The successful Power TV show franchise is back on with Power Book III: Raising Kanan, a prequel storyline that Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson teases will be better than the original series (premiering on Sunday, July 18 on Starz).
“I think by the time we get to episode seven or eight, it’s where you’re really going to start to feel like, ‘wait this is better than the first one,’” 50 Cent told Yahoo Canada.
Set in 1991 in South Jamaica, Queens, New York, Power Book III: Raising Kanan is largely centered around 15-year-old Kanan Stark.
“You already know how my s—t ended and now you know how it started. But the real story is what happened in between, this is that story,” 50 Cent says in a voiceover in the first episode.
Kanan is the son of Raquel “Raq” Thomas, played by Patina Miller, who is a cocaine distributor with a growing network of dealers in the city. As Kanan lives through his teen years, we see him having more questions about his family’s lifestyle and seemingly losing some of his innocence.
“I think the things you go through make you who you are,” 50 Cent said. “In this series I think at some point we have to show how they got to that point, because we started out with them at the top.”
It’s that rise to the top that 50 Cent believes is an important piece to the story, fighting for control of the different territories and hustling on a lower tier.
“Power was probably the best dressed television show,...like period,” he said. “Everybody has designer clothes and stuff, they’re living real good, so it's just showing stages that they actually go through.”
As the Power franchise expands, 50 Cent indicated that no matter what comes under that banner, it’s critical to get to the Tommy (Joseph Sikora) story, even though we won't be seeing a teen version of the character in Power Book III: Raising Kanan.
“He is Power,” 50 Cent says. “The only person who consistently, in Power, didn't want to do what they did on their journey was Tommy.”
“The funny shit is he kind of looks like Eminem.”
Older Kanan was played by the award-winner rapper turned entrepreneur, actor, producer himself, who 50 Cent believes is one of the most misunderstood characters in the franchise.
“Extreme passion or whenever you’re extremely focused, you’re ruthless,” he said.
Mekai Curtis expertly takes on the role of teen Kanan and was not only a fan of Power before going into this project but a fan of 50 Cent’s music as well, naming songs like “In Da Club,” “P.I.M.P.,” "Animal Ambition" and “Part of the Game,” with a music video that features scenes from Power Book III: Raising Kanan.
When asked about Curtis' favourites and some of the tracks that stand out, 50 Cent recognizes that the song "Many Men" still resonates with a lot of people, but revealed it almost didn't make the famed "Get Rich or Die Tryin'" album.
"That was the slowest record on 'Get Rich or Die Tryin,'" 50 Cent said. "It almost didn't make it... Tony Yayo is why that record ended up on 'Get Rich or Die Tryin.'"
"It was one of the last things I put on to the record because of the tempo and now it's what they're all doing."
'I've got these talented people around me'
Curtis explained that he has spoken to 50 Cent a few times, he even almost stopped production one day to take Curtis on a drive.
“He was just giving me the game and telling me what his plan was, what he was thinking and how excited he was for the show,” Curtis said.
“There'd be a scene that may slightly resemble something he went through when he was younger and he’d sit there and run through it with me, just to give me that extra sort of peace of mind.”
While Power Book III: Raising Kanan may seemingly be centred on the Kanan origin story, it’s Miller’s performance as Raq, Kanan’s mother, that steals the show.
This is also another Tony Award-winning friend of executive producer 50 Cent, of course second to the legendary friendship between him and Bette Midler.
"I've got these talented people around me, [going to be] winning all kinds of trophies and stuff, and then they've got to treatment me different..., can't treat me like rapper when I walk through the door," 50 Cent said.
'There are a lot of boss-ass women in this world'
In term of Power Book III: Raising Kanan, Miller takes this character to exceptional heights, showcasing her range in performance but also truly depicting the complexity of human emotion. Ultimately, she successfully encompasses the message that people are strong, determined, but also have emotions and more fragility, in the most honest way.
“I love the idea of being able to play characters who are fighting for something...she has so many stakes,” Miller told Yahoo Canada. “To be a Black woman, to be able to do a role like this and in this way, was fascinating… She's vulnerable, she's loving, she's a dreamer, she wants more for herself.”
“She's dealing with a lot of things at this point. I mean, she is raising a 15 year-old son, at this point, who she's been able to keep out of her business… He's 15, he is still naive but he's not stupid and he is starting to ask questions.”
“There are a lot of boss-ass women in this world who happen to be mothers as well and that's not something that should be shunned,” Miller said.
“Not every woman wears their heart on their sleeve and I love that within this series we are turning it on its head and you are going to see her be strong, because she is strong, to go through what she goes through you have to be strong, but you get to see her fight for something, you get to see her love.”
Curtis describes the relationship between Kanan and Raq as “rocky” and “complicated” but with a lot of love.
“I think the biggest theme of the show is a son's love for his mother, a mother's love for her son, family, sacrifices, what are they willing to do for each other,” Curtis explained. “And the answer is anything, everything, which we'll see.”
“He's her world, she's his world. They want to protect each other and in Kanan's 15-year-old mind he thinks that means getting into the game. I've got to sell the drugs, I have to be on the corner, I have to be here with my mother to protect her, which on one hand does make sense, but Raq’s...argument is 'you can help you just don't have to be here to do that.'”
“I don’t know what it is about a male child, the mom is everything,” 50 Cent explained. “Yeah I'm sure my dad was there when it happened but my mother is the whole thing for me.”
“There’s something really interesting about that, especially...when there’s not a male present.”
'House' star Omar Epps on playing a 'selfish' detective
While we don’t see much of iconic TV legend Omar Epps in the first episode, who plays Detective Malcolm Howard, we can already get the sense that he kind of has it out for Raq. Epps promises that Power Book III: Raising Kanan will speak to the “layers” and “textures” of that relationship.
“Detective Howard is a dark dude, just to be straight up about it,” Epps told Yahoo Canada. “He's a dude who's from the hood so he's got a foothold there, he's also NYPD law enforcement and he's got a foothold there."
“But the thing is, he's learning how to manipulate both worlds to his own advantage… Super selfish and self-serving.”
Entering this already existing world if Power, just at a different point in time for the story, Epps explained that the parameters change for him as an actor but given that this is an origin story the precedes the other iterations, Epps said he got to really “play in the sandbox” and build this world, which was attractive from a creative standpoint. This is in addition to the expert direction from executive producer Courtney A. Kemp.
“Courtney Kemp was dope,” Epps said. “She's super specific, which I enjoy because I'm a little bit OCD.”
While Curtis had some insights from 50 Cent to play Kanan, the young actor also watched co-star Epps, in particular, to learn about how he worked on set.
“Just watching how he moves in between takes or how he'll adjust notes and stuff,” Curtis explained.
“I've learned and picked up a lot of stuff from everybody… Little pieces of game they'll give you every now and again.”
For Epps, he thinks an origin story for Kanan was a great idea because we just saw him as a "monstrous" adults character, which raises questions about who thinks that way and how someone gets to that point.
"This idea of we come from where we come from, but we aspire to be something different," Epps said.
"And how life sort of throws problems at us and obstacles at us... How do you navigate it and what will you sacrifice?"