Tate was born on the west side of Chicago, Illinois, the son of Peggy and Larry Tate. He is the youngest of three siblings (his two brothers, Larron and Lahmard, are also actors) whose family moved to California when he was nine years old. Convinced by their parents to enter a drama program at the Inner City Cultural Center, the trio did not take the lessons seriously until classmate Malcolm-Jamal Warner's ascent to fame after being cast on the sitcom The Cosby Show. Subsequently realizing that they could parlay their efforts into a tangible form of success, the siblings began to receive small roles and in 1985, Tate made his small-screen debut in an episode of The New Twilight Zone series.
Following numerous small-screen roles, offers began pouring in for Tate, and in late 1992, collaborative filmmaking siblings Albert and Allen Hughes approached him to star in their debut feature Menace II Society. A jarring vision of inner-city desperation and decay, the film found Tate channeling his substantial energy into creating "O-Dog", a trigger-happy teenager. Following up with the little-seen but often-praised television series South Central, Tate would later appear in the family comedy-drama The Inkwell (1994) before re-teaming with the Hughes brothers for Dead Presidents (1995) and taking on the role of a love-stricken young poet in the romantic drama Love Jones (1997). Larenz Tate also played the role of Kenny in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in the episode "That's No Lady, That's My Cousin".
There followed roles in The Postman (as the automotively monikered Ford Lincoln Mercury), the Frankie Lymon biopic Why Do Fools Fall in Love (1998, with Tate as Lymon), and 2000's Love Come Down. Though a big theatrical release had eluded Tate for the first few years of the millennial turnover, Tate would soon turn up opposite Laurence Fishburne in the high-octane but critically derided Biker Boyz (2003)A Man Apart (2003), Crash (2004), as music legend Quincy Jones in Ray (2004), and Waist Deep (2006). Larenz was also featured in R&B singer Ashanti's 2003 released music video Rain on Me, where he played the jealous, abusive spouse of Ashanti. The video touched on the subject of domestic abuse. He also starred as part of the main cast in season's 4-7 of FX Network'sRescue Me as Bart "Black Shawn" Johnston.