By Amy Ryan
Updated August 22, 2006 at 12:00 PM EDT

American Gangster, the true-life drugs-and-cops epic that Ridley Scott is currently shooting in New York City with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, sounds like a fascinating project, not least for its powerhouse cast. Today, Variety reported that the cast is expanding to include rappers Common (pictured), T.I., and RZA, as well as Washington’s Inside Man costar Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Now, PopWatch is generally excited to see rappers acting in movies, since they often bring an outsized theatricality and charisma to their roles. We’ll go see Ice Cube in just about anything that doesn’t have small, annoying children in it. But we’re a little worried about this lineup; when a film casts that many rappers, it’s easy to wonder if it’s not just a marketing ploy, a shortcut that’ll give the movie some instant street cred. Or worse, a lazy way to fill stereotypical gangsta/drug-pusher roles.

Plus, it’s worth noting that Universal killed this project a couple years ago over budget concerns, when then-director Antoine Fuqua wanted to fill supporting roles with name actors like Ray Liotta and John C. Reilly. Now that Universal has revived the project, with A-lister Crowe taking the role that was to have gone to Benicio Del Toro, there’s probably even less room in the budget for a supporting cast. Nothing against Common, T.I., and RZA — they may even be the actors best suited to their roles — but they’re a lot cheaper to hire than Oscar-nominated pros.