Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 20 September 2020

What to expect from 'Power Book II: Ghost' – 'It's still gritty' says Michael Rainey Jr

Rapper and producer 50 Cent, as well as the show's stars, talk about the anticipated new series

Michael Rainey Jr stars in 'Power Book II: Ghost'. Courtesy Starzplay
Michael Rainey Jr stars in 'Power Book II: Ghost'. Courtesy Starzplay

Barely six months after its shocking conclusion, Power is returning to the small screen.

Streaming weekly on StarzPlay, the spin-off of the series, Power Book II: Ghost picks up with crime baron and nightclub owner Ghost's son, high-school student Tariq (Michael Rainey Jr) aiming to follow in his father’s gritty footsteps.

Rapper turned executive producer 50 Cent, real name Curtis Jackson, says fans should expect the same shady business dealings, family drama and pulsating soundtrack that defined the original Power. It’s no coincidence, he says, that the programme has been described as a hip-hop version of the 1980s hit soap opera, Dallas.

Ever a student of the game, 50 Cent studied some of the marketing campaigns behind that landmark series and applied what he learnt to Power. “When we chose the finale, the marketing towards the end is: 'Who shot Ghost?' right? And it's very similar to [Dallas character slogan] 'Who shot JR?'

"But it resonates differently because in the inner cities, where there are a lot of tastemakers, they have also been subjected to [similar] situations,” he tells The National.

“So, while it does seem like you're copying or you're using the marketing from something that already happened before, in Hollywood projects that is a consistent thing. That is kind of cool actually in that you are able to build a whole new excitement because your audience is different.”

And that audience is growing. Having premiered in 2014, Power went on to become one of StarzPlay’s most popular offerings, with figures rising from an average of 4.7 million viewers to 10m viewers over six seasons.

Growing up on screen

Power established 50 Cent as a major new force in the US television industry (he went on to launch two other crime dramas, The Oath and For Life), and developed the acting prowess of Rainey Jr, who over the years transformed Tariq from a shy and lanky 13-year-old to a street smart and malevolent character, similar to his father.

Although on screen Tariq, 19, exhibits some of the arrogance of youth, on set, Rainey Jr is the model student. “What made it easier was the great talents on the show,” he tells The National. “It allowed me to really just sit back and absorb the things I see them do, and see how that could help me. It was about paying attention to the older people that work with me.”

While Tariq’s character arc reached a climax with a bang at the end of Power, Rainey Jr says in the new series he dials down the tension to give a more nuanced performance.

Power Book II: Ghost finds Tariq trying to figure out the intricacies of running the mini crime empire formerly run by his father. At the same time, we also find him enjoying the freedom that comes with high school.

The energy of the show is much more youthful. You finally get a chance to see Tariq just being a kid and not in ‘Tariq mode’, where he is just grinding and doing something for his mother, grandmother and sister. You can see him be a normal kid for once. This makes the show more fun,” he says.

“But at the same time, it is still Power. It is still gritty and has all the action. It just has a different vibe to it.”

Redefining blackness

This grittiness is also underscored in the changing fortunes of Tariq’s mother, Tasha, played by the indomitable former singer Naturi Naughton. While Power’s debut episode introduced Tasha as she strolled into a club like she owned the place, which she did, the new series begins with her in jail and awaiting trial.

With the flashy clothes and palatial home replaced by a prison uniform and cell, Naughton tells The National she had to dig deep for her performance.

“It's a huge difference because Tasha has fallen from grace, she really does have to sit with herself and ask how she got there,” she says. “Most of the time with the episodes you're going to see her reflecting on what she did wrong and how things could have turned out differently.”

Naturi Naughton plays Tasha, who is on trial in Power Book II: Ghost. Courtesy: Starz Play
Naturi Naughton plays Tasha, who is on trial in 'Power Book II: Ghost'. Courtesy StarzPlay

Naughton describes Tasha as “an honour” to play because of a depth often not afforded to black characters in mainstream television. “What this series does is continues Power’s legacy and that thought process of how blackness is defined,” she says. “For me, to be a black woman and to be seen as a fully multifaceted and multi-dimensional character is a blessing because, oftentimes in Hollywood, you only see a version of a black woman that is kind of cookie cutter."

Rainey Jr adds: “Power is definitely a game changer. Especially me being in New York, some of the things that go on in the show are accurate,” he says. “The new series continues to make things relatable because there are lot of people out there who are doing and experiencing the same things the characters are doing.”

No longer 'In Da Club'

Rapper 50 Cent is the executive producer of Power Book II: Ghost. Courtesy: Starz Play
Rapper 50 Cent is executive producer of 'Power Book II: Ghost'. Courtesy: StarzPlay

50 Cent believes the power of his loyal fans has also helped the show. He says it is for those who grew up with his music in the clubs 17 years ago.

“My core audience were in college in their heyday in 2003, when they used to party at every possible moment. And at that point, I had the largest debut album [Get Rich or Die Tryin'] in hip-hop. So they couldn't party without me. There was no way you could escape me.

“But by now, they're already successful in the field that they were studying to be in and are committed in life ... That audience is not partying at every available moment any more, but I know that they will tune in.”

'Power Book II: Ghost' streams weekly from Monday, September 7, on StarzPlay. More information is atarabia.starzplay.com

Updated: September 7, 2020 12:03 PM

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