Rappers vs Rockers: pretending and performing.

Why are Rappers (generally) better actors than Rockers (generally)?   Both groups are made up of artistic, expressive and skilled communicators.  They take the stage and rock the mic.  They sling the axe down low and snarl.  Being a successful member of either of these groups requires an element of performance ability.  So why can Mick Jagger act like a rock star on stage but bomb as a thespian (Free Jack), while Ice Cube does the same on stage and was “this close” to a Oscar nod for Boyz in the Hood?

Laugh if you want, but DMX has a dozen films under his belt, including a role in the upcoming “Expendables 3”.  Cube was – at one point- a leading man in major studio action movies (xXx: state of the union).  Eminem’s “8 Mile”, in addition to making millions world wide,  holds a 76% on Rotten Tomatoes.   Eminem was both critically and commercially successful.  This isn’t a new trend either, its been happening for decades:  Rappers are successful actors.

Ice-T has been so successful as an actor, there’s a generation of people who have no idea he was once a Rapper (the same goes for Will “Fresh Prince” Smith).  Ice has been making movies, and been on TV, for over 30 years.  I can assure you that NBC would fire him if the ratings for Law & Order: SVU  tanked.  The guy is good as his job: and his job is to pretend.

To refresh your memory, here’s a short list of Rockers failing at acting:

-Tom Petty in “The Postman”

-Jon Bon Jovi in “U-571”

-Sting in “DUNE”

-David Bowie in about a dozen films you’ve never heard of

-Jack White in “Cold Mountain” (not a failure, but it didn’t exactly spawn more roles either…hold on, his “Elvis” was spot on in Walk Hard: the Dewey Cox Story)

What does this tell us about Rock and Rap music in the realm of authenticity?

This is my theory:  Rockers are bad actors because they are unable to “act” or “pretend”, in a convincing manner, to be anything more than a hyper version of themselves.  Josh Homme is charming, quirky, handsome and enchanting.  But, he can only ever be JOSH HOMME when he is performing on stage, in studio or on tv during an interview.  In all other instances, he’s just Josh Homme (emphasis on the CAPS).  Inherently, this makes what Rockers sing, scream and swing about more genuine.  And by the same token: Rappers have the opposite issue.

Because Ice Cube seems just at home rapping about stomping the LAPD on “The Predator” as he does yucking it up on screen in the family-friendly, slap-stick “Are We There Yet?” tells me that Cube isn’t really “anything” at all.  How can I take the messages of social injustice in his lyrics seriously when I KNOW he’s an ace at pretending?  I get suspicious.  On the other hand, because  Jack White’s emotions are not convincingly malleable (when it’s not a 10 second cameo as Elvis), I’m more to believe and identify with the reality I see on stage and hear on the radio.

Is rock music more authentic, more real and more genuine because its performers are less likely to be able to convince me of anything else besides the reality they depict in their music?  This essay says “yes”.

Full Disclosure.  While writing this piece, I came up with a decent list of Rockers who have strong acting chops: 

Jared Leto- this guy is a great actor and an overated rocker.

Hugh Dillon – this guy is both an great actor and rocker.

Dave Grohl – he’s the Devil in “Tenacious D and the pick of Destiny”.  Nuff said.


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