ESSENCE.com's "New and Next" column spotlights the brightest new talents we think you should know. This week we meet a triple threat, singer, actor and model Rotimi:
Showtime at the Apollo
Rotimi recalls the first time he took the stage at age 15 at the legendary Apollo Theater fearing that the Sandman would come after him. "The kids spot had filled up and I had to compete against the adults," explains the rising R&B singer, actor and model. "I was in a holding room with 30-year-olds and I was terrified." Fortunately, the crowd embraced him and gave Rotimi the boost he needed to follow his dreams. "The Apollo is where all the greats performed," he explains. "I felt like if I could win this, then I could be one of the greats." Since then he's connected with Jennifer Hudson and Mary J. Blige, recorded with Dawn Richardson and spent time in the studio with songwriter Bryan-Michael Cox.
College Detour and Developing His Sound
By 17, Rotimi had clocked studio time with Jay-Z and spent all his non-school hours learning the ropes of the music industry. Feeling like he was just moments away from his big break, he decided to switch gears and focus on academia. "I'd promised my parents that I'd go to college, take the time to grow up a bit, and experience something different before really pursuing music." Although it was a difficult decision, Rotimi feels it worked out for the best. "If I'd gone into the industry at that age I would have been done by 19 because I wasn't grounded." He spent his college years taking music courses, performing on campus and coming into his own as an artist. "I don't just sing R&B, I'm able to sing pop and play with other sounds, but it's all real soulful. I pride myself on having a really authentic music sound, no gimmicks, just my vocals."
Hanging with Starz
For the first eight months post college, Rotimi spent his days and nights in the studio and also decided to try his hand at acting. Within two weeks of getting an agent, he auditioned for the Starz hit series Boss and landed the roll of Darius Morrison. "It was God and timing," he says, of getting a spot on the Golden Globe-nominated series starring Kelsey Grammer. He then added model to his resume as the face of rapper/actor T.I.'s clothing label, AKOO. "Balancing all three definitely takes sacrifice, a great team, and determination," he says. "You have to the have the passion for it and never settle. It also helps to have a mentor guide you through the game. I've found a mentor in Jamie Foxx. He's explained the business to me from an actor and a musician's point of view."
Where You'll See Him Next:
You can get a sample of Rotimi's style on his project, While You Wait, as he preps his new EP for a fall release. The biggest difference with his new music is that it’s more collaborative. "I'm starting to get comfortable with having other writers on my project," he says, noting that he's always prided himself on telling his own stories. "I'm such a hands on person but, when you're surrounded by such talented people, it'd be stupid not to take advantage."
Watch Rotimi's video for "Beautiful Music" and let us know what you think: