Hip Hop Artists Who Have Won Big At The Oscars

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Jordan Houston, Paul Beauregard and Cedric Coleman of Three 6 Mafia (Photo by Dan MacMedan/WireImage)

From Eminem to Will Smith, only a handful of rappers have snagged the coveted Academy Award.

While its roots lie in the streets, Hip Hop’s influence has extended far beyond the confines of its origins. One significant testament to the genre’s cultural impact is the recognition it has received on the grandest stage of cinema, the Oscars. It’s award season again, and nominees for the 2024 ceremony were recently announced, so fans are abuzz with excitement. Although no Hip Hop artists were nominated at the Oscars this year, there have been a few winners over the years.

Altogether, very few Hip Hop acts have successfully taken home the gold at the ceremonies. The Best Original Song category at the Academy Awards is typically dominated by traditional film soundtracks. However, there is a short and elite list of rappers who have won in that category. Even rarer is a Hip Hop artist winning in an acting category. Here is a list of all the rap icons who received an Academy Award.

Eminem

In 2003, Eminem achieved the improbable feat of winning an Oscar for Best Original Song. The award marked a historic moment in his illustrious career and the history of Hip Hop and the Oscars. At the 75th Oscars, Eminem finally became the first Hip Hop artist to bag an award for his song “Lose Yourself,” from 8 Mile. The Curtis Hanson-directed film is a semi-autobiographical drama about an aspiring rapper named James Smith Jr. aka B-Rabbit, portrayed by Eminem. 

Unfortunately, the rapper did not attend the ceremony as he did not expect to win. However, Luis Resto, a co-producer on “Lose Yourself,” received the award on Em’s behalf. Undoubtedly, this win was a groundbreaking moment for Hip Hop in mainstream cinema. Emphatically, it signaled a shift in the Academy’s recognition of the genre. Also, it highlighted Em’s ability to seamlessly translate his raw and emotive storytelling from the mic to the silver screen.

Read More: Is "Lose Yourself" Really The Defining Song Of Eminem's Career?

Three 6 Mafia & Frayser Boy

Three years after “Lose Yourself” earned Eminem a statuette, another Hip Hop entry joined the Oscars Hall of Fame. While not as historic as Eminem’s, Three 6 Mafia and Frayser Boy’s win was equally as groundbreaking. Their song, “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp” was nominated alongside songs by Dolly Parton and Bird York. “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” was featured in the soundtrack of Hustle & Flow (2005). The Craig Brewer-directed film follows the life of a small-time Memphis hustler and aspiring rapper, portrayed by Terrence Howard. 

Many did not expect the group to win, but in a surprising turn of events, Queen Latifah, the presenter, gleefully sang out “It’s hard out here for a pimp!” signifying their win. Three 6 Mafia’s acceptance speech further emphasized the significance of their win. Their genuine excitement and appreciation resonated with fans and artists alike, becoming a memorable moment in Oscar history. Their achievement was not only a personal triumph, but also a cultural milestone. After Eminem set a precedent, the group’s win further underlined the impact and relevance of hip-hop in mainstream cinema. Certainly, the moment was not without its share of controversy and debate. However, many believe that the best song received the award that year. 

Common

On December 11, 2014, Columbia Records released “Glory” by John Legend and Common. Serving as the theme song of Ava DuVernay’s historical drama film, Selma, “Glory” went on to win many awards. At the 87th Academy Awards ceremony in 2015, it earned Common and Legend the Oscar for Best Original Song. Consequently, this made Common the third Hip Hop artist to win in this category at the Oscars. 

The pair’s winning song was recognized for its poignant lyrics which resonate with themes of justice and equality. Emphatically, its emotional impact and relevance to the film’s themes of activism and perseverance contributed to its overall success. In addition to the Academy Award, “Glory” earned a Golden Globe Award, a Grammy Award, and a BET Award, among others. Beyond its many awards, “Glory” became an anthem for the civil rights movement, resonating with audiences globally. Its powerful message and passionate delivery have contributed to its enduring legacy. The seminal piece of music is one of the most important songs in Common’s discography and absolutely deserved the Oscar.

Read More: Rappers Who Have Earned Both An Oscar & Grammy

Will Smith

Although Will Smith is an award-winning rapper, his Oscar win was not in a musical category. As a matter of fact, he is currently the sole Hip Hop act to ever win in an acting category at the Oscars. At the 94th Academy Awards ceremony on March 27, 2022, Will Smith snagged the award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Richard Williams in the 2021 biographical sports drama film King Richard. Before then, he had been nominated twice in that category for his performances in Ali (2002) and The Pursuit Of Happyness (2007). However, he unfortunately lost both nominations. When Smith finally won for King Richard, he made history by being the first rapper to successfully win in an acting category. His critically acclaimed performance in the movie also earned him a BAFTA Award, a Golden Globes Award, and a Screen Actors Guild Award.

About The Author
Demilade Phillips has been a Features Writer for HotNewHipHop since 2023. The self-proclaimed music fanatic deals with most things Hip Hop and R&B, while also covering film, television, and the entertainment industry at large. When he’s not working, the International Relations graduate is either binging anime, immersing himself in the underground EDM scene, or crafting up original pieces.