She’s gone on to a wildly successful career acting and producing film and television, landing an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for “Chicago” (2002) and winning a Primetime Emmy for producing the HBO telefilm “Bessie” (2015), which she also starred in as legendary blues singer Bessie Smith.
However, her breakout big screen performance can be found in director F. Gary Gray’s “Set It Off” (1996), a groundbreaking drama that cast her as one of four working class black women from inner-city Los Angeles who decide to start robbing banks in an ill-advised attempt to better their lot in life. She walks off with the film, delivering a performance that has achieved iconic status in the years since. She was, quite simply, the soul of that movie.
Currently, she’s starring in and executive producing the hit CBS action series “The Equalizer,” and has several films due for release.
In “Juicy,” the 1994 rap anthem coined by some hip-hop fans as the greatest rap song of all-time, the Notorious B.I.G. aka Biggie Smalls famously rapped, “You never thought that hip-hop would take it this far/Now I’m in the limelight ’cause I rhyme tight.”
Naturi Naughton first broke onto the scene as part of the all-girl group 3LW. Once she and the group broke ties, she eventually pursued an acting career that led her to playing real-life female MC Lil’ Kim in “Notorious” (2009), a big screen biopic about the short life of rap sensation Christopher Wallace, the aforementioned Notorious B.I.G. Her evocative performance received solid notices despite Lil’ Kim’s objections to how she was portrayed in the film. But from a performance standpoint, it’s hard to picture anyone else playing Lil’ Kim as convincingly. That was her part, and she made the most of it.
To date, Naughton has garnered her best notices for her television work, especially as mob wife Tasha St. Patrick on the Starz drama series “Power” and its spinoff “Power Book II: Ghost.” Tasha’s evolution over the six seasons of the flagship show’s run were a big part of the reason it became appointment television. Tasha was a lot of things, but a shrinking violet was not one of them. And Naughton’s work was revelatory and nuanced.
It’s sad to think of all the potential greatness we’ll never get to see (or hear, for that matter) from the late Tupac Shakur. He was really just getting started when he was shot multiple times in September 1996, and later died of his injuries. He was 25. But what a promising acting career he managed to carve out before his untimely death having just made a total of six films as an actor, starting with celebrated cinematographer Ernest Dickerson’s writing and directorial debut, “Juice” (1992), about a quartet of young Black teenage males in Harlem trying to come of age under increasingly difficult and potentially dangerous circumstances. Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers rightly described Shakur as “the film’s most magnetic figure.”