Rotimi, at his core, is a sports junkie. The world may know him as the cunning Dre from the award-winning Starz show Power or Edwin, the frat boy with thot-like tendencies from the Netflix film Burning Sands, but very few know that this New Jersey native briefly pursued becoming a sports agent during his time at Northwestern University. He finds solace in the rhythm of the game, and although he loves what he’s doing, he plans to bring that dream to fruition in the future.

For now, he’s just trying to find balance in his blessings and with the endurance of an athlete, he’s coming at the entertainment industry with a play for greatness.

Named Olurotimi Akinosho by his Nigerian parents, this rising star’s passions have always been rooted in music. His childhood days were filled with lessons in the flute, piano, and guitar, but he claims the violin as his “first true love.” The first time he sang for an audience was at the age of 15 on Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater in New York City. Up against wannabe superstars much older than him, Rotimi took home second place and a sense of validation of his talents. When he was 17, the New Jersey native connected with a couple of Jay Z’s nephews to form Natural Born Hustlers, a singing group that toured colleges, universities and small venues in the New York and New Jersey area. Every other weekend, the group would perform privately for Hov, taking advantage of his expertise and heeding his critiques.

Now 28 years old, Rotimi is driving up the court with new music he hopes will squash anyone’s suspicions that he can’t flourish as both an actor and a singer. The Power star completely rejects labels that aim to stifle his talents and while he recognizes there are some entertainers who can’t successfully crossover between industries, he plans to prove that his gifts can't be benched.

“If you’re good at what you do, people get really, really invested in that,” he says. “So they get stuck on that because they love that…I’m making sure that the quality of music and the quality of acting are up to par with each other, and it will be undeniable.”

Undeniable indeed. The G-Unit signed artist has been going hard in the paint, showcasing the full range of his vocals. His latest single “Nobody,” featuring 50 Cent and T.I., has been streamed nearly 150,000 times on SoundCloud. He was also featured on “Thank God,” the intro track to Wale’s fifth studio album Shine. Bonding over mutual fandom and Nigerian roots, Rotimi says he and Wale have formed something that is rare in this industry: a genuine connection.“As a celebrity, you’re asked to do things for different people all the time or people want something from you,” he says. “When you just actually build a real relationship with somebody, it just becomes effortless. It was a two-year friendship that sparked that [collaboration], so now I’m going on tour with him.”

VIBE / Christine Imarenezor

Aside from hitting the road with his Naija brother, the Burning Sands star has been pouring himself into an upcoming solo project that’s going to bring an upset to the R&B scene. The Other Side, a six-track EP, is scheduled to drop mid-summer. Rotimi says this project represents who he is in totality, bringing to light the side of fame that fans rarely see. His years of instrumental study lend a creative assist and the use of unconventional instruments, such as the Spanish guitar, create beats that bounce off the backboard to catch nothing but net.

“My voice is very strong and because I have a Nigerian background, I use a lot of the tone and the inflections,” he says. “You’ll hear a little bit of a Caribbean vibe, a little Nigerian vibe, a little straight up R&B, a little trap.”

Inspired by the honesty of musical idols like Usher and Lauryn Hill, Rotimi seeks to offer transparency and truth to listeners with this EP, which will set it apart from his previous projects Royal Wednesday and Summer Bangerz.

“I like the purity of telling stories now because not a lot of people are telling stories in their music,” he says. “I wanna tell my specific story; What I see right now.”

The “Nobody” singer has walked in the shoes of drug dealers and murderers as some of TV’s most unsavory characters, but he acknowledges that the real life stories of black and brown boys working the streets isn’t as glamorous as what he portrays. Rotimi uses his success story to inspire the youth to pursue their dreams and explore their options.

“Using that I went to Northwestern, and talking to the kids in the inner city to tell them, ‘Look, if you wanna get into art, if you wanna get into different things, there’s another outlet,’” he says. “All I can do is worry about the voice I have and help the kids out there and keep them out of [trouble].”

And it was the support of loved ones that kept this entertainer out of trouble and on the right track. He admits that his industry can be filled with draining and demonic influences at times, but he finds stability and perspective in faith.

“I grew up in the church, and my mom is like a major prayer warrior,” he says. “Spirituality is everything for me because I’ve based my life on that; finding the positive out of everything and professing what I want and manifesting it in my mind.”

Whether it's in front of the camera or in the recording booth, Rotimi is strategizing for success that will dominate any scoreboard, and the game has only just begun.

VIBE / Christine Imarenezor
MAIN IMAGE CREDIT: VIBE / Christine Imarenezor