A look into how the star landed his breakout gig.
Rekkhan got his start on Empire as an extra, and worked hard to prove his worthiness of a speaking role. Aside from acting, Rekkhan works as a music artist and producer, making him a natural fit for the Empire aesthetic. A treat for fans of the show—in this interview with ATM, Rekkhan details his experience with Bryshere Gray (Hakeem) and their special connection on set.
Rekkhan’s latest single, “Rise Up,” (also known as Chitown Anthem) is up for four nominations in next year’s Grammy Awards. 2018 looks to be a busy year for the starlet—as a few movie roles are also in the works. His main goal, though—to make a positive impact on those around him.
ATM: Tell me about your experience on Empire, which is shaping up to be one the network’s hottest shows.
Rekkhan: Last season, I was restricted to working with certain individuals. I was working with Nessa and Xzibit. I’m Xzibit’s right-hand man, and our job was to infiltrate the company. Now, I work with more artists on the show. This is my third season—I came in on the end of the second season. Xzibit and I did a lot of stuff last year; we created a lot of chaos. I’m a music producer and an artist, and making a transition to acting is the reason they like me—because it comes natural [to me].
Rekkhan: My first day on set, I was an extra. We were setting this grand scene—I was playing a security guard. [There were] so many extras and people. I was super nervous. In my first official scene that day, I was standing next to Taraji (Henson), and Terrence (Howard) next to her. While I was trying to have my game face on, they were making jokes like a married couple. They’re joking, and I was trying to keep a straight face. Terrence was like, “You can laugh,” but I was like, “No, I’m trying to keep my job.” It was a 2-day shoot, [but] it was so long, it [felt] like a 14-hour shoot.
ATM: Did you ever think you were going to be a part of the past season?
Rekkhan: I got a call from my casting company at my warehouse job, and I see the number—it’s restricted. So, my dodging lifts, and I’m trying to get to the bathroom. The founder of the casting company says, “Your name came up in the production meeting of Empire. The executive producer wants you to play this role.” I’m still in awe in the bathroom, and I am trying to keep it to a minimal [level] because people are in there. The executive producer, the one next to Lee Daniels, said, “She wants you.” I wanted to ask questions—but at this moment, I just didn’t ask. It [made for] an awkward moment for the rest of the day—I was happy and smiling. My casting company helped me out a lot, and even to this day I’m still taking it in. There were over 100 extras, and now I have a role. We talked for a while, and I came in the next day. For the first scene, I came in with Xzibit’s character. I didn’t know the executive producer personally; I had only heard her name. I still don’t know how [it happened]. I was pursuing Empire since season one. Then, when I found out they were shooting in my season, I had to figure out how to get on it.
ATM: Now that you’re part of the cast, do you laugh at Taraji’s and Terrence’s jokes?
Rekkhan: Yes, I laugh a little. Terrence plays a lot of pranks on set. One prank was when he wanted a lighter for a cigarette, and he asked me [for one]. I didn’t have one, and he said “You are fired,” and he never followed up to say if it was a joke. And I was like, “Now, I’m finally here and I get fired?” He was so serious with the joke.
ATM: Is it hard for you to distinguish your character from your personality when you’re off set?
Rekkhan: I have people approach me thinking I’m a demon because of my role. Last season, I was still [nervous] with my job because I didn’t know if I was going to be around [long]. I was getting approached at the store. Everybody went crazy because I didn’t want anybody following me home—they think I have gold bricks in my home. I had to manhandle Nessa on a couple of scenes. I went back to work, and people were asking questions about why I did it. I was handling guns and a lot of material, and people said I looked great. For someone to look at my scene and say it looks authentic says a lot about my acting.
ATM: How is it working as Xzibit’s right-hand man?
Rekkhan: We have fun. Xzibit is a fool; he is joking the entire time between takes. After they say “cut,” it’s back to laughing. I look at Xzibit for inspiration [on transitioning from] a music artist to [having] an actor’s perspective. He is a good man, and being his guy is good. Last season, I was like, “I’m going to mess around and get killed.” Every time I went on set, I had to look at the script to see if it was my last day. I was bad. Then, on the season finale, I was like, “This is going to be it. If something happens, it’s going to happen to me and not him.” It has been a stressful couple of seasons.
Rekkhan: Me and Hakeem have one of the best scenes on camera. Performance-wise, me and Yaz just click. The best scenes are with me and Xzibit and me and Hakeem. The performance scenes are great. I want to pinpoint a certain scene, but I cannot. Every time I go, it’s like a new adventure. [Most] recently—the Hakeem scene. He brings in so much energy, and every time we interact, it gives me that moment. He would either shake my hand or say “Give me a pound” to include me in the moment. I was in so many scenes that they had to take me out some. They had to figure out where to place me, so that’s when they started writing me in the script.
ATM: Aside from acting on ‘Empire,’ you also rap. Can you explain this lyric from “Rise Up”: ‘It was about us protecting ours against them?’ Who is “them?”
Rekkhan: Establishment. I do not want to go to a dividing line. Everything comes at us a lot—everyone had a problem with us blacks for some reason. You can blame slavery. No, it’s also us against us. No one wants to work with each other. Once you divide the people up, you can do anything you want. Everyone has the problems with us as a people; we are the most imitated people on this planet. People don’t want us shine or survive. You can even see this with the constant interactions with the police—I have never gotten pulled over without the police having his hand on his gun. As long as I have been on the earth, I have never been around when there has been a nice interaction with a police officer. They are always on guard when it comes to us. I have a lot of friends and family that are police officers, but there are police that are giving the good police a bad name. Today, there aren’t feelings or shame. It’s all about trying to capture the attention. People are trying to get people to notice them, [but] they use the wrong idea or method to get notice. In the beginning, it was us against them—now, it’s us against us.