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Men on fire: these five brothers are burning up the music charts and box office this spring with enough heat to spare. They're sure to make your temperature rise

DJlMON HOUNSOU

Despite his modelesque physique and Academy Award-nominated performance in 2002's In America, Djimon Hounsou, 41, was never cast as a love interest--until now. Janet Jackson saw the potential, romping on the beach with Hounsou in her video Love Will Never Do (Without You). But it took Queen Latifah to really let his inner lover loose. In Beauty Shop, which opens March 30, Hounsou, who hails from Benin, West Africa, plays a jazz pianist and plumber who romances a widow (Latifah) and wins over her daughter in the process. "It's not easy to imagine a guy Latifah could fall for," says director Bille Woodruff. "Her energy is so effervescent. But Djimon has a silent kind of strength. I thought it would be beautiful to see the two of them together."

PHOTOGRAPHY BY KWAKU ALSTON

JOHN LEGEND

It's been a while since we've had an R&B singer we could love without a sex scandal nipping at his heels. But here comes John Legend, 26, a baby-faced brother delivering gospel-flavored soul accented with equal parts hip-hop and humor. Legend's talent has been simmering for years. He played piano on Lauryn Hill's "Everything Is Everything" and impressed rapper-producer Kanye West. "John is a no-brainer," says West, who produced Legend's Get Lifted CD. "If we were both 12-year-olds and doing a talent show for our parents, they'd probably say, 'Well, I don't know about Kanye, but that John Legend is a talented boy!'"

Don Cheadle

Don Cheadle, 40, has consistently delivered supporting-role gems, like the trigger-happy Mouse in Devil in a Blue Dress. But Hollywood resisted the notion of Cheadle's carrying a film, usually giving top billing to such actors as Denzel Washington and Will Smith. Yet in Hotel Rwanda, a harrowing account of the 1994 genocide in East Africa out this month on DVD, Cheadle got his shot and a coveted Oscar nod. "Don disappears into a role," says director Terry George. "You don't see Don, you see the character." On May 13 Cheadle stars in the urban drama Crash, which he also produced, claiming his place as one of the industry's most brilliant stars.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY LEN IRISH

THE ROCK

There's nothing better than a man with a sense of humor, especially if it comes wrapped in the body of a champ. The Rock, aka Dwayne Johnson, is the son of African-American wrestler Rocky Johnson and Samoan mother Ata Johnson. In Be Cool, the sequel to 1995's hit Get Shorty, the 32-year-old plays a struggling gay actor-bodyguard with a penchant for country singing and baby-blue leisure suits. The comedy, in theaters now, boasts this former pro wrestler's inspired re-creation of a scene from the cheerleading flick Bring It On, punctuated by a finger-snap head roll that would put any homegirl to shame. Director F. Gary Gray has nothing but praise: "The Rock ripped it. He plays completely against type, and anyone who takes risks like that is, in my book, all aces."

PHOTOGRAPHY BY JEFFREY SALTER

ICE CUBE

He's the poster boy for hoodlums gone good. Ice Cube, 35, the once-foulmouthed member of N.W.A, turned his thug sensibility into a Hollywood hustle and made us proud. Cube first shone in urban classics like Boyz 'N the Hood and Friday, and recently crossed over to the mainstream in the kid-friendly comedy Are We There Yet? Says costar Nia Long: "Cube is a businessman with a vision. He's a family man who loves his kids. I admire him; he's a teddy bear." Changing gears, Cube, a married father of four, fires up the screen April 29 in the political thriller XXX: State of the Union.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY KWAKU ALSTON

Jeannine Amber writes frequently for ESSENCE.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY GEORGE HOLZ

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