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Posted by Robert
Rap News Network
7/9/2004 6:35:35 AM

Tags and topics realted to this article include Wu-Tang Clan, Queen Latifah, Ice Cube, Method Man and Redman.

If the Wu-Tang Clan had put together a yearbook, the caption under Method Man's picture might have read "MostLikely To Succeed."

He graduated into hip-hop stardom in the early 1990s along with the other eight members of the kung-fu obsessed rap collective from Staten Island.

But is it a surprise that the rhymer responsible for the line, "Cash rules everything around me," has transformed himself into the executive producer and star of a prime-time sitcom? ("Method and Red," co-starring sidekick Redman, on Fox.)

After all, there have been templates.

By the time Method Man and Redman were ascending as rappers, old-schoolers Will Smith and LL Cool J had made the transition into television and movies. Hollywood recognized their charisma, and their tame musical-track records didn't hurt their prospects.

More of a model for today's diversifying rap moguls would have been Ice Cube. Now an established film star, he was once the founding member of one of the most notorious groups within the most controversial genre of the '90s -- West Coast gangsta rap. The fact that neither the full name of his former group, NWA, nor the full title of its biggest song can be printed in a family newspaper is another indicator of how fully hip-hop and its personnel have been folded into mainstream American culture.

Today, the hip-hop artists angling for work in other industries have seen countless others before them fall off into bankruptcy and obscurity. Because even the biggest names can have a short shelf life -- picture 50 Cent on tour in his 60s, Rolling Stones-style -- reinvention has become a requisite for survival.

"I call it the age of the side hustle. Nobody wants just one check," says Bonsu Thompson, music editor for the hip-hop magazine XXL.

Despite rap's veneer of opulence, Thompson says, "There's a lot of successful rappers as far as sales, but you'd be surprised by how much money they don't make."

That's why hip-hop, more than any other musical genre, has become a seeding ground of entrepreneurs. If they're not acting, rappers are starting record labels, producing clothing lines or endorsing merchandise, from cars to shoes to liquor. Another member of the Wu-Tang Clan, RZA, has carved out a successful niche for himself scoring films.

"At some point artists realize that if they're going to have longevity they're going to have to reach beyond hip-hop," says Bakari Kitwana, author of "The Hip-Hop Generation" and a leader at the recent Hip-Hop Political Convention.

Probably the most energetic career cross-pollinator has been Snoop Dogg, who went from jailed drug dealer to gangsta mega-star to subject cover stories in USA TODAY in February and the Wall Street Journal in 2002.

As his album sales have waned, Snoop has crossed over at every opportunity, with movie roles, a show on MTV, an apparel company and even a line of pornographic videos.

"Many of these artists in the second or third generation of hip-hop are coming out of much more impoverished backgrounds than they were in the '80s. Many of them are coming out of poor communities where the stakes are much higher," Kitwana says.

But he adds, "I think artists are kind of stabbing in the dark (for a career strategy that works)." To make it, especially as an actor, he says, "There are a lot of variables. It is a small crew that has been able to do it with any success."

The roster of rappers (including the aforementioned) who have jumped to the screen with a degree of success is short, including Tupac, DMX, Eminem, Mos Def, Eve and Queen Latifah. On the other hand, there are even fewer recent rock stars that have racked up comparable acting credits.

But do die-hard hip-hop fans approve of such moonlighting?

That's definitely a question for Method Man and Redman, whose comic roles in their sitcom (and on Right Guard commercials and in their stoner-buddy movie "How High") don't necessarily match the gritty, hardco

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