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Acting and Rapping Not Mutually Exclusive

ED GORDON, host:

Hip-hop stars have gone from making music to making movies. Some acting purists don't see this as a great transition, but commentator Betty Baye supports rappers branching out, as long as the musicians turned actors take both their crafts seriously.

Ms. BETTY BAYE (Columnist, Courier Journal, Louisville Kentucky): Oft times, there's no stronger incentive to fuel the fires of creativity than harsh criticism. Maybe it's just my imagination, but I do believe that the highly acclaimed actor, Samuel L. Jackson's diss a few years back of rappers turned actors is having a positive impact. Because more and more rappers turned actors do seem to be stepping up their game.

They no longer seem content to simply do what comes easy, playing themselves or the personas they've created in their raps. They're no longer content to lend their names, their rap stardom, to TV shows and films - that may make money, but aren't about anything - and don't allow them to stretch their instruments beyond the stereotypes.

Now, some said that Samuel L. Jackson was being elitist, when he said that it wasn't his job to lend credibility to some rapper who just woke up one day and declared, oh, I can act. But what I heard Jackson saying, to rappers, would-be actors; is that if you want to come into my house, then you've got to pay your dues. It's about respect. You've got to take this acting thing seriously, or else you diminish all the actors and actresses who do.

It's not some specious claim, that it's impossible for a rapper to cross over into acting, and succeed. I mean, Mos Def is doing it. He's emerged as a deft actor, whose performances telegraph that he is as serious about his screen work, as he is about his poetry, as he is about his raps. His performance in the 2004 television movie, Something the Lord Made, was compelling. He hid himself and let his character come out.

And in this year's Hollywood movie, 16 Blocks, Mos Def's performance as a chatty witness, Eddy Bunker - let's face it, gave sheen to an otherwise not-all-that-interesting script.

And how about the rapper Ludacris? He turned in two very credible performances in the poignant academy award winning movie, Crash, about race relations; and in the film Hustle and Flow, about a pimp who yearns to become a well-known rapper. It's a cliché to say that cream rises to the top, but it's a cliché because it's true.

So, I'm thinking, for example, that tomorrow, when most of today's rappers have landed into much-deserved obscurity, others who came up with them in the rap game, will still be working; will still be enjoying stardom into their middle years; and even old age. That's because cream always rises to the top, because they're genuinely talented, because they're genuinely multidimensional.

And they genuinely appreciate, even now, that there's life after rap. And that what was true for generations of entertainers before them, is true for this generation as well. Dedication to craft, and dedication to excellence, are ultimately rewarded with long careers and the paying-public's passionate respect.

(Soundbite of music)

GORDON: Betty Baye is a columnist for the Currier Journal, in Louisville, Kentucky. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Betty Baye