He started his acting career in the late 1990s, appearing in a number of off-Broadway stage productions. Among his first film roles were Bad Company and Kissing Jessica Stein. His breakout role came in 2002's Barbershop, in which he plays reformed street thug Ricky Nash, a role that he reprised in the 2004 sequel, Barbershop 2: Back in Business. In 2003, he played the role of Slap Jack in the second installment of the Fast and the Furious film series, 2 Fast 2 Furious. Later in 2004, Ealy appeared in Never Die Alone with DMX. He also appeared in Mariah Carey's music video for her hit single "Get Your Number" from her 2005 album The Emancipation of Mimi.