When BET.com caught up with Rotimi, the 22-year-old was headed to Atlanta to model T.I.’s clothing line AKOO at a fashion show. From modeling to singing to acting, the Northwestern University graduate is not satisfied with success in just one field of entertainment. Inspired by modern renaissance men like Will Smith and Harry Belafonte, the New Jersey native will not be limited to sharing only one of his many talents with the world. In 2009, Rotimi got his first taste of fame when his single “Beautiful Music” became a hit overseas in Europe and Africa. In 2011, he made a name for himself in the states playing Darius on the STARZ show Boss. Now working in the studio with Bryan Michael Cox and getting schooled to the game by Jamie Foxx and T.I., he seems to have his mind set on a full-scale showbiz takeover in 2012. With production for season two of Boss picking back up next month, we caught up with Ro to discuss the extent of his ambition, the guidance he’s received from his mentors and how becoming a TV star has changed his life.
BET.com: You’re on your way to a modeling gig right now for T.I.’s line, how did that come about?
Rotimi: T.I. and I have the same manager; we’re both managed by Jason Jeter. It’s kind of just killing two birds with one stone.
You’re just getting rolling in your acting career; now you’re trying to be a model, too?
Well, you know I take a couple pictures here and there (laughs). You know, it’s not one of my biggest things, but whenever there’s promo or marketing, if it makes sense I’m with it. We have the same management and T.I’s my big brother so it makes sense.
What kind of guidance has he given you as a musician who’s had success transitioning to acting?
It’s funny because in 2008, I opened for him. He kinda taught me by performing and by showing me the way back then. We were kind of reconnected again maybe two or three months ago and we had dinner, he just kind of schooled me on the game and kind of just explained a lot to me. Whenever I have a chance to support him, I go. I went to the premier party for the Tiny & T.I. show and now that we have the same management it makes sense. We’re in the same camp now so he gives me words of wisdom. I was one of the first people he talked to when he got out of prison. So it was cool, he’s somebody that I just look up to and I try to follow him as an artist and actor and we basically have the same team so it’s the right formula.
It takes fans a while to accept guys like you or Tip who want to pursue multiple career paths. Jamie Foxx had trouble early in his career getting people to accept him as a serious actor and then again later as a musician. How can you get fans to take all of your endeavors seriously?
It’s funny because Jamie’s now like a mentor as well for me. We met in L.A. a couple weeks ago and we’ve been talking ever since. He’s just been guiding me on that and just explaining what you just asked. The way that you are able to get people to take you seriously as both an actor and a singer is that everything has to be authentic. Everything has to be real, there is no gimmick. Because once you start seeing yourself as an actor, people may start saying, “aw man, maybe he’s just doing singing as a second thing.” But that’s not the case. Boss was my first audition. I’m trying to grow and make my music, my brand and me as a person authentic and then it will just happen organically where people are going to just believe in you and see that you’re actually a true artist and a true entertainer and true actor. Once you make that connection with people and once the music is able to speak for you, and if on screen what you’re doing is believable, they can’t deny you.
Your first love was singing, but it seems like you are making a serious run at guys like Will Smith and Harry Belafonte who had great success with music as well as other areas of performance.
Those are two people that I look to, man. Acting is something that I just started getting into, but I definitely just want to be a brand. And show that you can go to college and graduate and still do what you want to do following your dreams.… My publicist put me on to HBO’s (Harry Belafonte) documentary and I saw a little bit of it but I (already) know the background of his story, man — he’s a genius! People like that, you just want to tailor your career around how he did it. He’s a huge inspiration in my life.
There are dozens of great shows on TV these days. What is your favorite show to watch besides Boss?
I was a big fan of HBO’s True Blood. I love True Blood. And I’m an ESPN guy. I’m a sports man all day. So I just watch ESPN and just watch movies. But you know, I gotta go with whatever STARZ is playing ‘cus that’s the family. So whatever STARZ is rocking with, I’m watching.
If you could pick one show to audition for, what would it be?
I love The Wire. If I was able to do something (in the past), I would do The Wire, but today, man, I’d do True Blood. I’d love to play a vampire.
They got Black vampires?
(Laughs) Nah they don’t got it, man.
How has Boss changed your life?
Pre-Boss, I was an artist, a singer, a songwriter and I modeled a little bit. But Boss was my first audition — literally, my first audition. I remember walking in there and not knowing what to expect. At 9 o’clock in the morning, my first day, I messed up so bad. The casting direction told me to come back later in the day after I got the lines right. But I told my sister at the time, ‘I don’t feel like goin’ back, I don’t want to go back. I messed up, they’re not going to pick me.’ So it’s about 3 o’clock and I go back in, memorized the lines, and I do it and they basically picked me up on go. Being that I’m a rookie to this whole thing, I’m just riding it, I’m going along. It’s opened so many doors where I can sit and have meetings and conversations with Jamie Foxx and say, ‘How do I do this as an actor?’ Or ‘How do I do this as a singer?’ Meetings and talking to T.I.…being around Kelsey Grammar, Mario Van Peebles, just the people that are at this top, top level. It’s the best way to learn and I’m just soaking it all up. And now it’s become a passion of mine. I’ve been doing it for eight months and it’s slowly starting to sink in.
You were born and raised in America, but both of your parents are from Nigeria. Did your cultural heritage have any affect on your career?
That whole background is strict: books, books and books. And if you want to do anything, you have to work hard for it. I’ve been blessed to have good parents that kind of believed in what I was doing.… My mom and my dad always knew that I was going to be a musician. I was a big Bob Marley fan because of my father. I started singing when I was about six years old; the first time I performed was at a wedding. Ever since then, man, I’ve been performing and practicing my craft. It’s just been a journey. I really knew I wanted to perform when I performed at the Apollo Theater when I was 15 and I won it back to back. That’s when I really was like, “Yo, I can do this.”
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