What’s it like to be so multi-talented — to sing, dance and act so well — that Jamie Foxx approaches you in the club to compliment you, but you blow him off. And he still ends up mentoring you?
My “Renaissance Man” guest Rotimi, who starred in “Coming 2 America” and played Dre on “Power” can tell you. It all happened during a Golden Globes party in 2012 around the time Jamie was shooting “Django Unchained” and was sporting a scruffy beard.
“So I’m in the club and some guy’s tapping me on my shoulder and is like, ‘Yo, I appreciate your work’ … I said, ‘OK, I appreciate it,’ ” he recalled.
But Rotimi, whose real name is Olurotimi Akinosho, didn’t recognize the Oscar winner.
“He tapped me again and he was like, ‘Nah, man, I’m telling you. Like, You got it, bro.’ You know, I was like, ‘thank you, thank you.’ Taps me again. And he was like, ‘What’s up, bro?Look, look at me.’ And it was Jamie.”
The “In Living Color” star invited the young Rotimi to his house to watch a few games. He took him to his studio, picked his brain and learned they had a lot in common. Jamie became a big brother to him. But Rotimi still thinks: “I almost blew off Jamie Foxx.”
But like Jamie, Rotimi can do it all. His song “I Do” is becoming the new wedding anthem, and he’s just released a hot new single, “Throwback.” We’ll also be seeing him in the new “House Party” reboot. And since August is Black Business month, I must point out his entrepreneurial streak and business savvy. He’s launched skincare line Favr Skin and has some advice for aspiring entertainers: save your money.
“I never spent a dollar of my ‘Power’ money for those six seasons. I never touched it. What I lived off of was the music money, like the hosting and endorsements that I would get.”
Not bad for a kid from Jersey. The son of Nigerian immigrants, Rotimi grew up playing sports, the violin and singing in choirs.
“Most Africans don’t, they don’t believe that art is a real job. So their thing is, you need to be a doctor, a lawyer, engineer, a dentist, you know. And so my mom was like, you know what? My son can sing. And so let me really get him moving in this part of his life and let me nurture this.”
His mother believed in him so much that she allowed him to perform at the Apollo in the adult category when he was 15. The kids’ slot was already filled, so they decided he would keep his age to himself.
“And I ended up winning,” he said. That led to a few kids in his town asking him to join their group. However, there was an extra layer to membership in this ensemble.
“But they were like, ‘Yo, listen, if you join our group, just know my uncle. We got to go to New York every week and perform songs we write in his living room.’ “
Their uncle? It was Jay-Z. So for three months, they’d write and record during the week and drive into the city every Saturday to stand in front of him. No pressure.
“So he’ll just be sitting like this … and we will be performing our hearts out. And he’s just like, ‘You know what? That was wack. Rewrite that. Wow, you sound amazing … Be on the left side so you can get crowd interaction.’ It was like school. It was school,” he said.
We all know I’m a “Power” super-fan, and his portrayal of villainous Dre was a breakout role for him. Rotimi hadn’t spent years in acting class, but he did take advice from Jamie, who told him to trust his instincts and study characters in movies.
“So I studied [Robert] De Niro in ‘Casino.’ I saw how he moved in that. I studied De Niro in ‘Heat.’ ” He watched Johnny Depp in “Donnie Brasco” and “The Godfather.”
“So I studied all the early ’90s, late ’80s movies. It was like, ‘how can I create a new-age gangster like that, but doesn’t really have to say he’s a gangster.’ And so, at first with ‘Power,’ they weren’t giving me a lot of lines, so it was more so how can I make this moment memorable that they can write something for this character?”
And it paid off. He was supposed to be killed off early on in the show, but they loved him so much, they kept him.
“It wasn’t supposed to last, bro. That’s why you have to go hard 100% at everything. If it’s just three lines. That’s why when you say those three lines, I’m like, you better go crazy in those three lines because those three lines might turn into three seasons.”
His work ethic and his outlook come from his yearly summer trips to Nigeria as a kid. His father is from the city, but his mother comes from a rural village where water wasn’t always accessible.
“When we didn’t have water, we would have to go to the well in the village and walk 3 miles … Get the water, then hold the water for 3 miles back. So if you drop this before you get home, it was the mindset of, ‘OK, everything is not guaranteed.’ Appreciate what you have. Hold things that are dear to you like that water,” he said. “And so those lessons I took from it and I never will forget.”
Detroit native Jalen Rose is a member of the University of Michigan’s iconoclastic Fab Five, who shook up the college hoops world in the early ’90s. He played 13 seasons in the NBA, before transitioning into a media personality. Rose is currently an analyst for “NBA Countdown” and “Get Up,” and co-host of “Jalen & Jacoby.” He executive produced “The Fab Five” for ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, is the author of the best-selling book, “Got To Give the People What They Want,” a fashion tastemaker, and co-founded the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a public charter school in his hometown.
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