John Singleton's decision to cast an acting novice as the lead in his highly anticipated follow-up to his 1991 Oscar-nominated urban drama Boyz N the Hood had many in Hollywood scratching their heads. But the 33-year-old filmmaker makes no apologies for entrusting the role of streetwise deadbeat Jody in Baby Boy with R&#038B stud Tyrese Gibson.

"The freshest moments in my films have always been with unknown actors," Singleton tells TV Guide Online of the 22-year-old model-cum-singer-cum-actor. "Tyrese has so much charm and charisma; he was basically a movie star who hadn't done a movie yet."

The role of Jody was originally written for slain rapper Tupac Shakur, and as Singleton explains, his passing was almost the death of Baby Boy. "I didn't think I was going to find someone with as much heart and soul as Tupac had," he says, "until Tyrese came along."

Dipping into the musical pool is nothing new for the USC film grad: Singleton cast rapper Ice Cube in the pivotal role of Doughboy in Boyz, and teamed Shakur with pop icon Janet Jackson in 1993's Poetic Justice. And in addition to Gibson, laconic rhyme master Snoop Dogg also faces harsh rites of passage in Baby Boy, which opens Wednesday.