Warning: Raising Kanan season finale spoilers ahead.
Unique isn’t dead. What a relief.
Joey Badass is back on Power Book III: Raising Kanan by popular demand. Fans believed that his character Unique's brother Ronnie (Grantham Coleman) beat him to death in Season 3, Episode 5, aptly titled “Brothers and Keepers.” For weeks since then, Raising Kanan fans have been protesting, demanding that the beloved character make a return—including the actor’s father, who staged his own protest by getting rid of Starz.
“He's a big fan of the show. He called me after he's seen Episode 6 and he's like, 'It's been two weeks and they still ain’t find the body? I'm canceling my subscription,’” Joey tells Complex. “And I thought he was playing and so he called me the next week after watching Episode 7. He's like, ‘Yeah, I just canceled my subscription.’”
His dad isn't alone. Other fans threatened to stop watching the show altogether if Unique really did die. Joey's character has dug his way into people’s hearts since Season 1. He started off as Raquel Thomas' (Patina Miller) biggest rival in the drug game in Jamaica, Queens, but after facing plenty of turmoil together, their relationship eventually turned romantic. Joey was forced to take a hiatus from the show after his tour created a scheduling conflict with the show's production schedule. He and the show's creator, Sascha Penn, talked it out and decided that Unique would return to the show, and the character makes a surprising reappearance at the end of the Season 3 finale.
"It definitely was an eye-opener for me. I mean, I always knew that Unique was somewhat of a fan favorite, but I think that became very evident and clear with the event of his hypothetical death," he says about people's reactions to his departure. "I received a lot of flowers and praise for what I've done with this character. So that was cool to see knowing that I was coming back the whole time."
The show is executive produced and narrated by Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, who also produced the rest of the shows inside the Power Universe. Raising Kanan is the third show in the TV franchise, and it is a prequel to the original. It follows Kanan's upbringing, who was one of the villians in Power and originally played by 50 Cent. The rapper-turned-TV-exec has been worldbuilding with an array of characters and stories, while adding some big names and stars to the shows, which keeps fans dedicated and coming back for more.
The shows have served as starting points for musicians to take a stab at acting. But this isn't Joey is not one of them. This isn't his first acting role; and being an actor was always part of his big plan, and he says he used music as the vehicle to catapult his acting career.
Complex caught up with Joey Badass ahead of the Season 3 finale, and he talked about his character's big return, his powerful chemistry with Patina Miller, and what fans can expect from Unique in Season 4.
Let's start from the beginning, when you first got the script saying that your character's brother, Ronnie, was going to take Unique out. How did you feel when you were reading that?
Yeah, I wasn't exactly pleased, but I mean, it was what it was. It makes for a great story. So I just had to roll with the punches, literally.
There was one tweet that I saw that said, “Every week, I'm disheartened and dismayed to see that we're still stuck with Ronnie over Unique.” How did it feel to have people react so strongly to your character being killed off?
[Laughs.] It felt great. It definitely was an eye-opener for me. I always knew that Unique was somewhat of a fan favorite, but I think that became very evident and clear with the event of his hypothetical death. I received a lot of flowers and praise for what I've done with this character. So that was cool to see knowing that I was coming back the whole time.
I saw some people saying, like, “I'm not watching the show anymore,” and some people said this felt like when Ghost got killed.
Absolutely. I mean, my own dad, he's a big fan of the show. He called me after he's seen Episode 6 and he's like, “It's been two weeks and they still ain’t find the body? I'm canceling my subscription.” And I thought he was playing, and so he called me the next week after watching Episode 7. He's like, “Yeah, I just canceled my subscription,” and I’m like, “Dad!” And I kind of just had to let it rock. But then I called him a couple of hours later like, “Hey, man, I don't think you should cancel your subscription,” and he's like, “Are you trying to tell me something?” I'm like, “No, I'm just saying it's a great show. You should continue watching it. You never know what’s going to happen.” [Laughs.]
I knew that [Unique coming back] was going to happen, and I still got out of my chair and I gasped, so I can't wait for your dad's reaction.
That’s dope. That's good to know because I know there are a lot of people who are speculating that Unique wasn't actually dead because they never found the body—which by the way, I'm gonna give all those people their credit because they're very smart.
There's a scene where Unique actually says himself in Season 2, when he's talking to Marvin, and he specifically says, “If the body doesn't show up, he ain't dead.” I think it was very interesting because none of the writers knew at that point I was gonna die the next season. But I thought it was just so interesting and ironic that it was my character who delivered those words and the same thing ended up being true for me.
It was like foreshadowing, for sure. Did you know that you were coming back all along, or was this also a surprise for you?
I didn't initially know I was coming back. Initially, my character was dead. But I spoke to Sascha, who is the genius who created the whole show. And we had a couple of conversations, and we were able to come to an agreement of like, “Let's bring this character back.”
It was unfortunate that my schedule had kind of conflicted with the shooting schedule. But it was definitely a blessing to be able to connect with Sascha and for him, for us, to be aligned and want to make this character reappear and reemerge, for sure.
You really faked us out when you shared that post on Instagram that said, “Unique forever.” That was when I was like, "Oh, maybe he's gone for good." What do you think they'll write in your comments now?
I think it's gonna be a whole bunch of, “I knew you wasn't dead!” “Why did you fake us out?” “I'm glad you're not dead,” boom, boom. I think the general sentiment is gonna be that people are gonna be happy. You know, that they get to see me play Unique for at least another season.
I hope it's longer than that.
I know. I'm just saying that "at least" because, you know, who knows what can happen?
One of my favorite aspects of the show is Unique’s relationship with Raq. Even when they were rivals, Nique always had respect for her, and some sort of admiration and love for her. How has it been to work on that relationship with Patina Miller and that progression between them on the show?
Oh, it's been wonderful. Patina is such an incredible talent. She's really one of those people [who] when you share a scene with her, it automatically brings out the best in everyone because she's just so great. Her greatness is contagious. It's like she's performing at such a high level, you almost have no choice but to meet her there. Or else it's gonna just be unparalleled. It's gonna be just undeserving for her to not have some type of mutual energy because she's just so incredible. We have great chemistry, a great friendship. So it's always been great work with Patina for sure.
In the finale, Kanan shoots Ronnie, who is Nique’s brother. Do you think that's going to cause some tension between him and Raq? How do you feel about that?
Well, I think, you know, in that last scene, I think he definitely feels a way that he was not the one to put the bullet in Ronnie's head, but I think he's also been gone for so long that he might have just conjured up his own story of what really happened.
You know what I mean? I mean, understanding that Kanan and Ronnie were working together, I could only imagine it gave Unique the impression that maybe he was set up, maybe they all conspired against him. So I think his sentiment is: Revenge on everybody.
And I know that you are in production now for Season 4. Can you tell us a little bit about what fans can look forward to in Season 4?
Well, fans, I'm sorry, what they could look forward to is, you know, you gotta understand this character Unique—he was beat nearly to death, and his head was bashed in with a metal object. Bone fragments were found on the weapon. So fans got to understand that the Unique that they did know is dead and this is a totally new version of this character. I think it's gonna be interesting to see how people react to how Unique is now because this is the '90s, but you could imagine that he has some version of CTE. And he's just not the same anymore. He's not the same in his head, in his mind. He's different.
When you signed on to do Raising Kanan, did you know that Unique was going to have such an impact, or do you think that part of the reason why people gravitate to him so much is because of the way that you portray him?
Absolutely. I mean, it's funny because I was saying it the other day—if you go on the Internet, there's a whole bunch of parody videos, very funny content that people make remaking scenes of Kanan and Power.
And I have yet to see anybody do a true Unique impersonation. And I feel like what that tells me is that the character is so genuinely played, it's so authentically played, that is just like, in many ways, the character was made for me. I don't think—not to toot my own horn. [Laughs.]
No, do it!
I don't think that anybody could have played this character. There was nobody else for the job but me, you know what I'm saying? [Laughs.] I don't mean to be, you know, whatever. [Laughs.]
You have been acting for some time with Mr. Robot, and you were in the Oscar-winning Two Distant Strangers, which was wonderful. What has this facet of your career been like? You were doing music for so long, and now you are in your acting era. How has it been different than your music career so far?
Well, it’s interesting. I just feel like all creatives eventually on this journey of life, being a creative or being an artist, eventually there are other avenues that appeal to you, and you just channel this creative energy into those other avenues.
For me, TV and film has shown me promise and has opened its doors for me, and that's always an avenue that I had interest in even since I was in high school. So it's really dope to see. When I was in high school, I had enough foresight to know that trying to make it as an actor in New York was damn near impossible. It's like being a needle in a haystack, and music was always my first love.
So the foresight that I had, like, “Yo, I'm gonna focus on music, and I'm gonna get myself to a point where I'll be able to leverage my music career into acting that way.” Because in my mind, it was the only way I could really get into this world, to like really have a presence without having to do all of the groundwork.
I went to high school for theater for like two years or whatever. But what I learned right away was that all of my peers—it was a culture shock for me—they've been in theater classes since they were babies. So for me, it was like, damn, to do all that groundwork and catch up so late, it was going to take me much longer. And music was right there. It was kind of the opportunity at that point in my life that was showing me promise and that was showing me results.
So I doubled down on that, and I was just like, “Yo, later on, I’ll leverage this into acting,” and it worked just like that. But I say that to say, as like simple of a thought that was for me as a kid, I realize now that I'm older that was somewhat of an anomaly, to have that kind of foresight and for it to just play in my favor like that.
That's a genius plan.
To say the least, I'm just very grateful that this plan or this vision that I had was executed perfectly.
Power is turning 10 this year. How do you feel about 50 Cent’s contribution to television and what he has been able to do alongside Starz in the past 10 years?
I think it's been incredible. You know, he has the No. 1 show in Black and Latino homes for years now. And I think what he's been able to create is very inspiring, especially for people like me. You know, recently I started my own production company because, in the future, I'd like to produce films of my own and to bring productions and projects to life as well. And I gotta say, somebody like 50 Cent definitely paved that way for me. So I'm grateful to be a part of his creation and to have that proximity to him to be able to even receive some of these jewels and wisdom that he's gained from his experience. So, hopefully, I could take it even further, for sure.
All episodes of Power Book III: Raising Kanan are now available on Starz.