This article was originally published in The Source issue #271, Interview by Shaheem Reid
Since 50 Cent and Rotimi met on the set of Power—which 50 co-stars on and co-executive produces, they’ve hit it off and the Hip-Hop legend has taken the young New Jersey native (Rotimi grew up in Newark, Maplewood and the Oranges) under his wing. However, the first iconic rapper to show Rotimi love was T.I. They linked a couple of years back while both were acting on the show Boss and Tip tried to ink Rotimi to Grand Hustle records. Although that deal never manifested, Rotimi did model for the King of The South’s Akoo clothing line for a year.
Even before the interests from his OGs, Rotimi knew he was destined for the spotlight. When his mother–who worked with the Government in the Public Health area—was pregnant with him, she had a dream that Bob Marley came to her and said her son would finish his legacy. Rotimi, who went to same Columbia High School that Lauryn Hill graduated from in the 90s, has been singing most of his life and his pursuit of stardom almost got him kicked out of North Western College in 2009.
Rotimi was too busy performing spot dates wherever he could, including at other schools, and plagiarized a term paper because he didn’t have time to research and write. He came close to being expelled. His dad, an investment banker, saw how serious his son was about music and helped Rotimi set up an indie label named Front Row Records. His mom, took over the reins of management. Years later, the Akinsho’s, family with Igbo Nigerian heritage, belief is paying off. Not only does Rotimi have a mixtape and debut album on deck for 2017, but he’s in negotiations to star alongside Jamie Foxx in Mexico 68, a movie about a Black Olympic track team. Already in the can are the action filled love story Deuces with Larenz Tate, Megan Good as well the drama Imperial Dreams with John Boyega. Both films will debut on Netflix this year. Then of course Power returns next summer which he describes as the “best 10 episodes on TV.”
Here, Rotimi, who’s in the midst of a six-month shooting schedule for his show, tells us why he’s ready for some TV sex, how his character will grow in season four and what it sounds like when we have Dre vs Rotimi.
50 has really become a mentor to you in life and business.
50 is with me all the way. He’s pushing me to the forefront of it. But this is where I belong, this is what I’m destined to do. There’s no pressure. I just have to do the work. First I’m going to put out a mixtape, Dre vs Rotimi. It’s two sides of who I am. It allows me to do everything I want to do. One side is the playboy, young King out here. The next one is the nigga who will turn up at any second. I’m going to create that vibe for the mixtape. The album is gonna sound like all elements of me. Where it’s like the pop soul vibe. The jeep music vibe. It’ll tell my story of being a new celebrity and everything I’m seeing. And really just show people I really can sing. Those a few points we’re gonna hit with the project.
I just recently sat with Jidenna for this issue.
Oh yeah. My boy.
And you two have few parallels with families being from Igbo in Nigeria. Both did the college thing, he went to Stanford, you going to North Western. And your music, man. It blurs the lines sometimes. You’re more of a singer than he is, but some of your records would say are Hip-Hop. Even on Jidenna’s “Classic Man,” he’s singing on there, but it’s Hip-Hop. How do you feel right now with the rap-singers and lines being blurred in genres?
It’s all the same now. Everybody is adding melody to rhyme. It’s always a melody now. Fetty [Wap], even Bryson [Tiller]. Future. Every rapper has a melody line they use to be catchy.
Is that a hindrance or help to what you’re doing?
Good music is just good music. People gonna know when somebody can really sing. I had to dumb it down because I used to be doing all types of runs, but people don’t really want to hear that now. People don’t even really want to hear harmony anymore. They really want to focus on that catchy tag line. Whoever has the catchiest tag line and simplest lyrics right now. It’s easy, but it’s difficult.
Power has to be the number one show for the culture. I love it because the characters are so multi-layered. I’m loving Tasha way more now than the first season, because she’s proven to be such a ride or die. I love Ghost, but he does some things that make me scratch my head. Tommy is multi-faceted and your character – Dre. Man, Dre gets on my damn nerves [laughing].
[Laughing] For me, it’s a challenge. Especially now in season four. The things they got me doing, I’ve got to boss up a lot and make decisions in the show that are going to make some people mad. Some people are going to be like ‘I hate Dre.’ Some people are going to be like ‘I understand.’ It’s cool because you get to play with it. And having Omari already set the tone for a Ghost-like character, it’s easy to follow that template. It’s surreal when people come up to me like ‘I hate your character, but I love you so much.’ It’s cool to see that we’re really affecting people this much that we’re really making them feel a certain way. It lets you know we’re really doing our job.
I think it’s the most impeccably written show on TV. I don’t know another show that has better writing. I’m a big fan of The Walking Dead, and I think that’s a show that maybe up there with Power, with the scripting, but I can’t say there is a show that there’s a better written program.
Bro, when I tell you, we’re actually fans of the show ourselves. We’ll be in table read like ‘yo, I can’t believe this is happening! Damn, this person is about to die this week? Oh, they’re taking my character over here?’ We react the same way y’all react. But we see it first. That’s the only difference. We’re legit fans and what the writers do, what makes it so authentic, they let us improv a little bit at the table read. For example, it may be written ‘don’t mess with her.’ If I say, ‘ stop f*cking with my b*tch,’ it’ll be [written] in [the script] if it feels more natural.
So how did you guys feel when you got the script and read that Ghost was going to jail? I was bugging, because for one, he finally got knocked, but the irony was that out of all the dirt he does, he gets arrested for something he actually did not do.
Selfishly for me, my character, I’m like ‘well, who’s gonna run the club?’ [Laughing] I’m like, ‘well wait, what happens to Truth?’ But it’s good because this season… People seen the jail pictures of Ghost [on social media]. I think it’s good because you finally get to see him broken and not Superman getting out of everything. That adds a dynamic, like ‘finally, he’s human.’ He got caught ‘how’s he gonna get out of it?’ If he does or if he doesn’t. But selfishly for Dre, it’s like ‘this is my turn to be baby Ghost.’ That’s what was going through my head but we’ll see what happens.
I know you and Omari are close, does he give you advice about how to approach the sex scenes on Power? They get bucket naked on your show. The men and the women!
I know. They need to give Dre some p*ssy [laughing]. The brother’s too mad. He needs something. That’s why he’s always mad. I did one sex scene in my career. I actually did a couple on Boss. I think the female population is waiting on Dre to get busy. He needs to get busy soon. Me and Courtney [Agboh; Ed.: show’s creator] been talking about it. We’re trying to figure out what makes sense. I think that may be coming soon.