The Wrap: Fox’s ‘Empire’ Strikes

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“Girls walking around with their scalps smelling like goat ass”. Those were Cookie’s thoughts on weaves. That was one of the many badass one liners dropped by Cookie, the ex-con and mother of three, played by the Oscar nominated actress Taraji Henson, in Fox’s new hit Empire.

If Shakespeare’s King Lear, The Hip Hopera Carmen and the 80’s classic Dynasty had a naughty threesome— Lee Daniel’s Empire would be the product of that tryst. The ratings hit brings drama, beats a la Executive Music Producer Timbaland and issues facing the Hip Hop community namely, homophobia.

Taraji Henson and Terrence Howard maybe the Oscar nominated anchors of this freshman series, but the shows lesser-known actors are bringing just as much heat.

Empire is built around Lucious (Terrence Howard) and the multi-billion dollar Hip Hop record label that he’s built; which in the opening episode is going public on the NYSE. This newfound business venture would be all bottle-popping fun if it wasn’t for his terminal medical diagnosis of ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease; which now has him turning to one of his three sons to assume his crown.

Lucious has three very different sons with a clear favorite, but no one that he believes are ready to assume his throne. Eldest son Andre, played by Trai Byers, seems like the smartest choice given his business acumen and the fact that he’s the only one who wants the job. Yet, Lucious isn’t so sure about Andre given that he isn’t a “name” or musically inclined—and there is clearly an emotional health issue there. After Andre and his wife concoct a plan to bring his younger siblings at odds with one another, his wife tells him to take his meds. HMMMMM, I think I smell some mystery.

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Youngest son Hakeem, (played by Bryshere Gray), is the apple of his father’s eye. Hakeem is the spoiled prince of Empire. He is an up and coming rapper who Lucious is throwing his entire weight behind, but lacks focus and drive. Hakeem is more interested in living the Hip Hop lifestyle than running it.

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Then there is the middle child Jamal (played by Jussie Smollet). Jamal is a clear disappointment to his father because of what Lucious perceives as his “choice in lifestyle”. Jamal is gay and living with his boyfriend, which disgusts Lucious. So, while he displays both smarts and clear musical talent his father will not have a “sissy” run his empire, but Cookie has other thoughts.

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Taraji Henson’s character Cookie is the lifeblood of this show. From the moment she did a Naomi Campbell stomp out of prison you knew you were in for a ride. Her first stop out of prison was to Jamal. He seems to be the only one that visited her throughout her 17-year prison stay and her clear favorite. She knew he was gay when he was child and through the show’s flashbacks, spent most of her time before prison, protecting Jamal from his homophobic and abusive father. If throwing your son in the trash for playing dress up isn’t abuse, then I don’t know what is.

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Nonetheless, Cookie makes her presence known by beating her youngest with a broom—which his smart ass deserved and storming into Lucious’s board meeting. What we know about Cookie is she means business and I’m here for all of it.

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Empire is one of the best series premieres I’ve watched in a while, and I am ready for all of its beats, rhymes and life-giving drama!

Listen Empire’s song ‘Good Enough’ by Jussie Smollet