Music News

Joey Bada$$ and Five More Rappers You Can Watch on TV

On October 23, rapper Joey Bada$$ is playing at the Fillmore Auditorium with Schoolboy Q. But if you can’t make it out, you can always catch him on season two of Mr. Robot, in which Joey plays the philosophical, Seinfeld-obsessed sidekick to main character Elliot. The role garnered him some serious fandom, and proved yet again that the right musician can command a screen as well as he can a stage. Here are five more rappers on TV — no, not Drake on Degrassi — and where to catch them.

1. Method Man on Luke Cage

Luke Cage, Netflix’s most recent addition to the ever-expanding Marvel universe, works in part because it pays tribute to Harlem’s history and culture, and doesn’t shy away from the tensions between black men and law enforcement. This helps ground the show in urgent reality, so when Method Man makes a cameo as himself in Episode 12, it doesn’t feel hokey or forced; it feels authentic. Cage runs into the Wu-Tang alum while breaking up a bodega robbery. Then we cut to Method Man on Sway’s morning talk show as he raps about Cage over a montage of black men staring down cops. “Now we got a hero for hire and he a black one, and bullet-hole hoodies is the fashion,” he rhymes. The scene helps solidify what Cage represents to the residents of Harlem, and it wouldn’t have worked as well without Meth playing himself.

2. Xzibit on Empire

Created by Lee Daniels and Daniel Strong, Fox’s Empire (thank God it’s not called Lee Daniels’ Empire) centers on record exec Lucious Lyon and his company’s many players, one of whom is Xzibit’s Leslie “Shyne” Johnson. Shyne —  big-time gangster, music manager and challenger to Lucious’s rule — made his debut in season two for a multi-episode arc and was made a regular in season three. Despite the constraints of network TV, Xzibit manages to make the role wholly his own, playing Shyne with reckless abandon and delightful viciousness. Of course, the rapper’s acting ability should come as no surprise to anyone who watched Pimp My Ride, as Xzibit would routinely have to act like the show wasn’t absolutely ridiculous.

3. 50 Cent on Power

Starz’s Power follows New York City club owner and drug trafficker Ghost as he tries, and frequently fails, to balance his two lives. Unlike Empire, Power can get as graphic is it wants to be, and no one takes advantage of that freedom more than Kanan, played by candy shop owner 50 Cent. Kanan, a drug lord and former mentor to Ghost, is one of the show’s cruelest antagonists, and 50 Cent has a grand old time with the character’s ruthlessness and near-invincibility. Much like the rapper’s own tale of survival, Kanan is (spoilers) left for dead more than once, and somehow always manages to walk away.

4. Action Bronson on Fuck, That’s Delicious

As one of the few, if not only, successful chef-turned-rappers, it was only a matter of time before Action Bronson was given his own TV show. Fuck, That’s Delicious on VICELAND (where else?) is part culinary adventure, part music tour, and part deep-dive into Bronson’s delicious soul. Along with friends/musicians Big Body Bes, Mayhem Lauren and The Alchemist, Bronson embarks on a seemingly endless world tour, where he spends his time playing shows and sampling local delicacies. It's like Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations meets Stop Making Sense with just a tad of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

5. Donald Glover on Atlanta

Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, is someone who you can’t help but want to see succeed, and when his new show on FX was announced, many of us crossed our fingers in anticipation: Please be good. Please don’t suck. Please. Well, the first season is in its home stretch, and the results are in: Atlanta is good. Like, really, really good. And it’s also the only show on this list that is, at least on its surface, specifically about rap music. Besides producing and writing Atlanta, Glover also plays Earn, a down-on-his-luck college dropout who starts managing his cousin Paper Boi after he signs a record deal. The show explores the inner workings of the music industry as well as the lives of some of Atlanta's quirkiest characters, and along with co-stars Brian Tyree Henry as Paper Boi, Keith Stanfield as Darius, and Zazie Beetz as Van, Glover is carving out a new genre of television.
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