Starz's crime saga Power centers around Jamie “Ghost” St. Patrick — a millionaire New York drug dealer looking to go legit in the nightclub business while balancing his marriage and an affair with a childhood ex. He's a composite of a few different individuals, 50 Cent among them. The 39-year-old rapper and all-around entertainment mogul executive-produces and co-stars in the show, alongside lead actor Omari Hardwick and showrunner Courtney Kemp Agboh. (50's character, Kanan, is more of a straightforward kill-or-be-killed street boss out to unseat Ghost from prison with the help of a female assassin known as “Pink Sneakers.”) Ahead of season two’s premiere on Saturday, 50 spoke with Vulture about taking responsibility for Power’s success, the imperative of authenticity, and why Empire — a show that it’s often compared to — has his attention (until it turns into a hip-hop Glee).
With so many shows on so many networks, how did you make sure Power found its audience?
Starz set out to hit a certain demographic and hit the bull's-eye. It’s been represented in music culture consistently, just the lifestyle, but it hasn’t been done on this level of production. Taking it up a notch and trying to create an accurate perception of the lifestyle, the dangers connected to it, it needs to be on premium cable.
Now that you’ve been able to watch season one again, what aspects do you think the show nailed versus areas it can work on?
The first season, I had so many things I wanted to put into the story line. And then Courtney [Kemp Agboh] did an amazing job pacing herself with the characters. In order to feel like they’re real people, things can’t happen so fast, and she did a great job slowing things down. The energy of the final show of season one is consistent to that level of intensity all the way through the second season, so I was like, “Wow, you did it totally right.” I don’t think you could make a better balance. The one element we could show a little more of is, Ghost is at a crossroads. He’s made it to what we created to be the top of New York City’s drug trade and knowing there’s no positive outcome to that lifestyle. Eventually, you run into law enforcement or someone else who’s hungrier, and they do something to you. In the real world, they kill you as the best option to acquire your business.
So is the objective in season two to illustrate that Ghost is always in danger?
Yeah, there’s always a danger. You can develop comfort, feeling like you’re so good at it. It makes you feel like there’s no limitations. I think we all have a secret rebel in us. We don’t necessarily exercise it as often as people involved in breaking the law. And their streak becomes wider until they’re blinded and they don’t see the guys around them that may be the reason why they don’t exist tomorrow, or the law enforcement who actually go in on ’em.
When did you realize you wanted more than just the top of the food chain of the drug world?
In my neighborhood, the level was a lot smaller than what we made for television, but in the corners I was on, I was already reaching peak potential there, and I had more than I was supposed to have in front of people. All it does is provoke them to try and come your way. That’s the point where I decided I was gonna write music. My son was on the way, and if I had to pay the repercussions for my actions at any point, it wouldn’t have been an easy process, because I wanted to have the relationship with my son that I didn’t have with my father. I had to liquidate everything I acquired from that lifestyle, so I was back on the ground floor before anything started to catch. The guys around me didn’t understand me at all. They thought I fell and bumped my head somewhere.
But as is depicted in Power, new conflicts arise even when you choose to take the right path.
There are so many facets to Omari’s character [Ghost], it’s almost inevitable for people to appreciate it. It’s a bad guy, but it’s a bad guy that has the internal conflicts all of us have. Outside of the title Power, we could have chosen Choices, because there are so many real-life choices in it. I picked Power because it means the same thing in every language. [Ghost] has a relationship that he’s been in for a long time. She knows his bills, his income, when he has a headache. There is no frontin’. There’s just who he is to her. Then he meets someone else who has no idea who he is, and because he put his best foot forward when he meets her, he’s able to be whoever he’d like to be to that person. The Angela character’s [Lela Loren] a representation of, “What if I did it the right way?” The Tasha character [Naturi Naughton], his wife, just wants it to stay the way it is, and the reality is it doesn’t.
Your character, Kanan, is much less conflicted about who he is.
[Laughs.] Interestingly enough, [Agboh] took Kanan from Cain and Abel. He’s really old-fashioned. You know how you can watch a film like 300, and that point where the king was having the army move from continent to continent and salvage every soldier that was previously under another king and nurse them back to health in order for them to fight for him to conquer whatever’s next? That’s the same concept that a drug dealer has, moving from one corner to the next. It’s real old-fashioned thinking. Sometimes we can be doing something new, and it’s so old that it feels new.
Smart as Kanan is, why does he stick with Pink Sneakers when she keeps missing her targets?
[Laughs.] Yeah, she’s fuckin’ up bad. [Kanan’s] going, “Who can I actually, from inside prison, have consistently make attempts on killing someone?” You only have a handful of people to choose from. In the relationships he has, this is the person he could actually have take a shot at it. And in his mind, he’s going, I’m glad you fucked up with Ruiz because now he’s gonna come running to me for protection as soon as I’m out.
You act a lot more this season. Did that take persuading?
There was one point I was so invested in this project that I was Ghost, because we knew that would get the show picked up. Then, when I realized how much of a time commitment [it was], it would mean [I'd have to] shut down everything with 50 Cent, and I was like, “Hold up, no.” [Laughs.] Then we found Omari, and he was the right guy, and the Kanan concept was perfect.
If Kanan dies, can we assume it’s because another album and tour are upcoming?
[Laughs.] That probably wouldn’t be the reason. I would move the tour at this point, because I’ve already committed to this project. It’s probably gonna be even more successful than it was the first season, because the things that Fox has borrowed [for Empire], the choice to mirror some of the marketing — when that makes [Empire] such a huge, successful show on Fox, the possibilities of those people tuning in to see Power [are] even more present if they have cable.
It has to be inherently challenging for such a gritty show like Power to reach that same mainstream audience.
When I watch Empire, it’s not the music business that I’m in now. They’ve got moments from the new music business happening while they’ve got sensationalized characters from the Berry Gordy music business. So they’re integrating everything they know about from music culture, and I get it and it’s interesting. But our show, New York City’s a character. They took what’s supposed to be a New York–based show to Chicago. And again, I think their project’s so different from Power. What you would put on Fox versus what you would put on premium cable is worlds apart.
Young people especially seem to identify with Power. Why do you think that is?
I think they understand it because they’ve been on the safari of the inner cities and that lifestyle. Even when they’re from the suburbs and living under great circumstances, they’ve been on that tour by way of music and culture. They’ve heard tales and stories based on those activities. And being a part of the other film projects I associated myself with I think brought my demographic in different ways. You’d be surprised at people who come up to me and say, “Hey, I love the show.” It’s not just those kids. I could watch the story of an Amish person when it’s done right, and it takes me on a tour of their experience.
And even though the characters don’t perform, à la Empire or Nashville, are you hoping the music of Power will get its due this season?
Originally, when I approached this, I talked with [executive producer] Mark Canton, and the idea was to create something with good music in it. The music could say things for people at some points, like Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly. It takes a person on a whole different experience. It allows them to get into the thought of the character. Empire to me is like Glee. When they drop the audience in the room and the song plays, it feels like I’m watching Broadway. When that happens, I go, “Oh shit, wait, what just happened?” It takes me out of everything with the characters. So with Courtney, I was like, “Naw, that wouldn’t work for what we’re doing, because we need you to stay in the world we created.” The music can play under it and say things we needed to say. That’s really effective.