, remixes and remakes are all the rage these days.
Following rumors of an Fresh Prince of Bel-Air cartoon reboot, DJ Jazzy Jeff told HipHopDX that he thinks Chance the Rapper would be the best choice to lead a live-action reimagining of the classic ‘90s sitcom. Lil Chano wouldn’t be the first rapper to hop off the mic and onto a TV set.
In addition to the Fresh Prince himself, a handful of other MCs have led or at least had prominent parts on, mega-hot TV shows. With Jazz’s comments in mind, here are several notable rappers who graced the small screen successfully. Get some barbecue and get busy with this list.
Note: Reality shows not included.
Donald Glover In Atlanta (2016-present)
When he’s on stage, he’s Childish Gambino (at least, for a little while longer). However, renaissance man Donald Glover is just as impressive from action to cut as he is on wax. He achieved mainstream TV fame as the quirky Troy Barnes on NBC’s Community but Atlanta fully gives audiences the full scope of his creative capabilities.
The award-winning show follows Glover as Earnest “Earn” Marks, who hustles to keep his rapping/trapping cousin Doughboy out of trouble by day and splits time between his baby mama’s house and a storage locker by night. The almost-episodic series allows Glover to explore all of the facets of his views, personality, and slice-of-life humor, while still keeping a consistent theme and commentary throughout the show. Season 2 premiered on March 2 and runs Thursdays at 10pm on FX.
Will Smith In The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996)
Big Willie may have been born and raised in West Philadelphia, but he has long kept up his rep in Southern California as one of Hollywood’s most recognizable stars. Before he ever bulked up to play Muhammad Ali or donned the black suit alongside Tommy Lee Jones, the artist formerly known as The Fresh Prince had his own show on NBC. Will played a high school teenager sent out west to be refined by his Scrooge McDuck-rich Aunt Viv and Uncle Phil, played by the incomparable James Avery (Who most certainly doesn’t look like a white guy named Ward). DJ Jazzy Jeff had a recurring role as “Jazz,” a drum teacher/DJ/God-knows-what-else friend of Will’s, who had the unfortunate habit of saying something smart and getting thrown at the crib sideways.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air has one of the most recitable theme songs in television history and is the subject of countless pop culture references. Catching the show on syndication? Well, it’s not unusual.
LL Cool J In In the House (1995-1999)
Ladies Love Cool James, and widespread TV audiences appreciated the acting chops of Todd Smith. LL’s charisma, apparent from back when he couldn’t live without his radio, was a natural fit for the screen. LL may have had stacks for days, but Marion Hill, his character on In The House, was an ex-football star who fell on hard times. He rented part of his house out to a single mother and her two children while running a sports clinic. While the series underwent a number of cast changes, cancellations, and network changes (it moved from NBC to UPN) it also was jam-packed with guest-starring professional athletes and Hip Hop peers such as Deion Sanders, MC Lyte, Kobe Bryant, Jerome Bettis and former Fresh Princers, Alfonso Ribeiro, and Tatyana Ali.
While LL’s CBS spots NCIS: Los Angeles and the Grammys have eclipsed In The House’s legacy, the show, unfortunately, gets brought up when former cast member, Maia Campbell makes the headlines for her apparent mental illness and shunning James Todd’s help.
Ice-T In Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999-present)
Who the hell would have thought that the same guy who talked about shooting “pigs” in “their muthafuckin’ face” on “Cop Killer” would go on to play a cop on an Law & Order spinoff? Sure, Ice-T had played an undercover cop in New Jack City, but that was a hard-edged Hip Hop flick, not a staple of conservative NBC’s primetime lineup. Ice-T, though, has the acting chops to pull it off and has made for some of the best moments on the long-running show (his adversarial exchanges with Christopher Meloni’s Elliot Stabler were priceless).
As one of the drama’s leads, he has held the role since 2000 and is second only to Mariska Hargitay in episode appearances. Suburban grandmas know Tracy Marrow the actor as a tough-but-fair cop who respects the badge and hates crime. As for the rapper Ice-T? They don’t know him, fool.
Method Man and Redman In Method and Red (2004)
Ah, the stoner show that wasn’t — at least not for long. Method Man and Redman had had success in the booth with Blackout!, and on the big screen with the cult-favorite How High. The bigwigs at FOX thought it would be a good idea to get these two zany MCs with a taste for the sticky icky on a sitcom together. They played themselves in what seemed like a slam dunk. However, the show was wrought with clichés, from Meth and Red being at odds with their uppity white neighbors, to the show’s punchlines being accompanied by a laugh track.
Meth and Red had ongoing disagreements with Fox about the show’s direction, and it was canceled after nine episodes. Meth told MTV that he and Red weren’t right for the show saying, “I’m not bad-mouthing the show, ‘cause for real, if me and Redman wasn’t on that show, it would be great,” he said. “The writing was not bad, it just wasn’t for me and Redman. If Keenan and Kel was on there, it would’ve been funny.”
Meth had much more success as the double-crossing Cheese on The Wire and Reggie Noble’s Cribs appearance remains one of the most memorable moments in the network’s history.
Queen Latifah In Living Single (1993-1998)
Film snobs will know Latifah for her stunning turn in Chicago, while comedy heads may prefer her goofball antics in Last Holiday and Bringing Down the House. And yet, Queen Latifah truly embodied her “Ladies First” sentiments on Fox’s Living Single, on which she played one of four single women living next to two single men in Brooklyn. Queen played Khadijah James, an editor and publisher of the fictional urban magazine Flavor. However, the show was really about six people navigating the uncertain, maddening, terrifying terrain of the dating world and boasted of tons of notable Hip Hop cameos including Treach, Heavy D, TLC and Gladys Knight.
Latifah said on Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live! that we may not have seen the last of Khadijah, with a reboot in the works.
50 Cent In Power (2014-Present)
No, Curtis Jackson is not the lead on this show. But, he produces the Starz drama and plays one its most magnetic characters. The bone-chilling Kanan, who mentored Ghost (Omari Hardwick) and Tommy (Joseph Sikora) before doing a long bid, steals most of the scenes he’s in. Viewers are never quite sure what he’s going to do next — not unlike the G-Unit General himself. The Get Rich or Die Tryin’ rapper trudged his way through flat acting performances in subpar movies before finding his place as Kanan, and even mined a solid music project out of it with 2015’s The Kanan Tape.
Power returns this June for its fifth season.
Bonus: Chappelle’s Show (2003-2006)
Dave Chappelle isn’t a rapper, but he knew his audience would love seeing live performances from some of the game’s hottest MCs at the end of each show. The likes of Big Boi, Mos Def, Kanye West and Common provided flavorful codas to the Comedy Central skit show’s classic episodes. And of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge that the greatest rapper of all time graced Dave’s Making the Band spoof with his presence. He spits hot fire. You know who he is…
Dylan, Dylan, Dylan, Dylan, Dylan.