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Rotimi Talks 'Jeep Music Vol. 1', 'POWER', & Discipline

Rotimi’s first acting lesson was taught by the one and only Kelsey Grammer (and no, it wasn’t done in a classroom). As it happens, the teaching came about on the set of Rotimi’s first TV gig—which also happened to be his first audition—2011-12’s Boss. Since then, he’s moved on to play the lead role of Dre in Starz’s POWER, which is set to premiere its fifth season next summer.

The role has gained him celebrity status and a following larger than he might have expected, given the humble beginnings with which he started, but Rotimi’s focus isn’t just limited to his acting career—in fact, music is what really gets him going. With a brand new EP just released, titled Jeep Music Vol. 1 (spoiler alert: yes, there’ll be a volume two), and a nationwide tour with August Alsina just wrapped, Rotimi is the multidisciplinary artist laying it all on the table (literally, honesty is his policy. It’s working). We sat down with the singer to talk multi-tasking, discipline, and the healing process of putting pen to paper and letting go of past burdens through music; check the full interview below.

I know you just finished a big tour, right? How did it go?

Yeah. It was my first nationwide tour. It was me and August Alsina, and I realized that, for me, the hardest thing and best thing about it was discipline. Because you can prepare for 30 minutes everyday, but that means you have 23 hours to bullshit, and what you do in that time really dictates how the tour goes. So I had to really take care of myself, not party as much, or kick it with women as much, so it was just really focused. And just the way the fans and everybody gravitated towards the music—because I released my project at the same time as the tour was going on—you could see gradually as the shows went on, people were singing the words and discovering who Rotimi was. So this summer, the best way to explain it is discovery. It was like my discovery, my breakout, in terms of, “Who is that? What does he do?” So it was just really, really dope.

That’s interesting because I feel like people usually release their projects prior to touring to give it a little time to marinate and then go on tour. What was that like having it all happen at once?

It just showed the power of the music, and also just how you can connect to people. You know, my story is a true story, so even just taking a clip of the show and posting it on Instagram and showing people the music I’m making, it was intriguing for them. So watching it live, and grow in front of my eyes, was so ill because they didn’t know about it a month ago, and now they’re connected to it. So it was a really cool experience.

It is nerve-wracking being so open about your personal life with so many strangers?

At first it was, but then I realized, when I started getting messages like, “For a man to say exactly how he felt, and he’s been through that, that’s amazing,” you know it was voice for guys. You know I’ve been cheated on, I’ve been hurt, I’ve been this or that, so it was a good moment when it’s connected like that, it’s like I’m doing it for a purpose. And for me, ironically, it was healing, to go through it and talk about it night after night, to the point where it didn’t bother me anymore.

Yeah, it’s like the burden is lifted because it’s not just you experiencing those things.

Yeah, it’s not just me, and people are just gravitating towards it because they’re true stories, and it’s really relatable, so I pride myself on that.

Is there any one song on the EP that’s a favorite to perform?

“What We Do”. Because it kind of just explains everything. We fight, we fuss, and then we have amazing sex. And it was explaining, like, I’d rather have your bull than anybody else’s. Even though it’s hard, I’d rather experience this, and figure this out with you. And that was the good part but also the toxic part, because we try to hold on when we know we shouldn’t, because it feels right. So you know it’s what we do, it’s what we did. And that’s probably the best one because people would see the pain when I did that.

I think that’s a really relatable song, too.

Yeah! It’s relatable.

We’re all just putting up with somebody else’s bullshit!

Right! But I’d rather your bullshit than somebody else’s, you know, ‘cause I know what I’m gonna get.

So in the middle of all that, are you also filming for POWER? Or when does that happen?

So we’re filming now. So it worked out perfectly. So I was on tour and the project came out when the show was on, so now, as soon as it finished, now we’re filming Season 5, right after I finished the tour.

What is that like just snapping back to a totally different project? Is it easy to just switch your focus completely?

Honestly, yeah, it is. You know I’ve been multi-tasking my whole life, I’m an only child, so my parents had me doing at least five, six, seven different things at one time. And it goes even back to when I was in school, I went to Northwestern in Illinois, and so even when I was in school, I would take the train and go to an open mic even though I was studying for a final, or going to the studio, or whatever it was. So I’ve always been able to handle multiple things. So it was easy to segue back, and I just love arts, so to be creative is easy for me.

Do you tap into different parts of yourself for the different projects?

Yeah, you have to. Dre is so different from who Rotimi is. So I have to switch out of that, and be this character that I’ve created, and get into his mannerisms, the way he thinks, etcetera. So that can be tough. That’s the most challenging part. But it gets done.

So when you were younger, did you want to pursue acting or music or both? Did you prioritize one or did they both just kind of come together?

Music was my whole life. Acting came about after college, I was really just trying to get money. I was a struggling artist, I was touring and my manager was like, “Listen bro, we need some extra cash, go get a commercial or print magazine or something.” And I booked my first audition. So what happened was, I was auditioning for this TV show called Boss, and it was literally my first one, so I didn’t know that the part was a major part, and I ended up booking it so I was thrown into the acting world. Yeah, I had no idea what I was doing. It was legit like learning what everything is episode one. So Kelsey Grammer was like, “Ok, you stand here, you do this, this is where you look.” So my first acting class was episode one of that show. It was divine. It was meant to happen that way. So I got thrown into the acting world, and I realized, oh wow, I’m a natural at this, Ok. So that was when it was like, Ok, let’s do both.

So how do you feel like you’ve grown since that first episode?

I think that I just trust my instincts. Like before I was just doing it. Now it’s like, Ok, do it with a purpose, but I’m also 100 percent confident in my abilities. And I don’t second guess anything. The best listeners are the best actors. So if I’m able to listen to you and react to the natural way of what you’re saying, that’s what makes the magic. So once I realized that I could trust that, I think that’s what seperates me. But I don’t know, I think I’m just comfortable in my own skin now. And that took being vulnerable as an artist, that took being on stage, that took age and maturity, it took a lot of things. But I’m at a place now that I feel completely comfortable.

So now that the EP is out, what’s next for you musically?

So that was Jeep Music Vol. 1, so there’s gonna be a volume two. So I’m writing that now and am gonna go down to Atlanta to record it. It’s basically gonna be a story of what I’m seeing now. [Vol. 1] was pre-everything—college relationships to the start of POWER. Now is gonna be what I’m seeing as a new celebrity. And again, just writing from a true place, being vulnerable about it, not just all the flashy stuff, but sometimes just feeling alone, not trusting anybody, you know, those kind of things. So volume two will be done, and then once I finish filming, I’ll headline my own tour, in February or March.

Thumbnail image courtesy of Aaron Pegg; others courtesy of Sean Edwards

Stay tuned to Milk for more multidisciplinary artists.

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