LL Cool J, Ice-T, and Queen Latifah are just several legendary hip-hop figures whose illustrious rap careers opened the door to the world of acting, where they’ve landed lead roles on successful television shows, many of which have been authoritative roles like cops and detectives.
During a recent interview, Latifah, who stars as former CIA operative Robin McCall on CBS’s “The Equalizer,” she opened up about her personal journey and the roles artists like Will Smith and Ice Cube played in the industry trend.
“We understand both sides of the coin,” the “Set It Off” star joked while imitating a mob boss during a recent appearance on “Late Night with Seth Meyers.” “We can speak from a place of,” she added before chuckling.
“It does not surprise me at all,” The 52-year-old Hollywood veteran said of emcees like Ice-T who, in 1992, along with bandmate Ernie C of B of Body Count, released the controversial trash metal protest record “Cop Killer,” from their album “The Radio EP” as a response to police brutality.
The year before, Ice-T, born Tracey Lauren Marrow, portrayed police detective Scotty Appleton in Mario Van Peebles’ action thriller “New Jack City.” The former emcee eventually recalled the album and later re-released the project sans the contentious single. He now plays cop Fin Tutuola on Law and Order: SVU
“I mean, we were, you know … this was a burgeoning music form,” Latifah said of her hip-hop peers making the pivot at the time. “And so we were all hustlers out there going for it, and we all toured together,” the “He’s Everything” emcee said. “So we would — there would be like 10 acts, at least, on these tours. And so we were all friends.”
The “Living Single” star shared that when “Summertime” rapper “Will Smith got ‘Fresh Prince,’ it was like, ‘Oh, if Will can do a show, we can do a show.’ And then, with the movies, and then there was [Ice] Cube, L, is like, ‘Well, if Loc can do a show, I’m getting a show.’ And then Ice-T is the boss of all of us, so he’s like, ‘I pretty much will do whatever I want to do when I want to do it.’”
Latifah noted the same pattern occurred when the rappers went from the small screen to blockbuster releases. “Everybody kind of looked at each other,” she added. “Oh, Cube– So, Cube starts doing movies, and great ones,” the actress shared. “And so we’re like, ‘Well, if Cube can do movies, then we can do movies, too.’ so I think we all kind of inspired each other to go for it–to go bigger than just the music.”
The “Ladies First” emcee reflected on her own musical journey, telling host Meyers that when she listened to her previous work, “It feels like it was the ’80s.” She added, “I mean, I can tell by the cadence and the things that I was talking about. But I don’t think they had heard anything like that,” she said of the classic feminist anthem.
Throughout her entertainment career, the New Jersey native has earned several accolades, including a Grammy Award for best rap solo performance for the 1995 hit, “U.N.I.T.Y.” and for her acting an Academy Award nomination in 2002 for Best Supporting Actress for the film “Chicago.”