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Witness the metamorphosis of Butterfly Ali

Actor Titus Makin discusses finding a new identity, his musical influences and his strategic plan to conquer the entertainment world

Actor Titus Makin is seeking to elevate his profile as a musician to exceed the success he’s already found on camera, appearing on hit shows Glee and Pretty Little Liars. Currently, he plays Officer Jackson West on ABC’s The Rookie.

Now the thespian is trading in his birth name for his musical alter ego, Butterfly Ali.

Butterfly Ali released the poignant ballad “Rose,” and “Righteous,” a spirited take on the folly of misplaced judgment. Like his sound, Makin’s effortless dancing is influenced by an era that ended long before he was born. The 30-year-old manifests the golden age of soul and R&B beyond a simple homage in his music. His newest single, “Listen To Me,” released on April 1, is a performance that embodies his love and respect for classic soul. The slow, extra funky jam comes complete with backing vocals reminiscent of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and barely audible conversational ad-libs that would both be at home on early Prince recordings.

The actor and musician spoke with The Undefeated about his name change, his wide-ranging performance history, musical influences and how he is coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You have achieved success on television as Titus Makin and released music under the name Butterfly Ali. What prompted you to craft the Butterfly Ali identity?

I was doing music for a while under Titus Makin and I took a break for a few years. When I finally had time to come back, I was trying to make and release the sound I was happiest with, because in the past I had done some other genres that I was doing to appease others. In the midst of that, I wrote a song called ‘Butterfly Ali.’ I felt like it described my vibe. It was taken from a Muhammad Ali quote: ‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.’

How is Butterfly Ali different from Titus Makin?

I’m a young Christian man from the South. You can hear a lot of my roots in my music now as opposed to before, I was trying to cater to radio-friendly stuff. Now it’s come as you are.

Name some of your musical inspirations.

Obviously, if you’ve heard my songs, you might be able to hear, is Marvin Gaye. The soul brother style, and his whole vibe has always been super inspirational to me.

In the ‘Rose’ video, you wear a beanie cap and look a lot like him.

I will unashamedly say my swag is 100% Marvin Gaye-inspired. Soundwise, influence for me came from a lot of modern-day artists growing up. Andre 3000 was huge for me. Pharrell. Now there’s Anderson .Paak.

You mentioned some modern artists, but with the recent news of Bill Withers’ passing, was he someone you listened to?

‘Listen To Me,’ my most recent release, was inspired by ‘Grandma’s Hands’ by Bill Withers.

In your videos for ‘Rose’ and ‘Righteous,’ there is a 1960s and ’70s aesthetic in the sets, costumes and dance.

It’s funny that you say that, because right now I’m with my parents, and I was just raised around it. The music that’s playing in the house right now is Al Green. My dad wasn’t a big fan of radio, so when I was a kid, I would say, ‘Why don’t you play some Lil Wayne?’ And he was like, ‘You ain’t bringing that mess up in my house!’ So, it was very much a household that always played oldies. I later tried to get into the more modern sounds, and it just didn’t resonate with me, and I just had to go back to what feels good and what inspires me.

Many black artists of that era made what could be described as protest songs.

My song ‘Righteous’ was inspired from those protest songs, but I wrote it more toward the people who feel like being self-righteous and pulling down others because their life doesn’t look the way that somebody thinks it should look. If I were to write another one, maybe it would be less racially charged, and more about what do we do as a world. It might be more like what Childish Gambino did with ‘This is America.’

You play a young police officer named Jackson West on The Rookie. Are there any stories or scenarios you’d like to explore as a black man in law enforcement?

Yeah, there’s one that I think would be interesting for the audience to see, and that’s what a young black officer does when he has to confront a young black male. Whether it’s his friend or somebody he grew up with. I think it would be really fascinating to see what Jackson would do in that instance.

Your character on The Rookie is also an openly gay police officer.

It’s not my personal life, but the reason I was willing to play the role is that I think it’s cool how the industry has moved forward into accepting the reality of our current state in the world. There are more LGBTQ characters, there’s more everything. They’re starting to open the door and starting to reflect what we see in the world off the screen.

Did you receive any pushback as a straight male portraying a gay character?

Oh, yes, and I’ll probably get that the rest of my career. I just turn a deaf ear to that. Those are people that are going to accuse anything you do that’s not within the bounds of what they want you to do.

How’s the coronavirus pandemic and stay-at-home orders affected you personally?

On the negative side, it’s disheartening. It’s really sad to see the community going through all of this — the deaths, the sickness, everything. It can be a bit overwhelming at times. But I think it’s forced all of us to have time to reflect, time to be with family if we’re able to, to really just kind of cleanse ourselves of the things that we fill our days with.

JK Turner is a writer, artist, and Architect based in Houston, TX. He appreciates bar spitters, ball handlers, and do-it-yourselfers, and he is excited to make your acquaintance.