When Rotimi enters a room, you notice. In an age where attention—like Twitter followers—can be bought, the 26-year-old New Jersey native oozes star power, or at the very least, a Who’s that? when he walks in. His smile is welcoming and his presence, warm. Power spoiler alert: Never once did this writer think he could gut someone the way he did Pink Sneakers in Saturday night’s episode (June 20).
Still, away from the cameras, the actor-singer-songwriter-model never gets tired. While the G-Unit signee‘s latest single “Lotto” featuring mentor 50 Cent starts to warm the streets, be very clear: there was a lot more work and a lot less luck when it came to his career. Okay, maybe a little luck, as his first audition ever landed him the role of Darius Morrison in the highly slept-on STARZ show, Boss. In season two of Power, the cameras know Rotimi as Dre, a newly released felon whose sworn allegiance to Kanon (Fifty) is already messy business.
“This season, Dre is going to be f–king up everything!,” Rotimi explained.
Indeed, Rotimi. Indeed.
VIBE: In the first episode of season two of Power, we see how willing Dre was to go after Ghost. Tell me a about this guy, Dre.
Rotimi: The best way to put it is: Dre is baby Kanon and baby Ghost in one. Dre owes Kanon a debt because he saved his life in prison and now that Kanon is out, Kanon takes him under his wing, kind of like a big brother. So now, Kanon sees all the same potential he saw in Ghost 10, 15 years ago in Dre, and wants to groom him to the point where they’re taking over everything Ghost put together. As the season goes on, Dre is faced with decisions of who his loyalty should be with because he’s a mixture of both of ’em, so it’s the growth of someone who’s very ambitious, hungry and has no conscious.
And he made that very clear.
Extremely clear. [He] will die for this. [Laughs]
You were almost on Empire. Is it true you turned down Star Wars for Empire?
The way it was brought to me was, ‘This is going to be yours.’ For me and anyone who knows me, I did seven years in Chicago with college and the TV show Boss, so going back to Chicago was home for me. I was like, ‘This is going to be great’ and Hakeem’s character [on Empire] was supposed to be a singer more than a rapper so it was like I’ll be able to live my dream. The Star Wars situation was five auditions in, so the next audition [probably meant having to] go test in London for the final one, so that was iffy. Empire was already given its green light. I was like, ‘Alright, this makes perfect sense. They wouldn’t be going this hard on me if I didn’t have it.’ So it was last minute when I learned, you know, it’s a business decision. That was my fault. In this business, you can’t get too attached to something.
So glad you’re in a better place because I would’ve been so upset had that been me.
I was disappointed. I was hurt but I was mad at myself for the things I turned down.
So how did Power come into play?
Power came in August. February 2014, Empire ended. That whole time I was like, ‘You know what, let me just take a break from this and focus on music’ so in that time period, I did my whole EP. Got the single “Lotto.” Booked the show, saying ‘Yo, I need a feature on this’ but we didn’t know who yet. In hindsight, Courtney [Kemp Agboh] said after seeing me on Boss, she knew it was a perfect fit to have me play Dre. I had to go through the whole auditioning process but she said from the beginning, she knew it was me.
How did you get Fif on your single?
Aww man, this is a crazy story. I’m around [50 Cent] 24/7 while we’re shooting Power, but I never told him I was an artist. I just let it be.
You didn’t think he knew?
He probably did but we never talked about it because I would see how every fan would approach him and he would just get drained from always hearing it. So when I realized that, I needed to entrust he would find out by either hearing my song on the radio or he’ll come to me and say, ‘Play me something.’ One night, the A&R of his label came to the studio session I was in to play records for the producer, saw me there, heard me singing and was like, ‘Yo, what do you do?’ I told him what I do, he said that’s so funny because I just did all the music for this show called Power.
Look at God.
And I was like, ‘I’m 50’s right hand man in Power season two.’ I played him the single and he was like you need to come to G-Unit tomorrow. I still didn’t call Fif to let him know I was coming to the office. I get there, and he just happened to be there. He was like ‘Yo, what are you doing here?’ I played him the record and he was like, ‘I have to jump on this.’ He did two verses for me and now it’s the official single for Power.
Is there any topic that you won’t write about?
Nah, everything is up for grabs because it’s my life.
Even one-night stands?
Oh, easy! [Laughs] I mean, it happens.
When’s the last time you had a one-night stand?
The last time I had a one-night stand was maybe a couple months ago in L.A. after a party. Sometimes you just vibe with people. Some people have great energy and you click with them and you just wanna have a good time. Especially in this business, it happens. Obviously, you have to protect yourself and be smart about it.
Could you have a one-night stand with someone and then be in a relationship with the person?
I would judge that by the way we vibe. See, I’m not a… can I say a–hole? It would depend on how the conversation goes after that. I would never do it and not talk to the girl. It won’t be something like, ‘Oh, she just does this.’ If it was more like we got caught up in the moment, then possibly. It might throw me off a bit and I may question, ‘Do you do this with everybody?’ But we all have those moments, right? I’ve gotten in one relationship with someone I had a one-night stand with and we were together for a while, a year actually.
Switching gears. Fif has taken you under his wing. What do you think he see’s in you?
I think he loves the talent side of it. He also doesn’t like being around people that aren’t genuine so I think he feels I’m a genuine person and I don’t need anything from him. Everything that we’re doing is legit organic, an authentic relationship of just being cool. We both happen to have business ideas, but the core of it is being friends. I think he see’s a young guy who’s trying to make it and do it the right way, [who’s] talented and hungry. I think he was in my position at a point in time too.
What do you think you’ll learn from him?
I mean, he’s a mogul. He does everything. I respect his approach because he’ll tell you, ‘I’m going to do this to get this out of you’ and people fall for it every time. And when you’re that brilliant and know what gets people to react a certain way… Plus, he knows how to allow his money to make money. So I’m studying that and even musically, this dude has a 14- or 15-year career so far and he’s still relevant. I’m just trying to figure out how he does it, and how he continues to evolve with time. That’s what I’ve gotten from him so far. But hey, I’ve got a movie coming out with Lance Gross and Larenz Tate.
What’s the film about?
It’s called Deuces and it’s coming out tentatively January. Me, Larenz and Rick Gonzalez play these best friends who are drug traffickers and Larenz’s character is the main guy trying to get out of the business but we’re his left and right-hand.
You guys are Tommy and Tasha?
Kinda. [Laughs] We’re Tommy and Tommy, and a lot of things happen with him trying to escape that lifestyle. Lance Gross plays the undercover cop trying to bring everything down but he ends up loving our crew and gets shaky on his level.
Photo Credit: John Mosely