12 Greatest Movie Cameos By Famous Rappers – Looper
Rap burst onto the scene in 1980, but it didn’t become a cultural keystone — an art form with the collective voice of millions, the wink of a player, the heart of an activist poet, and the legs of a dancer — until a decade later when the Golden Age of Hip Hop really hit its stride. With this new phenomenon came stars, and as the public ate them up and begged for more, the savvy opportunists of Hollywood sought to immortalize them in film. Not every rapper can turn into an Academy Award-nominated and Emmy-winning actress like Queen Latifah, or even have a long-standing and lauded career in front of the camera like Ice-T. Most rappers who dabble in films do so, especially early on, by appearing in cameos — those small, surprise roles that delight audiences (like seeing Stan Lee, when he was alive, in every Marvel movie). But when it comes to rap artists in cameos, which were the most unexpected, the most delightful, the most skilled? Which are the best movie cameos ever made by rappers? Let’s take a look at a dozen of the best.
When making a movie about the professional hip hop music scene, it’s important to pepper the film with well-known rappers, which “Honey” does in the form of Jadakiss, Ginuwine, and others, but Missy Elliott is a true standout. The movie was filmed less than a year after Elliott’s groundbreaking song “Work It” was released, in which she raps, “lost a few pounds in my waist for ya,” and gets to show how fab she’s looking here.
“Honey” isn’t great, but it is based on the real life of superstar choreographer Laurieann Gibson, and if you’re a fan of dance, you could do worse. Gibson herself even appears in the film as Katrina, a choreographer who pales in comparison to Jessica Alba’s Honey. When Missy Elliott (as herself) is asked to use Katrina’s choreography, she goes into a hilarious rant about Katrina’s cheap moves and basic inferiority. She wants Honey! One of the funniest things about the scene, though, is that Elliott improvised the whole thing. In 2021, she tweeted that she had so much trouble remembering her lines that she wound up just ad-libbing everything, which makes her reads about calling MC Hammer and not caring if Michael Jackson was doing the Harlem Shake all the better.
“Funny People” is a movie about a struggling stand-up comedian Ira (Seth Rogen) being taken under the wing of a famous comic with a terminal disease (Adam Sandler). It’s more soul-searching than hysterical, in contrast to what is usually expected from its two slapstick comedy stars, but one of its best moments comes from rapper RZA (AKA Robert Diggs), a solo artist and member of the Wu-Tang Clan.
RZA plays Chuck, Ira’s coworker at his deli day job. RZA may seem an odd choice for a role in such a film as this, but Seth Rogen has long been a Wu-Tang fan and lists their albums among his favorites. Additionally, The Wu-Tang Clan, and RZA in particular, have infused messages into music. So when Chuck says he resents Ira’s disdain for the deli job, pointing out that it was the only place to hire him after he got out of prison, and that he had dental work completely covered by insurance thanks to working there, it’s completely on-brand. RZA has said he wants to be “a voice of the people,” and he achieves it here with a very real portrayal of class privilege that he doesn’t short sell at all. RZA was so committed to his role, in fact, that he even rapped from Chuck’s perspective on director Judd Apatow’s podcast. Truth be told, Eminem is probably more recognizable in his cameo (as himself, publicly humiliating Ray Romano), but RZA is the one to watch.
The “Scary Movie” franchise established itself as a playground for Black actors and performers. Originally written and directed by the Wayans brothers, the film took the silly sketch show sensibilities of their breakout series “In Living Color” and expanded it to about 90 minutes. While the first film was kept to a fairly small production, it grossed $278 million worldwide, becoming a blockbuster franchise that opened the door for dozens of cameos, and rappers make up a big bloc of these performers across the sequels. From Queen Latifah to Lil Jon to the ubiquitous Snoop Dogg to the late Mac Miller, there’s a rapper for almost every taste.
The one whose cameo stands out the most, though, is Fat Joe in “Scary Movie 3.” The third “Scary Movie” came out just under a year after Eminem’s seminal and semi-autobiographical “8 Mile,” so of course, it had to parody that film’s most iconic rap battle sequence. In the parody version, George (Simon Rex) is the Eminem stand-in looking to show his prowess in one of the most volatile performing environments there is, and he’s already looking outmatched even before Cubano-American rapper Fat Joe comes on stage and reads him for filth. It’s a great takedown, which makes it even more surprising to see George come back hard, using his own dorky whiteness as a weapon to win the battle. Better still, his reference to Martha Stewart is even funnier now that she and Snoop Dogg are “best friends.” Incredibly, he did it! Against all odds! It’s too bad about the hood, though.
The infamous Snoop D-O-Double-G is no stranger to popping up in movies, sometimes out of nowhere. With dozens of film credits to his name, it can be hard to pick the best cameo of them all. The most delightful, though, the most unexpected film appearance of his career has to be the one in “Pitch Perfect 2.” Snoop has, shall we say, a reputation, and most of his acting roles fall in line, playing to type with the leader of the Dogg Pound often portraying a stoner, a dealer, and/or someone on the outskirts of the law (even when he’s playing himself).
It’s a pleasant surprise, therefore, when we meet him in a music studio where Beca (Anna Kendrick) is an intern, singing — yes, singing — the Christmas classic “Winter Wonderland.” He has a beautiful, melodic voice with the dark undercurrents of a warm bourbon, and you’re thinking you could listen to hours of this, even in the middle of summer. When Beca overlays the track with a beat and her singing “Here Comes Santa Claus,” it creates a mashup so good it deserves an album full of them. Take our money, Snoop, please.
“Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” set the bar for superstar cameos when it came out in 2004. So when its sequel launched in 2013, it obviously had to up the ante. Enter Drake, credited as Soul Brother, looking like the Ladies Man. In the opening scene, he catcalls Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), and Ron (Will Ferrell) concurs because that’s the kind of guy he is. It’s a great little moment right at the start of the film to set the tone and pick things up immediately with the kind of style that Ron enjoys and understands.
Then, towards the end of the movie, comes the battle royale. The first film’s fight scene was an instant classic, which meant this one had to be bigger and badder. Luckily, the advent of dozens of new cable news channels as we progressed into the ’80s meant a lot more opportunities for rival news teams to duke it out. Enter Kanye West. As Wesley Jackson from MTV News, Kanye’s performance epitomizes this flashy new era that Ron has had so much trouble adjusting to. He’s got on a slick leather jacket and a peculiar accent that’s hard to pin down, and he reportedly had so much fun with the fight scene that he stayed around to play in the background even when he didn’t have lines to film that day. If you’re not old enough to remember a fun-loving Kanye, this is the proof that he existed.
One of the things that makes a great cameo is when a beloved performer — possibly one who’s fallen out of the spotlight — shows up in a role that is not just a walk-on of their professional selves but still allows them to do the thing they are most known and loved for. This is the case with Biz Markie, and why his appearance in “Men in Black II” is such a treat. Markie, who passed away in 2021, is totally unexpected when Agent J (Will Smith) enters the back room of the post office where his former partner K (Tommy Lee Jones) works, so much so that you’d be forgiven for not recognizing him until after he engages in an “alien language conversation,” i.e. beatboxing, with Smith.
Suddenly this seemingly random cameo makes perfect sense. Markie was a master beatboxer, and his runs here are inventive and fun, deviating from the traditional, basic beat style to a complex, layered buffet of sounds and textures. It was a stroke of genius, followed by the seemingly effortless work of one. For a rap legend who left us far too soon, this cameo performance lives on.
It’s almost hard to believe these two superstars only appear in the first act of “Hustlers,” with a combined total screen time of under five minutes because the impact they make in their extended cameos is indelible. Those five minutes are filled with one infamous moment after another. Take the scene in which Cardi’s character coaches Destiny (Constance Wu) in the best business practices of lap dancing (“Drain the clock, not the c**k” is offered up almost as a manifesto and reviewer Britt Hayes said it “feels like a feminist inversion of Tom Cruise’s … sermon in “Magnolia.”).
It’s iconic, and a highlight of Cardi’s powers that may have been overshadowed if the former stripper and “Love & Hip Hop” personality had ironically not just undergone cosmetic surgery that made pole work impossible. Lizzo plays a flute solo in honor of another dancer’s new breast implants, they provide the highlights of the club’s heyday as described by Destiny to an investigative journalist (Julia Stiles). It ends eventually, as every heyday must, but first: Usher, come to make it rain (NSFW). Lizzo made it rain herself, after the film’s monster opening weekend, at a strip club in Atlanta. As she posted to her Instagram, “This is my literal DREAM.”
One of the ways movie cameos are best used is as an opportunity for notorious figures to poke fun at themselves. There is no purer example of this than DMX’s cameo in “Top 5.” Born Earl Simmons, DMX became one of the biggest rappers in the world at the tail end of the 1990s, charting each of his first five albums at number 1 on the Billboard Top 200. Only the second rapper ever to accomplish such a feat, behind Jay-Z, he was a powerhouse whose loss was deeply felt when he died from an overdose in 2021.
It was a tragic and unfairly early end to someone whose life had always been a struggle, having survived everything from physical abuse as a child to being in jail “some 30 times in his life.” This last fact is the point X (as he calls himself) exploits in the film, saying, “What am I doing here? I’m X, man. I live in this motherf***er.” It’s the perfect introduction and connects him to one of the themes of the film, about being pigeonholed as only one kind of artist. The highlight comes, then, when DMX displays his own versatility with an impromptu rendition of the Nat King Cole standard, “Smile.” He is off-key, his voice has its characteristically hard gravel edge, and he peppers it with his signature vocal stylings and ad-libs. It’s joyfully entertaining.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
He’s been known by several names, but in 2017 when “Girls Trip” came to theaters, Sean Combs had settled on Diddy, which remains his stage name now regardless of his driver’s license. The movie was shot primarily at Essence Fest, an annual party in New Orleans aimed at lifting up African-American culture, and Black women, in particular, that filmmakers thought fell in line with the film’s central theme. There are several cameos in the film by performers, including Common, MC Lyte, New Edition, and Mariah Carey, but only Diddy’s elevated the character portrayal of Dina, played by “the film’s motor-mouth of mass dysfunction,” Tiffany Haddish.
Dina is introduced early as the wild card of this friend group (a circle completed by actors Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, and Jada Pinkett Smith), She refuses to be fired. She informs Lisa (Pinkett Smith) that she smuggled drugs through airport security in her “booty hole.” Her characterization is clear, but these are closed environments where Dina is no doubt comfortable with her surroundings, coworkers, and friends. Even as she gets them thrown out of the legendary Hotel Monteleone, she does so being single-mindedly focused on her friend’s unfaithful husband (Mike Colter), clearly unaware of anything or anyone else. On a huge performance stage, however, in front of thousands, Dina still walks the walk. The scene was planned beforehand only insomuch as Diddy would ask Dina up on stage, but the rest was largely improvised, and while Diddy’s ogling glance over his sunglasses is funny, it’s the fact that he provides a literal stage for Dina’s spontaneous and uninhibited character to go to the next level that really makes the appearance memorable, with one of the best female ensembles ever.
Curtis Jackson, or “Fitty,” as his stage name is pronounced, is no stranger to acting, with dozens of film and television credits under his belt, nearly a quarter of which are comedies. He also cemented his comedy chops with several promotional videos for “Spy,” in which he has a pretty notorious cameo. It might be the most talked-about of his career, in fact, thanks to the movie’s success, but it hardly holds a candle to the brief moment he shows up in “Morning Glory.”
Right away, harried executive producer Becky (Rachel McAdams) fights her way to get a word with him and calls him Mr. Cent, which is never not funny. Cut to his live morning show performance of his famously sexy single “Candy Shop,” and Diane Keaton, popping up on the makeshift stage in her role as show host Colleen Peck, to sing and bop along. She is “pitch perfect” here, according to the movie review by the late industry standard bearer, Roger Ebert, as she flexes her well-documented and celebrated comedy skills. Fitty just rolls with it, as he should.
A cutting satire of just about everything in our current society, taking on such subjects as hubristic billionaires, fatuous “news” shows, sexist double standards, intentional ignorance used as propaganda for political gain, and eerily prescient weather reports. With its mixed reviews, this Netflix entry surprised many when “Don’t Look Up” quickly reached blockbuster status and eventually garnered Oscar nominations for best picture plus three more categories.
The movie is chock full of stars, many of them multiple award winners, who all look to be having a blast making a meal out of their characters, with the most fun of all coming from a tearful Kid Cudi (alongside an improv-happy Ariana Grande) as DJ Chello and Riley Bina. Lampooning shallow celebrity culture and public relationships, they are the subject of a much-discussed breakup and almost instantaneous reconciliation — live on screen, obviously — that completely overshadows the legitimately catastrophic news that follows. It’s so emblematic of the world we actually inhabit that “Don’t Look Up” might hit a little too close to home. He’s credited here as Scott Mescudi, his given name, but no matter which name rolls on the screen, expect to see a lot more from this established hip hop innovator of the modern era as he keeps upping the ante with his acting.
In 1990, “House Party” starring rappers Kid ‘n Play, was a smash. It led to two sequels, each a little less successful than the last, ending with the release of “House Party 3” in 1994. As the “House Party” franchise was coming to an end, however, the superstardom of hip hop trio TLC was about to hit its peak. The group, made up of Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez, Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas, Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, burst onto the scene in 1992 and quickly became major players there.
By the end of the decade, they were consistently ranked as one of the best girl groups of all time. Their appearance in this particular franchise, therefore, so influential to young Black culture that fans like LeBron James have been planning a much-anticipated reboot for years, felt like a jumping-off point for something huge. The ladies appear as appropriately named girl group Sex As A Weapon, whose contract is something of a MacGuffin and a Deus Ex Machina for the plot. They’re only in two scenes, but in each, they bring their signature personalities to the forefront. The second appearance is even more enjoyable than the first, as it ends with a fun, catchy verse by Left Eye (wearing an Andre Rison jersey) in her unmistakable voice and cheeky cadence. The jokes and references in “House Party 3” weren’t stellar to begin with, and have not aged well at all, but it’s almost worth enduring them to see Left Eye in her prime. Or, y’know, there’s always YouTube. Lopes would tragically live only eight more years after the movie’s release, dying in a car accident in 2002, and 20 years later, her loss is still deeply felt. She was nearing the height of her fame at the time and continues to be missed today for the icon she was and could’ve been.