January 17 marks 30 years of being rocked by a quartet of high school teenagers from Harlem, consisting of Q (Omar Epps), Steel (Jermaine Hopkins), Raheem (Khalil Kain) and, of course, the unforgettable and unhinged Bishop (Tupac Shakur) in the classic thriller Juice.
The cast was brilliant and compelling as four young black men were forced to navigate police harassment, gangs and outright mayhem to survive.
It was a film of firsts for several reasons. It saw Ernest R. Dickerson’s move from cinematographer to writer/director. After collaborating with Spike Lee on iconic projects like 1989’s Do The Right Thing and 1992’s Malcolm X, it was time for Dickerson to step behind his own camera, and we’re grateful for that.
Juice also sparked Shakur’s first real foray into acting, just as his storied music career was taking off. Tupac received critical acclaim for this gripping debut feature, a performance that always has the internet in a chokehold (we’ve all seen the memes of him and his box/high-top hybrid fade).
That should come as no surprise, considering Shakur had studied at the Baltimore School for the Arts and was no stranger to the craft, but he wasn’t the only MC to make the leap from radio waves to the big screen. To celebrate Juice and Shakur’s breakthrough feature debut, we think it’s only fitting to spotlight our favorite ’90s films showcasing the undeniable talents of the rapper-turned-actors.
House Party (1990)
Kid ‘n Play jumps through hoops to throw the party of the year – who doesn’t love this movie? The vibrancy and mischievousness of it all made it an instant comedy classic and, as far as the dance battles go, nothing touches the duo’s face-off with leading ladies Sydney (Tisha Campbell) and Sharane (AJ Johnson) , whose choreography inspired a generation.
It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing those roles, but it was originally written for a different rap duo: DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince (aka Will Smith, who of course would become one of the biggest names in Hollywood). Although the sequels did not receive the same critical acclaim, it should be noted that House Party 2 (1991) and House Party 3 (1994) featured appearances from TLC, Immature and the powerhouse that is Queen Latifah. (to whom we will see soon).
Boyz N The Hood (1991)
While Ice Cube’s filmography consists mostly of comedies, his acting career began as a gang banger with heart in John Singleton’s directorial debut Boyz In The Hood, a major coming-of-age drama who helped create change in Hollywood, portraying South Central LA with depth and compassion. Nia Long, Morris Chestnut and Cuba Gooding Jr. were newcomers at the time and all were praised for their performances.
After achieving both box office and critical success, Singleton had his next project lined up: Poetic Justice (1993). Ice Cube was originally set to star opposite Janet Jackson in this film, but after reading the script he declined the role of Lucky which ultimately went to Tupac. Cube did, however, reunite with Singleton for Higher Learning in 1995, who co-starred with fellow MC Busta Rhymes, and he would go on to present a lighter side of the cowl in the iconic Friday comedy later that same year.
Sister Act 2: Back In The Habit (1993)
Speaking as a former Catholic high school student, everyone and their mom in my hometown thought they were Lauryn Hill singing “His Eye Is On The Sparrow.” Whoopi Goldberg is amazing as Vegas showgirl/pretend-nun Sister Mary Clarence, while Hill shines as her conflicted music student Rita, who wants nothing more than to share her beautiful voice but can’t. because his mother forbids it.
Sister Act 2 garnered less favorable reviews than the original and actually flopped at the box office, but it went on to become a cult classic on TV (we even covered it on our podcast). Hill was already part of The Fugees when Sister Act 2 was filmed, and the group had had some success with their 1992 debut album “Blunted on Reality”, but it was 1995’s “The Score” that made the the whole world stands up and takes note. by L-Boogie. Ryan Toby, who plays Wesley Glen “Ahmal” James in this film, would also go on to have chart success with his band City High.
Trigger It (1996)
Queen Latifah, Vivica A. Fox, Jada Pinkett Smith and Kimberly Elise star in this tragic, high-octane story of four friends who rob banks and fight to get ahead of the gruesome cards dealt to them in the life. The four women radiate rawness and beauty in their performances, full of courage and heart.
After appearing in both Juice and House Party 2, then establishing herself as an actress on the hit sitcom Living Single (which, yes, was Friends before Friends existed), Latifah has truly changed her mind. speed when she signed up to be a part of this action-packed action. blockbuster. It’s impressive to see her go from Khadjiah, a polished and professional editor of a lifestyle magazine, to Cleo, a badass mugger and machine gun. Keep an eye out for a Dr. Dre cameo.
While Belly was criticized for its weak storytelling, it remains a fan favorite for its stylistic visuals from acclaimed music video director Hype Williams and its star-studded cast, which included some of hip hop’s finest, like Nas, DMX and Method Man. Nas and DMX make their acting debut here as best friends/fellow drug dealers Sincere and Tommy, while Method Man plays ruthless enforcer Shameek.
All three rappers would continue to work in Hollywood – Nas would lend his talents to projects like The Get Down (2016) and DMX would go on to do a number of action films like Romeo Must Die (2000) and Exit Wounds, but it is Method Man alum Wu-Tang who has been the most prolific and impressive, from recurring roles on TV series like The Wire and The Deuce to big-screen endeavors like How High (with longtime collaborator Redman) , Keanu, and his most recent roles in Concrete Cowboy and Vampires Against the Bronx.
By the late 1990s, MCs were popping up everywhere, like Master P and Snoop Dogg in I Got The Hook-Up (1998), Lil’ Kim in She’s All That (1999), Pras and Goodie Mob in Mystery Men ( 1999) and Ice-T on the entire television network. The 90s definitely launched the rapper into the acting pipeline. Sure, some of them were cast for their popularity, as celebrities often are, but that doesn’t take away from the authenticity, vulnerability, and versatility these rappers have tapped into to deliver the goods.