‘Empire’ exposes lavish, cruel nature of hip-hop industry


Photo via imdb.com

Fox has a new show on the horizon. It is raunchy, filled with turmoil and boasts a cast of successful black actors and actresses. “Empire” has already been picked up for a second season, so it is safe to say that this show’s ability to capture audiences around the country is legitimate.

Director Lee Daniels, who also directed the box-office hit “The Butler,” took Hollywood by storm with his Wednesday night thriller. Along with him are the likes of Terrence Howard, who plays Lucious Lyon, an iconic rap star from the 1980’s and Taraji P. Henson, who plays Cookie Lyon, the ex-wife of Lucious. Using Howard and Henson together to create a galactic storyline was an extremely smart move. They worked together in 2005’s “Hustle & Flow,” so the connection between these two is tangible and simply remarkable.

“Empire” involves sacrifice, questions about sexual orientation, insecurities and dishonesty among family members. The rat race to gain sole possession of Lucious Lyon’s company, Empire, is the main goal for each member of the family. Each individual asserts themselves  to gain control of Empire, giving the show an edge with a trickle-down effect on other characters. These characters include Lucious’s sons: Jamal, who identifies as gay, Hakeem, who carries on the legacy of his father and Andre, a self-centered businessman. Cookie, who spent time in prison because of Lucious, is also in the running for the company and returns to take what was stolen from her many years ago.

The plethora of storylines present makes for great back-and- forth action, and the hour long show feels as though I am watching an extended movie every week. Then again, binge-watching five episodes in one night can certainly make you feel that way. Another cool aspect of “Empire” is the use of current artists trying to make a name for themselves. Bryshere Gray (Hakeem Lyon), who goes by Yazz the Rapper in real life, is able to promote himself through the show as an actor and up-and-coming rapper. Similarly, Veronika Bozeman (Veronica), appears in several episodes and is able to showcase her beautiful and eloquent voice in a memorable way in the first episode.

Gabourey Sidibe (Becky), who played the main character in “Precious,” Cuba Gooding Jr. (Puma), Malik Yoba (Vernon Turner) and a bevy of other well-known actors grace the set with star-power, but they also give the main actors some support and provide comic relief. That said, some of the humor within the show seems a little jaded, with Ray Rice and Trayvon Martin references popping up every now and then. Other pop culture references and real-time uses of social media is something else that does not have to be perpetuated throughout the show. “Empire” has a strong storyline and drama to stay away from corny, and far too- soon jokes that may not sit well with some viewers.

With over 11 million viewers a night tuning into the last two episodes of Empire, one might ask what makes this show so popular and more watched than “American Idol,” a staple on Fox. As someone who does not watch much television other than sporting events, HGTV and the Food Network, “Empire” gives me insight into the complexity of issues the Lyon family faces and shows the harsh nature of the hip-hop industry.

With that said, the social hierarchy and a race to the top is an accurate representation of how business, especially music, works. Pulling strings and going against the grain is key for anyone who wants to become a successful member of the music industry or performing artist. When building a legacy, family members are usually the first people to provide support to achieve a certain status, but counting on family members for emotional and financial support is definitely the last option to consider in Fox’s “Empire.”