Singer and actor Rotimi on the difference between him and his ‘Power’ television character
Rotimi vs. Dre: ‘I pray for them if they don’t realize that it’s an art. I don’t know what else to do.’
“I hate Dre, but this tune by Rotimi is actually a banger.”
“I heard Rotimi’s song for the first time yesterday. I had been skipping it ’cause I hate Dre.”
“I really don’t like Rotimi ’cause I don’t like Dre.”
A quick Twitter search including the name of singer and actor Rotimi will reveal a dozen more comments about how torn Power fans are when it comes to distinguishing between singer and actor Rotimi Akinosho and his character, Andre Coleman (Dre). At the mention of fan conflict, Rotimi laughed it off.
“I pray for them if they don’t realize that it’s an art,” he said. “I don’t know what else to do. I’m just doing my job. If they believe TV is real life, you gotta pray for them.”
Rotimi is not Dre. Dre is not Rotimi. Dre, a handsome, smooth and calculating yet grimy character developed nearly four years ago, is night and day from Rotimi, the smooth crooner whose latest project, Jeep Music, Vol. 1, has captured a different audience with his relatable tunes. But the fun of playing such a different person has taught Rotimi to be more comfortable with his character in order to reel fans into the storyline.
“I’ve been playing [Dre] for about three years now, so I know who he is,” Rotimi said. “I’ve created a backstory of who he is, how he was as a child, the girlfriends he’s had, why he’s doing X, Y, Z, his daughter. I’ve created a backstory that I’m now comfortable living in. The creator and writer of the show, Courtney Kemp Agboh, she gave me so much freedom that I can finally just live in the character. And that’s what’s happening now.
The 29-year-old does admit that there are only a couple of similarities he shares with his character.
“They’re very similar in terms of ambition. I’m very ambitious, and I want to be the best,” Rotimi said. “He wants to be the best. He’s just hungry and I’m hungry. I think that’s the only similarities. Just the hunger for greatness, and that’s what I live every day.”
After perfecting his character for nearly three years on the show, Rotimi has grown accustomed to the reactions.
“This year for me was very polarizing,” he said. “It was music, then acting took over and I feel like people are really confused because I’m really good at both. So being that way, they don’t know what to expect. They don’t know how to truthfully know the difference, and I have to accept that because what’s different about Rotimi the person is I’m in this industry, but I’m not of it. I give my craft to them, but it’s like you really believe my part, or musically it’s like you really believe what I do. I know that it comes with the territory. Once I signed that contract, I knew my life was now for the people. It’s dope.”
Music was a path that chose Rotimi, born Olurotimi Akinosho, at an early age. As an only child growing up in his Nigerian household in Maplewood, New Jersey, it was possible for Rotimi’s parents to start his musical education at 5 years old. His mother, upon learning he could sing, enrolled him in classes that would help his craft, including learning to play the piano and violin and joining the children’s choir.
“My mom had me singing at weddings at 5 years old. I was a wedding singer. She had me doing that early, and that was my passion. I always listened to Bob Marley as a kid and my mom heard me, and it just took off from there for her. My mom did everything that a normal Nigerian woman wouldn’t do. She was my first manager.”
Rotimi and his mother continued to nurture his natural talent, and at 15 years old, Rotimi placed first in an amateur night competition at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Rotimi eventually took his talents to Chicago, where he attended Northwestern University and majored in theater. After graduating in 2010, Rotimi remained in Chicago as he figured out his next steps. Singing and songwriting remained his top priorities, but he would need to add a little more to his arsenal.
“After college, I was in Chicago and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I loved music, but I was struggling financially,” Rotimi said. “My manager at the time was like, ‘You really need to just try acting and see how it goes.’ ”
As luck would have it, Rotimi found himself in talks with Hollywood producers and executives who could jump-start his acting career — one being actor, producer and director Kelsey Grammer.
“I went in and it was my first audition that I booked a major role, on a TV show called Boss,” Rotimi said. “After booking it, it was kind of like, ‘Whoa. Am I an actor?’ It felt like a natural fit for me. I think it was just my fear of failing. I didn’t want to fail, so my fear of failing drove me to obsessing over making sure I was doing the right thing. It was natural, but it was the fear of not being good enough that made me want to dedicate my time to this.”
The political drama starring Grammer lasted only two seasons, but it gave Rotimi enough experience to take on other roles in projects such as ABC’s short-lived series Betrayal and movies including Divergent and Deuces and the Netflix originals Imperial Dreams and Burning Sands before landing a key role on Starz’s hit show Power, one of his most well-known roles to date.
Rotimi’s role as Dre somewhat complements his music career. Although some fans may struggle to differentiate between Rotimi as an actor and what he brings to the table as a musician, he has seen an uptick in the number of fans who are discovering his not-so-secret musical talents with the help of Power.
“It’s been dope because Power puts me on a platform where people actually have eyes and ears to see and listen to what I do,” Rotimi said. “Out of curiosity, they’re like, ‘Oh, he does music? He’s really, actually good at this.’ Power is kind of like a label. It’s like an RCA. It’s like a Jive Records. It puts you on that platform for me where I can show what I do. And I know that my music, when people hear it, they understand it and they get it, and they’re like, ‘Whoa.’ It’s been good. Negatively, it’s human nature. Some people are like, ‘I don’t know if I should listen to it because it’s Dre.’ But then out of curiosity, they’ll still listen to it and vibe. It’s a beautiful situation, and I really thank God for this opportunity.”
The role of Dre has also allowed Rotimi to challenge himself and show more of his personality through “Mr. Sexy Nigerian Buttascotch,” the exaggerated extension, or alter ego, of Rotimi’s Nigerian roots who occasionally appears on the star’s Instagram page.
“He’s always been here,” Rotimi said of the character. “It’s one of those things where I was chilling and I realized I was so afraid of showing my personality as an artist. But when people say show who you are and be true to yourself, that’s something I’ve been doing for years, so it just felt right one day to just roll the Instagram camera and hit play. Being that it’s been received so much has been really awesome.”
With Rotimi’s career on an upswing, the singer and actor has no plans of slowing down. But greatness, in whatever career path Rotimi has chosen, is what he strives to attain the most.
“I strive for it. I want it, Rotimi said. “I want thousands of people to feel like they have to speak at my funeral. I expect of the world that much. I know what I’m doing is so powerful, and I want people to say he made me feel this way and he did it with a smile.”