The popular actor and musician discusses how he went from majoring in marketing to landing roles on some of the highest-rated shows on television.

Homeland. Lucifer. And now, Empire. Those are the hit television shows that Kade Wise ’11 has starred in—and he has only just begun.

In his Empire role, his biggest to date, Wise stars as “Preacher Azal,” a politically conscious, Muslim rapper who works as a tattoo artist. He’s approached by Jussie Smollett’s character, Jamal Lyon, to become a member of an anonymous collective of musicians, free of the economic and political constraints of the music industry. Azal is, at first, apprehensive, but Jamal eventually wins him over. This gives Wise the chance to show off his real-life musical acumen.

“I love working on the show. Most of my scenes are with Jussie. He’s such a great dude.”

Wise revealed that he had initially auditioned for a different role, but the showrunners were so impressed by Wise’s performance that they offered him the role of Azal, which seems tailor-made for him.

“I feel like I’m playing a parallel-universe version of myself,” Wise says of his role as Azal. “I’m honoring that character’s mission.”

The top-rated series just concluded its fourth season and has been renewed for a fifth, which premieres on Sept. 26.

Born in Algiers, Algeria, Wise came to the United States with his family when he was five years old. He grew up in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn and is the first person in his family to graduate from college. Before enrolling in Brooklyn College, he wondered why he needed a degree. “I’m an artist. Why do I need college?” was his way of thinking.

“I started rapping when I was 11 years old. I didn’t know anyone in the business. Here I am, an Algerian immigrant, no one holding my hand or telling me what to do. But something inside me said, ‘Market yourself!'”

At age 12, he cold-called several record companies and left voicemail messages for staff members in which he demonstrated his eagerness to work for them, and his skill, by rapping. That scored him an interview at Roc-A-Fella Records, the label once owned by Grammy Award-winning rapper Jay-Z and his partner, rap mogul Damon Dash;  he got to meet them both. While nothing came of this initial meeting, he scored an internship at the company two years later as a member of the “street team,” performing such tasks as putting together promotional packages and running errands. He was eventually promoted to interning in the A&R department before finally moving on.

In addition to acting and rapping, Wise is also an artist, poet, and singer—all talents he discovered during childhood. He also has directing, producing, and editing credits under his belt. But before making a full leap into his artistic ventures, Wise’s practical side took hold, and he realized that in the slim chance that his dreams did not materialize, he needed a backup plan. He decided to attend Brooklyn College because of its standing as a top institution of higher learning and its proximity to his home and family in the borough.

“And I felt proud about attending a college with the word ‘Brooklyn’ in it,” he says.

A Dean’s List honoree, Wise studied abroad in Spain to learn Spanish, which he said was a mind-broadening experience that sparked his desire to travel the world. His next destination was a little closer to home.

“I went to Los Angeles for the first time, and that’s when I knew I would pursue acting professionally.”

Encouraging Wise to make the venture was Michael Sarrao ’02, career education and training specialist in the Magner Career Center. Sarrao met him during a class visit he made to an entrepreneurial course Wise was taking at the time.

“I discovered that he was an aspiring rapper, songwriter, and actor,” says Sarrao. “He already had the energy, determination, and optimism necessary for success in the entertainment industry.” So much so, that Sarrao offered Wise a starring role in a short film he was working on to promote a Kickstarter campaign for his graphic novel, Unmasked. “When I was casting for the roles, I immediately thought of Kade and wrote a character specifically for him.  I wanted to help him gain more acting credentials on his resume. He did a great job, and I truly believe the webisode helped us surpass our Kickstarter goal as we raised more than $14,000.”

Knowing that the multitalented Wise was determined to pursue his dream, Sarrao used the college’s connections to help him prepare for it. Sarrao says, “The last thing I would’ve wanted was for him to look back years later and regret not exploring that creative side, and wondering ‘what if?'”

Through the Magner Center, Wise received help with his resume, attended workshops, and was paired with several alumni through the center’s mentoring program. Sarrao put him in touch with one alumni—in particular, Sue Nadell ’83, a film and television producer who received her bachelor of arts degree in television and radio from the college—who resided in the Los Angeles area or who worked in the entertainment industry, helping Wise to build a network of support before making the leap.

Wise received a bachelor of business administration with a concentration in marketing from what is now the college’s Murray Koppelman School of Business and worked in the corporate sector for about nine months before he realized that he could not take half measures toward his acting career. He left his job and moved to Los Angeles to focus on acting full time.

His first big break came when he was offered a role on the Emmy Award- and Golden Globe Award-winning Showtime series, Homeland.

“It was such a great experience. Homeland is a gritty show and gives you the opportunity to showcase a darker acting style.”

He says that sometimes he wishes he had pursued a degree in the arts, particularly given the reputation of Brooklyn College’s Conservatory of Music, Department of Art, and Department of Theater, noting: “I think it took me this long to breakthrough because of the unconventional route I chose to take.  But I’m okay with all of that because had I chosen differently, I wouldn’t be the person I am now, in the space I’m in now, as well-rounded as I am now.”

One of the many benefits of his education at the college was that it afforded him the opportunity to participate in the Liebowitz Entrepreneur Program founded by Brooklyn College alumnus and Adjunct Professor Ted Liebowitz ’79. The program trains students how to start and run their own businesses. In 2014, Wise returned to the college to participate in the Magner Center’s Entrepreneur in the Arts event, where he discussed living in Los Angeles and pursuing his acting career.  His visit afforded him the opportunity to mentor students in the same way he was mentored, giving them advice about what he learned and how they could persevere in the industry.

“I’m a businessperson at heart,” Wise says. “And the skills I learned in my major continue to serve me in my current industry because many of the behind-the-scenes situations require a business mind.”

To hone his acting talent, Wise did eventually study with the Barrow Group, a popular off-Broadway theater company in New York City, as well as Playhouse West and Scott Sedita Acting Studios in Los Angeles—the latter of which he said was particularly transformative.

“Sedita offered a film/television technique master class that really helped me get to where I needed to get to in terms of being conscious and getting rid of habits and quirks that I didn’t even know I had.”

He also appeared on FOX’s Lucifer, which he said was the first time he had ever traveled internationally to work on an acting project. Lucifer was also the first time he had been exposed to and started to become accustomed to the access, attention, and perks associated with the industry. But then, Wise says, he received a wake-up call.

“I didn’t work for a year after that. Talk about the universe saying, ‘Have a seat, young man. Be humble!'”

Heeding the universe’s advice and taking the time to look inward to develop his spirituality, and outward to perfect his skill, he was rewarded with his greatest professional job so far: the recurring role on Empire.

And this is not where Wise’s aspirations end. His goal is to be the kind of actor whose art and achievements are recognized globally. He would also like to focus more fully on his musical talents.

“There are so many things I want to do with my life,” he says. “Perhaps one day I’ll work in the nonprofit/philanthropy sector, or maybe in politics. I’m an idealist, but I realize that idealism works gradually and with a great deal of effort. Little by little, I’d like to be the change I’d like to see in the world.”

Next up for Wise: He will be appearing alongside Ryan Phillipe and Omar Epps in the third season of the USA Network television series, Shooter.

To learn more about Kade Wise and keep up to date on his projects, visit his Facebook, IMDb, and Twitter pages.