“The different shows I produce, star in or feature on just shows the different realms to what television has become. I’ll show up in all of that stuff just to show everybody that I’m a multi-faceted entertainer,” asserts Nick Cannon, a multi-talented artist and serial entrepreneur who enthusiastically sums up his entire career and hustler’s spirit as a “balancing act.”
The extroverted performer out of San Diego has a principal role in Chi-Raq, Spike Lee’s satirical revival of the Aristophanes Greek comedy, Lysistrata. Cannon plays lean-sipping, purple-wearing Demetrius “Chi-Raq” DuPree, a reputable hip-hop artist and gang member whose girlfriend (Teyonah Parris) organizes a sex strike along with coalitions of women until gang warfare ceases.
Chi-Raq is Lee’s thought provoking take on the devastating rate of gun-related deaths against black youth in Chicago. When the legendary filmmaker expressed to Cannon how he wanted to save lives, the actor immediately wanted in. “A life is a life,” states Cannon. “We’re kings and queens. Everybody should have the right to live their life and respect everybody else’s. We gotta get out there and continue to hold one another up.”
Being able to work under Lee’s guidance for the first time in his entire career was a dream come true for Cannon. “He’s one of the reasons I even feel like I wanted to be in film,” continues Cannon. “He’s a national treasure, so to be under his tutelage was outstanding.”
Cannon appears throughout Chi-Raq with a tatted up, chiseled physique. Also bald-headed, his toned look was purely by coincidence. Practicing a healthy lifestyle is almost second nature to Cannon. “I wasn’t necessarily thinking I needed to be bulked up or anything like that,” confirms Cannon, chuckling a lot.
“I’ve just been trying to eat lightly, live right and work out, so it kinda helped with the character.” Cannon was part of an ensemble cast including Wesley Snipes, Jennifer Hudson, Angela Bassett, Samuel L. Jackson and John Cusack. Each actor incorporated a hip-hop-flavored cadence and spoken word rhyme scheme into their lines.
“That just shows the power of Spike Lee,” says the former cast member on the sketch comedy series All That. “To be in an ensemble with such an amazing cast is definitely a blessing: working with people that I’ve admired for so long.”
Cannon previously starred in the films Drumline, Roll Bounce and Love Don’t Cost a Thing. His company, NCredible Entertainment, manages talent and produces shows like TeenNick Top 10, a reality show, ReactToThat, and the Korean pop-based Make it Pop. Chi-Raq is a departure for Cannon, one of the first times the host of NBC’s America’s Got Talent and Caught on Camera with Nick Cannon didn’t have to provide any comic relief.
He calls his character “severe:” hoping his on-screen presence will raise awareness of the consequences of gun violence. “I was on a one-track mindset the entire shoot,” says Cannon. “I didn’t have to think about being funny.” Spending a considerable amount of time in the Windy City in the past, filming Chi-Raq on the South Side of Chicago was a breath of inspiration for Cannon.
The host of the MTV2 variety show Wild’N Out recorded Chi-Raq’s theme song, “Pray 4 My City,” incorporating the city’s drill music sound. The song features the scene’s local artists and producers Young Chop, Hypno Carlito and Prince Easy. “The support was amazing,” says a spirited Cannon. “Every time I come to the community, it’s always love. They always embrace me. It was nothing but love and respect the entire time.”
Cannon, who just announced he’s now Radio Shack’s Chief Creative Officer, anticipates his upcoming Oxygen reality show, Like a Boss, coming on-air. The series chronicles hard-working assistants and their relationships with their celebrity bosses. “I wanted to create a reality show that puts young men and women in a positive light,” says the Real Husbands of Hollywood co-star. “We can still show another side of a young woman out there gettin’ it in and really about her hustle. The show is about the next generation of young people becoming their own boss.”
“[Real Husbands] is just us being silly…just a big long comedy sketch,” piggybacks Cannon, now an accomplished children’s book author behind Roc and Roe’s Twelve Days of Christmas and Neon Aliens Ate My Homework. The father of four-year-old fraternal twins, Roc and Roe, from his six-year marriage to Grammy-winning songstress Mariah Carey affectionately calls them “#demkids.”
Cannon’s title as proud papa is at the top on his growing list of accomplishments. “They’re such amazing kids,” says TeenNick’s chairman and creative consultant. “They’re so smart and so loving. Just seeing them operate on a day-to-day basis is a reward.”
Another upcoming project Cannon is extremely proud of is a book and companion film, King of the Dancehall, that he wrote, starred in and directed. The former radio personality still rocks parties, too, as a DJ. “I like to make people feel good and play music that makes people really excited,” says Cannon.
Cannon attributes his relentless work ethic to practicing martial arts since the age of five: taking taekwondo, white lotus kung fu, muay thai and now just starting jujitsu. He lists strength, integrity, perseverance and discipline as the primary guiding principles from the physical exercises he applies to his life.
“I work extremely hard,” says Cannon, “harder than anyone else in the room. It’s just making sure I’m the first person there and the last person to leave.” Cannon reiterates how much he loves every aspect of his career. Not even dealing with lupus or going through a brief exhaustion could hinder him from moving forward.
His go-getter personality leaves no stone unturned. Cannon’s knack for seizing and creating opportunities for himself has one common denominator. “I just consider myself the entertainer,” proclaims a still extroverted Cannon. “It’s all different sides of the artist. You just gotta be able to put yourself out there and tailor it to your audience.”
This post was written by Christopher A. Daniel, pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.