A Rapper’s Blueprint to Megastardom

With a book and a Western, Common is next in a line of emcees who sought success beyond the mic.

Getty Images
Getty Images

Like many rappers, Common has a lot of irons in the fire.

He’s been promoting his new memoir, One Day It’ll All Make Sense, which recently landed on the New York Times best-seller list. He’s set to star as a freed slave in AMC’s new Western drama, Hell on Wheels, which begins Nov. 6. He’s putting the finishing touches on his latest album, The Dreamer, The Believer, which hits stores Nov. 22.

The Chicago native joins a long list of hip-hop artists who have branched out into other areas of entertainment — including TV, movies, books and fashion. It’s become common, so to speak, to see rappers on screens both big and small. But artists such as Queen Latifah and Ice Cube are extending hip-hop’s reach behind the scenes with productions deals for movies and TV shows that create roles for African-American actors. Some artists, like 50 Cent, are even turning enterprise into philanthropy. And one artist — Shawn Corey Carter, aka Jay-Z — is taking hip-hop further into the upper reaches of business and politics.

During hip-hop’s Jurassic period (late ’80s to the mid-’90s), artists would catch heat if they weren’t “keepin’ it real” — staying true to the ‘hood. Corporate America had yet to tap the aura of cool that came with hip-hop’s blessing. Those days have long been gone, replaced by the hustler’s ethos to make money by any means necessary. And the “means” these days include TV shows, clothing lines, movie deals and even — in the cases of Jay-Z and Will Smithownership of sports franchises. Success is no longer being measured only by record sales, cars and jewels; now it’s being measured by return on investment in diversified portfolios, too.

Hip-hop, more than most genres, is subject to the vagaries of youth — the music industry is always on the hunt for the “new hotness” that will attract the fickle teenage market, especially as record sales continue to slide. So it makes sense for rap artists to pursuit other endeavors to stay in the limelight.