Are DJs The New Black Actors?

Samuel L. Jackson was never a fan of the rapper-turned-actor Hollywood takeover. Nia Long, neither. Anthony Mackie once equated an acting emcee to a janitor performing surgery. Taye Diggs copped to losing roles to “Hip Hop artists.” Even Bow Wow brazenly stated that he hates watching rappers in movies.

The Golden Era’s Big-Screen-Boom—featuring House Party, Boyz-N-The-Hood, Juice, the Friday series, half of anything featuring LL Cool J, anything featuring Will Smith or Queen Latifah—ignited isolated fires of resentment throughout Black Actordom. Stories of thespians lashing out at “Raptors” snatching gigs littered the World Wide Web. Once Tinsel Town realized the selling power of an emcee’s mean mug in a movie, the few black roles were no longer reserved exclusively for the few black actors. To Hollywood, a black rapper with a platinum plaque worked twice as fine.
The Rise Of The Raptor (Rapper/Actor)

Now, the irony of Nia Long and Anthony Mackie dropping issues is unavoidable. With Friday and 8 Mile respectively, both actors arguably received their biggest break sharing the screen with a headlining rapper-turned-actor. Not only would Taye Diggs dial back his statements a few years later, but he also took time to chide Long for her assertion that singers should sing and rappers should rap—fulfilling full-blown hypocrisy in the process. And Bow Wow is much more “actor” than “rapper” (for whatever that means).

Facilitator aside, the position resonates. Black Hollywood is now more crowded than the post-Great Recession unemployment office. Technically trained actors compete regularly for roles right next to rappers and singers who often times have little or no experience. Talent is no longer paramount, and box office draw reigns supreme.

To be fair, raptors who earned their way apprenticing through television and drama classes were never highly targeted by the frustrated. Will Smith and Jamie Foxx and Queen Latifah and Ice Cube and Mos Def were never the rule. They, along with a handful of others, have always been considered the exception. They, along with a handful of others, accepted the access and the accountability. The gripes extend towards perceived exploiters pimping a system without contributing to it earnestly, undercutting a culture from the outside. The gripes extend towards studios too willing to cast Rapper X strictly off broader name recognition. For betterment or detriment, in this Industry of Cool, artistry lives secondary to bankability.

“Kids that go to acting school deserve a chance,” Jackson said in his 2008 interview with Angela Yee. “And their chances are diminished because they bring people from another venue to get jobs and they’re not proven. You’re afforded an opportunity just because and it’s in the way of somebody who really needs the opportunity.”

“It's over straight through / Finished / Hey you look like that nigga that played in Menace / That's me but I'm not celebrity stricken / They be choosin' / Figuring I must be oozing with that bubblin' dough / They be sayin' oh he look right / Plus his flow sound tight…” —Saafir, “Just Riden'”

Look back at Jackson’s quote above, and remove “Kids that go to acting school,” and replace it with “DJs paying dues.” Samuel L’s Hollywood assessment easily fits the economic environment many trained DJs are now forced to navigate. Stories of porn stars, singers, reality television personalities and...gulp...rappers snatching high-profile, highly lucrative deejaying gigs litter the World Wide Web. Sasha Grey stepped behind the turntables. Macy Gray, too. Jersey Shore’s Pauly D finished eighth in 2010’s America’s Best DJ poll—ahead of Mixmaster Mike (of the Beastie Boys), Diplo, Grandmaster Flash, DJ Rob Swift (of the Xecutioners) and 38 others. Q-Tip, ?uestlove, Talib Kweli can all be found spinning at popular New York City nightspots. Technology opened the door for anyone to easily be their own deejay hero. Now, like movie studios before them, party promoters have realized the drawing power of a celebrity with Serato manning the ones and twos. Crazy techniques like blending and mixing and scratching and knowing how to read a crowd takes a backseat to star power.


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