11 Hip-Hop Greats Who Deserve Biopics – and Who Should Be Cast in Lead Roles
In the age of endless movie biopics, it should be a crime how few of them are based on hip-hop’s greatest artists. Yes, we have “Straight Outta Compton” about West Coast rap group N.W.A. and “Notorious” about The Notorious B.I.G., but as far as high-quality, true-to-life biopics go (50 Cent’s “Get Rich or Die Tryin'” and Eminem‘s “8 Mile” take too many creative liberties to truly be considered biopics), that’s pretty much where the list of hip-hop biopics begins and ends.
But with the 50th anniversary of hip-hop upon us in 2023, there’s no better time to explore the great pioneers of hip-hop who deserve their moment on screen. After all, without the likes of The Sugarhill Gang, LL Cool J, and Snoop Dogg, there would be no Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, or Drake. And can you imagine what hip-hop would look like today if it hadn’t been for the trailblazing woman rappers like Lil’ Kim, Queen Latifah, and Lauryn Hill? Those stars made way for some of the biggest rappers of 2023: Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, and more.
Ahead, we break down some of the hip-hop icons who deserve their own biopics – and suggest some of today’s actors who could play them on screen.
The Sugarhill Gang
The Sugarhill Gang were made up of Englewood, NJ, rappers Michael “Wonder Mike” Wright, Henry “Big Bank Hank” Jackson, and Guy “Master Gee” O’Brien. The group dropped their first and biggest hit in 1979, “Rapper’s Delight,” which went on to become the first ever hip-hop song to hit the Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100. While the group were only active for five years, their impact was unmistakable. The fact that there’s not much known about this iconic trio’s storied journey in hip-hop – marked by regular reunions through the years for nostalgic, ’80s-themed performances – is precisely why a biopic is needed.
The Sugarhill Gang Biopic Dream Cast
Kendrick Sampson isn’t quite as tall as Wonder Mike’s 6’5″, but he shares his striking green eyes. Keith Powers would slip right into the role of Big Bank Hank. And although Leon Thomas is more known for his R&B crooning, he would probably have no problem delivering Master Gee’s bars to perfection.
LL Cool J
LL Cool J’s versatility defines his career. While zoomers may recognize him from “NCIS: Los Angeles,” he was an early pioneer of “new school” hip-hop in the mid-’80s, exploring a more high-energy, assertive sound than that of the likes of The Sugarhill Gang. In other words, he paved the way for more exploration of new sounds in the genre.
Tristan Mack Wilds
When LL Cool J asked his fans on Twitter if he should produce a biopic in January 2023, actor and singer Tristan Mack Wilds immediately threw his name out for consideration – and no one can deny he bears a striking resemblance to the rapper.
DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince
Before Will Smith found unimaginable success as one of Hollywood’s most successful leading men, he got his start in 1985 as part of a hip-hop duo called DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, alongside Jeffrey Allen Townes. Smith and Townes became the first-ever recipients of the Grammy for best rap performance in 1989 for their hit “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” and they won it again in 1991 for “Summertime.” And while Smith would undoubtedly take up a lot of space in a DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince biopic (considering all the drama on the set of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” Smith’s high-profile romances and movie roles, and the slap heard ’round the world), his and Townes’s steadfast friendship and artistic connection through the years would serve as the underlying heartbeat of the film.
DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince Biopic Dream Cast
Who better to play a young Will Smith than his son Jaden Smith? Meanwhile, “Grown-ish”‘s Trevor Jackson could make a great DJ Jazzy Jeff.
While Queen Latifah may be better known as an actor in 2023, her mark on hip-hop deserves its moment on screen. The MC made her big break in music in 1989 with her debut album “All Hail the Queen,” which featured her hit single “Ladies First.” It was a preview of what would become a catalog of music overflowing with feminist themes, including songs like “U.N.I.T.Y.” Latifah is deservedly lauded as a rapper who paved the way for women in rap. But don’t let her feel-good, girl-power story make you think her biopic would be an after-school special. Just like many high-profile MCs, Latifah has partaken in feuds and released scathing diss tracks at various points in her career, so there would be no shortage of material when her life story hits the big screen.
Queen Latifah Biopic Dream Cast
While there isn’t anyone in Hollywood who quite fits the bill in terms of Latifah’s looks, Megan Thee Stallion certainly ticks all the boxes when it comes to her rapping skills and commitment to all things girl power. The “Savage” rapper has even expressed her love for Latifah, sharing with Good Morning America in 2022 how much the iconic rapper inspired her. “I’m a big fan of Queen Latifah,” she said. “I really look up to her. I really like how she not only did her thing in music, but she expanded it to be the boss she is now – and I see that for myself.”
Snoop Dogg’s beginnings as a West Coast rapper were touched on in the N.W.A. biopic “Straight Outta Compton,” but the ever-relevant rapper certainly deserves his own film. While his career in the early days may have been characterized by frequent run-ins with the law, his life and legacy have been defined by constant innovation in his career, as well as a calm, cool, laid-back (not to mention hilarious) persona that’s made him an icon in and outside of rap. Besides being an exploration of his rise on the hip-hop scene and his boundaryless legacy (his seemingly most frequent collaborator in 2023 is his “best friend” Martha Stewart, for example), a biopic could shed more light on his lifelong love story with his high school sweetheart, Shante Broadus.
Snoop Dogg Biopic Dream Cast
“Fire Country” star Jordan Calloway favors the legendary Snoop. He also got his big break in acting through kids’ show “Unfabulous” on Nickelodeon, the same network that made way for one of Snoop Dogg’s most epic collabs: “Boyfriend” with Big Time Rush.
Lamont “Big L” Coleman got his start doing freestyle battles at his NYC high school, honing a talent for lyricism that would forever go criminally under-recognized. The rapper was fiercely true to himself and his craft, with record deals with major labels like Columbia falling apart amid creative differences. That’s probably why he was extra loyal to the friends and contemporaries who understood his art. According to rapper Herb McGruff’s 2010 interview with Mikey T the Movie Star, the rapper was working on a deal to sign with Roc-A-Fella Records – but only if his crew could come along. Along with McGruff, that crew reportedly included another rapper you may have heard of: JAY-Z. Tragically, Big L was murdered in a shooting in February 1999, shortly before the deal was finalized.
Big L Biopic Dream Cast
Rapper and “Power Book III: Raising Kanan” star Joey Bada$$ has expressed interest in bringing Big L’s story to the screen, telling Revolt in 2022, “A hip hop icon that I would love to play in a biopic would have to be Big L. I’ve heard many people in my career tell me how I favor him look-wise. Personally, he’s one of my favorite rappers to come out of the golden age – his story isn’t known well enough, so I would love to bring his story to light and worldwide.”
JAY-Z is truly one of the greats in hip-hop. Over the course of a career spanning nearly four decades, it seems everything the Brooklyn native touched turned into gold. Besides his acclaimed solo career – which includes hit releases like “99 Problems”; iconic collaborations like his genre-bending single with Linkin Park, “Numb/Encore”; the launch of a transformative streaming service in Tidal; and a marriage for the ages to fellow music great, Beyoncé – this biopic would have no shortage of drama. From his ’90s-era feuds with LL Cool J to cheating rumors in his marriage, this billionaire’s biopic would likely need a part two.
JAY-Z Biopic Dream Cast
“If Beale Street Could Talk” star Stephen James favors JAY-Z and would do a great job portraying him. And considering Halle Bailey is repped by Beyoncé’s Parkwood Entertainment, she’d have no problem capturing the icon’s presence in the biopic, too.
In 1990, Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean, and Pras Michel came together to form The Fugees, an alternative hip-hop group that became known for its unique blend of hip-hop, R&B, reggae, and other genres. They saw their fair share of critical success (the group were nominated for the Grammy for album of the year in 1996 for “The Score,” which boasted iconic hits that are now dance-floor anthems at every party, like “Killing Me Softly” and “Ready or Not”). But after their first disbandment in 1997, each member also lived a storied life. From brief forays into acting (who can forget Hill’s turn as Rita in “Sister Act 2”?) to canceled reunion tours amid Pras’s legal battle over criminal conspiracy accusations, there would be no shortage of twists and turns in this biopic.
The Fugees Biopic Dream Cast
If you strip away some of his rock-hard muscle, Winston Duke definitely favors a young Jean. Meanwhile, you don’t even have to squint to see the resemblance between “Star”‘s Ryan Destiny and Hill (and she already has the pipes to slip right into the role). Finally, Damson Idris’s acting range makes him perfect to play the role of Pras.
Another Brooklyn-born-and-bred MC, Lil’ Kim’s sex-positive and pleasure-focused lyrics paved the way for woman rappers to be as raunchy in their lyrics as men. Her iconic style also undeniably impacted hip-hop fashion (she was one of the first rappers to rock bright-colored wigs as a staple of her style). Her contributions to hip-hop explain why her name is often brought up in the same conversations as the day’s greatest women rappers, from Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion to Nicki Minaj (whether she likes it or not). There’s no doubt Lil’ Kim deserves a biopic of her own.
Missy Elliott’s creativity is unmatched in hip-hop. While she’s known for her groundbreaking lyricism (“I put my thing down, flip it and reverse it / Ti esrever dna ti pilf nwod gnaht ym tup i” is undoubtedly among one of the most iconic rap lyrics of all time), she’s also lauded for her trailblazing visuals. From “Work It” to “Get Ur Freak On” and “Lose Control,” Missy’s songs are just as iconic as the innovative music videos and choreography that accompanied them. Her story and the exploration of her creative process would make fantastic fodder for a biopic.
Missy Elliott Biopic Dream Cast
While no one can perfectly fill Missy’s shoes, Yung Miami certainly comes close. She’s got the rap skills needed to embody Missy musically, as well as a megawatt smile just like the icon.
While Eminem‘s Oscar-winning movie “8 Mile” was semi-autobiographical, it’s not a true biopic. The rapper, well-known for his thought-provoking and relatable lyricism, is the bestselling artist of the 21st century. Eminem‘s rags-to-riches story is perfect for a biopic, and his impact on hip-hop is worthy of thoughtful exploration on screen. While his talent is undeniable (calling him one of the greatest rappers of all time wouldn’t be a controversial statement in most circles), the rapper credited with making hip-hop more palatable for middle (and white) America and paving the way for more white rappers sheds light on the issue of white artists taking up space (and accolades) in Black creative spaces.