Harry Potter Hip-Hop
He may have lost a few Quidditch matches as Draco Malfoy, but the Harry Potter franchise's Tom Felton clearly thinks he can come out on top in a rap battle. The 23-year-old Brit has spent much of the past decade devoted to the fantasy-film series based on J. K. Rowling’s beloved books, but now that the final movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, is about to be released, Felton needs a new project. In 2008 he posted YouTube videos under the name “Feltbeats,” in which he performed original acoustic music. He released his first single, “Hawaii,” earlier this year in the same genre, but it failed to crack the Billboard charts; now Felton has decided to take his music career in a new direction. “I am looking to get into the grime rap UK scene,” he told The Sun. “I'm going to change my image—backward caps, the lot … It's still under wraps so I can't really talk about it." For now, listen to his early stuff and this cover of Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the U.S.A.” and await his entree into the world of lil’ guys, champagne popping, and shout-outs to Slytherin.
The Long Island–born comedian frequently complained that he got no respect, and his foray into the hip-hop world didn't help him in that department. His first single, “Rappin’ Rodney” (1983), included lyrics like “Friends don’t call/My phone don’t ring/I don’t get a break with anything." Fortunately for the late actor, he set a precedent for rap videos to come—a trio of women sang the hook in low-cut ensembles Did Dangerfield’s cheesy rap spawn the first video vixens?
Brian Austin Green
Years before becoming Mr. Megan Fox, then–Beverly Hills: 90210 star Brian Austin Green was famous for his dance moves in the show's opening credits. Eventually, Green decided to bring his musicality (and drop his middle name) with an album called One Stop Carnival in 1996. It wasn't well received. “It's pallid, uninspired, and insufferably arrogant, with no acknowledgement that its very existence rests solely on Green's limited success as a secondary actor on a fading prime-time drama,” AllMusic.com’s Jason Ankeny reviewed. The album’s lead single, “You Send Me”—while lacking the Z’s of the other tracks (“1-2-Threez” and “Style Iz It”)—was enjoyable in a Vanilla Ice sort of way. See the end of the first verse: “The thought was pasted/Above my mind from something that I tasted/Like the honey/It's kinda funny/The sugar's made by the bee, and the bee could be a dummy.” Apparently, Green was smooth enough to get a ring onto Fox’s finger.
With that many chains draped on his tree trunk of a neck, perhaps it was inevitable that A-Team star Mr. T would move into the rap world. In 1984, he made a motivational video for children called Be Somebody ... or Be Somebody's Fool!, in which he instructs kids on valuing where they came from, dressing well without becoming a slave to brand names, dealing with peer pressure, making "absoludicrous" tripping look like break dancing, and balancing popcorn on one’s head (seriously). Though there was plenty of singing on the tape, which included songstress Fergie, Mr. T offered his skills on the self-explanatory track "Treat Your Mother Right (Treat Her Right).” Former Public Enemy member and current Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and reality star Ice-T arranged the vocals for Mr. T in the video. Apparently, we can thank him for this gem: “M is for the moans the miserable groans from the pain that you felt when I was born.” Insert “pity” jokes here.
Aubrey Graham (a.k.a. Drake)
For eight years, Jewish Canadian actor Aubrey Graham was known to many as Jimmy Brooks, the token rich kid, ladies’ man, and basketball star on Degrassi: The Next Generation. Though Graham’s character gave rapping a go in one early episode, the actor aspired to chant rhymes a bit deeper than “Chicks like you ain’t worth too much, so shut up girl and make my lunch.” In 2006 he released his first EP as Drake, which is Graham’s middle name, and soon thereafter he was working with Lil Wayne and dominating the hip-hop scene with his breakout hit “Best I Ever Had.” Grammy nominations and collaborations with Kanye West, Jay-Z, and Rihanna later, Drake has achieved the rare feat of transitioning from child star to rap royalty. Still, he remembers his roots—his track “Ransom” includes the line “I’m the same little boy that used to play up on Degrassi.”
Rick Moranis was quick to confess his errors in the Honey, I Shrunk/Blew Up the Kids (and/or Myself) franchise. But he’s yet to apologize for “Ipanema Girl” from his 1989 album You, Me, the Music and Me. It was his sophomore album, and apparently his second time up at musical bat gave Moranis the courage to try to rap, as well as to up the ante with a lime-green suit. The video was a parody of the ‘80s rap scene (i.e., lyrics include “I gotta go downtown and lick money”) and even included a visual representation of “Saran RAP,” but that only makes this track from the comedic king of nerds slightly less cringeworthy.
The late star of Diff'rent Strokes decided to prove his sitcom’s theme song right. Gary Coleman showed that the world does not in fact move to the beat of just one drum when he debuted his country/hip-hop amalgamation called “The Outlaw and the Indian,” featuring Dion Mial, on The Wil Shriner Show in 1985. In his bolo tie and cowboy hat, Coleman was not afraid to offer this un-PC lyric: “Hey Indian dude … don’t cope a ‘tude.” After the performance, he told the talk-show host his song was “something different” and “fun.” Upon his death in 2010, Coleman’s Western-rap genre had still not taken off since he tried to introduce it to the masses 25 years earlier.
Though we all know now that Oscar-nominated actor Joaquin Phoenix’s “BYEGOOD” to acting was a farce put on for the sake of his documentary I’m Still Here, it’s still amusing to watch him try to rap. Throughout the hoax, Phoenix instituted a new look, including an unkempt beard and dark sunglasses, and performed his single “I’m Still Here.” After claiming that he “don’t even fear fuckin’ fear” in the track’s chorus, Phoenix got into it with a heckler in the audience and shot him down with the very hip-hop retort: “My suit costs more than you make in a fuckin’ week, dude.”
Considering that notorious porn star Ron Jeremy went from teaching special education in New York to filming more than 2,000 adult movies, it’s not entirely surprising that he reinvented himself yet again in 1996—this time toward hip-hop. Rapping with DJ Polo, Jeremy’s “Freak of the Week” found a spot on the Billboard charts for an impressive 27 weeks. “It’s great,” a not-so-modest Jeremy told Collider.com years later. “I had Lynn Redgrave in it. A lot of stars are in it … It’s a great video.” Corey Feldman, John Wayne Bobbitt, Joey Buttafuoco, and Mr. T’s music man Ice-T also appeared in the video. Once again, the “hedgehog,” as Jeremy is known in the XXX industry, gave hope to round, hairy men everywhere.
While many know Donald Glover as jock turned nerd student Troy Barnes on NBC’s Community, few are as well acquainted with his other personas: mcDJ and Childish Gambino. Glover is not just a comedian, but a talented DJ, music producer, and, of course, rapper. He earned his stage name Childish Gambino from a Wu-Tang Clan name generator he was drunkenly playing around with during his sophomore year at NYU. Though Glover has disowned his 2002 album, The Younger I Get, for sounding like what he called a “decrepit Drake,” Childish Gambino has had many releases: His debut album, Poindexter, came out in 2009; a pair of mix tapes followed in 2010; and his third album, Culdesac, came out in July of that same year. He’s since released another EP, Be Alone, which led to his first tour, called “I Am Donald,” and his first music video, for “Freaks and Geeks.” Glover seems to be combining his personae, and the response has been positive. “Gambino is craving recognition for being a talented rapper, and as a hip-hop fan, it’s clear to me that he deserves the respect he demands,” LA Music Blog’s Derick Fortin reviewed. “It’s pleasantly strange to hear such a funny comedian put together a heartfelt and sincere musical project that touches on such personal subjects.”
For a decade, David Faustino played the youngest and smartest member of the Bundy family, Bud, on Married … With Children. Faustino’s character often struggled to get girls, and thus adopted “Grandmaster B” as his bad-boy, rapping alter ego, who typically sported dark sunglasses and a backward Los Angeles Raiders baseball cap. Perhaps Faustino suffered from the same lady-repellent tendencies as his character, because in 1992 he adopted the name D’ Lil and released an album called Balistyx. It produced his one and only single, “I Told Ya,” and a club of the same name. “It was the first Hip Hop club on the Sunset Strip, back when it was like, you know, no one even knew about it,” Faustino told PopCultureMadness.com in 2006. “Actually, that's where the Black Eyed Peas met. They all basically met there and joined forces. We just tried to put some of the talent that we saw there together on a compilation album and of course I had to put myself on it.” Of course, indeed! Because who could resist the opportunity to rap, “I got more flavor than the bar candy Kit Kat/And when it comes to kitty cats I gotta have the jimmy hats"?
Besides being one of the most acclaimed shows on TV, The Wire has spawned many stars looking to break into hip-hop (unlike rapper Method Man, who made the opposite switch, from rhyming to acting on the series). But arguably the most successful of The Wire’s rap ingénues is Idris Elba, who now goes by Driis. In 2010 he released his five-track EP, High Class Problems Vol 1, combining hip-hop, reggae, and soul. “Moving in the future, I think I’ll be more of a hybrid with the rap stuff and the spoken word stuff and what I'm doing with this, I wanted people not to expect anything,” Elba told FlicksandBits.com. “Driis is another persona, I just feel with music you can be a lot more honest, with acting you have to be politically correct, with being a musician you say what you want.”
Tom Hanks and Dan Aykroyd
Dan Aykroyd paired with John Belushi for some fine musical comedy with their Blues Brothers Saturday Night Live skit, and Tom Hanks would wow crowds at F.A.O. Schwarz on a massive piano in Big in 1988. But despite their successes, Aykroyd and Hanks' rap duet at the end of their 1987 film Dragnet was not exactly a plus. As their on-screen LAPD characters, the actors rapped through an original track called “City of Crime”; there was choreographed dancing on top of it, complete with some “Thriller”-inspired moves and seriously short shorts. Somehow they managed to rap “I’m homely and I'm lonely, but the state cannot disown me” and not drop a single F-bomb or demean the leotard-wearing women dancing behind them. By today’s standards, that’s obviously a rap gone wrong.