Rotimi is a multi-genre artist who has been paving his own way in the music industry. Emerging on the US scene in 2009, Rotimi has consistently pushed the boundaries with his unique, eclectic sound. After the release of a string of singles, his 2019 single In My Bed went on to become a Gold certified record. Not only is he a talented singer/ songwriter, but Rotimi has also earned his stripes as an actor starring in TV shows and movies such as Boss, Power, Imperial Dreams and Coming 2 America. In the wake of his latest single Throwback, we sit down with the man himself and discuss his Nigerian- American upbringing, music, acting journey, and his artistry overall.
Before we get into talking about your music, I would love to talk to you about your childhood. So, where did you grow up and what were you like as a child?
I grew up in Maplewood, New Jersey, a first-generation Nigerian- American and definitely, had parents who supported everything that I wanted to do. It was just me- I’m an only child and everything was always music. I came out singing at 3 or 4 years old and she heard my voice and the first thing she did was put me in a band and made me a wedding singer. This was all through New Jersey, Connecticut, and Philadelphia. That’s when she realized that I loved performing and it kept going and going. They had me doing all sorts of sports, basketball soccer, playing the violin, and children’s choir- I was doing all these things so my ability to multitask was being cultivated at a very young age. I was able to figure out what I love and what I would like to do. Yeah, everything was very music and sports- driven. Everything was about academics and excellence as a kid so, if I was going to do something, I always had to do it to the best of my ability. That’s what I’ve kept with me till now.
What was it like growing up with Nigerian parents in America?
For me again, everything was based on a really strong structure. They made sure they protected me from a lot of ignorance that some of the African-American kids were doing as young kids. Not to say it was everybody- most of my friends were really, really good and their parents were amazing but, they wanted to protect me. They made sure I was heavy into books, they made sure I was heavy into my sports, my music, and they wouldn’t really let people come to the house! I had to create my own fun, I had to play video games on my own. It was tough but, it was very loving. It was strict but structured and every time my friends came over, they loved it. It was a cool balance.
How did you stay connected to Nigerian culture?
My parents made sure I went every other summer until I was about 18 or 19. I was always in Apofe village with my mum’s family. My mum is Igbo and my dad is Yoruba so I was always in Imo State with my mum’s side and with my dad’s side, I was in Lagos- sometimes in Victoria Island. I saw a lot of wealth and poverty- they exposed me to that. The funny thing is I had the most fun when I was in the village because there was camaraderie, and family- it was genuine love even though they called me ‘White man’ because I was so light-skinned and I was American. I was a little alienated but it was dope because there were no distractions and you had to be really creative to create your own fun. I enjoyed that and they made sure I spent a lot of time in Nigeria and it was beautiful.
So you’re a singer/songwriter as we know. When did you really know that you wanted to be a singer?
I think it was definitely when I was about 4 or 5 honestly. I just knew that I could affect people. I think it was singing in the church that made me really realize that I really loved this. It didn’t hurt when they were throwing money at the weddings I would sing at either! It was always a beautiful thing to be a part of the music culture. I listened to Micheal Jackson a lot, Lauryn Hill is from my town so that was our pride and joy. My mum would always say that whenever there was a song playing on the radio, I would hear two seconds of it and I’ll start singing the song. I was like 5 or 6 at that time. I knew that my affinity for music was pretty high.
Who were you listening to growing up?
Lauryn Hill, Paul Simon, Michael Jackson, Carl Thomas, Craig David, T- Pain, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston- it was a full-on gumbo and that’s why my music is so eclectic and different. Every song has a different energy.
Not only are you a singer/songwriter, but you’ve also kind of dabbled into acting. You made your silver screen debut in Black Nativity in 2013 and you’ve also been in Divergent, Imperial Dreams, Battlecreek and more recently in Coming 2 America. When did you catch the acting bug?
I think I caught the acting bug after I was thrown into acting. I ended up booking my first audition for a TV show called Boss and I was broke. The acting wasn’t a part of my goals, it was just my manager at the time who was like “We need to make money somehow and you seem very natural in music videos so, why don’t you just go try out and see if you get a commercial.” What ended up happening was, that I went in for an audition for one of the main roles in a TV show and I booked it. At that point, I was thrown in as an actor and I now have to figure this out. My first episode of Boss is my first true acting class. After I got into it, I realized how beautiful the art was and I loved it!
Like you’ve said you were thrown into the acting world but one of the shows we know you for is your role in Power from 2015 to 2019 as Dre Coleman. How did you land that role?
I auditioned like everyone else! You never know who’s really watching you, you know. The creator of Power, Courtney Kemp, was watching me on Boss two years prior and really liked me whilst she was creating Power. She knew who I was so I had a slight edge because she was already a fan. The icing on the cake was me going in and killing that audition and the rest is history.
So back to the music- I want to talk about In My Bed featuring Wale. It currently has over 136 million streams on Spotify alone and over 57 million views on YouTube. It also happens to be your first certified Gold record as well. Why do you think that record connected with people so much?
Man. I think it’s just the fact that good music resonated with the soul. There’s something about Afrobeats and there’s something about nostalgia- that beat has the Lauryn Hill and the Mario Winans sample. It was just so nostalgic and it felt familiar and then I put my twist on it- that had never really been done before. As it grows to almost being Platinum now, it’s in a space where it was just an incredible moment in time and people genuinely love that song. It’s the concept, the tone, the rhythm- it was just a perfect storm of just really dope sounds. The other record that’s about to be Gold is Love Riddem. That’s another one that had the same elements. Having music that touches the spirit is just infectious.
As you said, there are two iconic samples in that song. Who’s idea was it to use those samples?
It was actually Harmony (Samuels)- the genius himself. When I heard him explain it over the phone to me, I was super excited! I knew if we did this right, it could change our lives. We were in the studio at 4 o’clock in the morning and Harmony was like, “Do you remember that idea I had on the phone?” I was like, “Yeah! Let’s take a stab at it!” We were there from 4 till 8 am- super tired. I remember making an Insta story saying “Yo, I think I just created the biggest record of my life so far.” I remember saying that and lo and behold, 3 years later now it’s almost platinum.
You’ve been putting out music since 2009 and you’ve gone on to release a lot of different singles and projects- The Beauty Of Becoming and your latest album All or Nothing with features from Fireboy DML, Busy Signal, Tank, Alpha P and Bleu. what was the creative process for that album like?
The creative process for me was to make music that hit all cylinders. I love storytelling so I made a record that tells a beautiful story. I love reggae, so I made a record with Busy Signal called Fiction. I love classic RnB so I made a record with Tank. I love Fireboy’s sound, so let’s make a record like Weapon. I was just having fun and I realized that I haven’t heard a really dope wedding song in a very long time so, let’s make a wedding song and we created I Do which is now top 10 on the Billboard chart. For me, it’s always just knowing that there’s no box for creativity. I would say All Or Nothing was just a very big display of my talent, being able to show my versatility and knowing that everyone who hears it will say that they can’t skip a song. Hearing that response when you hear the album All Or Nothing shows that I did my job.
There’s literally no skips on that album whatsoever! What other Afrobeats artists would you love to collaborate with?
I think me and Wiz would do something really dope!
Moving onto your new single Throwback- talk to me about that! How did you pick to collaborate with Jnr Choi and Blackway? How did that come about?
I had a show in LA. My guy who is one of the managers of this rapping group was telling me how they had just recorded a particular song and they wanted me to hear it because they did it for me. When I listened to it, I was feeling it. I found out they were based in LA. I literally told my guy that the only time I could record would be at 2 in the morning because my show was later in the day. We were there from like 1 o’clock to like 5 or 6 in the morning- we did two records that night and it felt good. While I was on tour in London, my cousin was saying that he thought Jnr Choi would be great. I literally hit him on DM, told him about the record and sent it over to him. Literally, within two or three days, I got his verse back. It just so happened that we were going to be in Atlanta at the same time. We shot the video and everything just worked out.
You’re also a new dad-congratulations! How is that going?
Being a father is a blessing. It’s one of those things where you learn so much about yourself as a man. You learn so much about your patience, you learn so much about the genuine meaning of love and how its kind with no ego- it’s very spiritual! Just seeing him every day is the best thing. The moment you wake up and see him smile it’s an amazing feeling. I love it and I’m learning to be a better one every day! It makes me more of a beast in terms of getting this money! It puts this new hunger in you and you just want to provide. I just realised that I really love making sure that he’s okay. Making sure my family is okay has become a real driving force for me. I didn’t really know that because I only had to provide for myself before, but now I have a family, and I know I have to work harder.
You’ve achieved so much success in the span of your career so far. How would you define all of the success that you’ve experienced?
I just feel really blessed. I think it’s God ordained. I work really hard. It’s hard to be both (Singer and Actor) but I’ve had a successful career in both so far. It’s a testament to hard work, God, a great team, a great support system, and being fearless. The funny thing is we’re just getting started with it all, so I’m excited about the next 10, 15, and 20 years of my life and what we’re about to accomplish.
Speaking on the next 5, 10 years, what should we expect from you this year?
This year definitely another two or three singles, an EP, me and Harmony might do a joint album together. We’re figuring that out but then also I just launched my skincare line FAVR- it’s minerals from the Dead Sea and I’m really excited about that! People are having really good experiences with it in a very fast time. If you know anything about the Dead Sea in Israel, it’s a healing component- it heals and brings out the glow in your skin. I’m super excited for people to start using that and for FAVR itself to grow! Yeah, definitely some TV, definitely some movies and music.