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“Empire, Season 1 Soundtrack” Review: Plot Twists On Show Surpass Efforts On Album

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FOX’s television drama “Empire” has become a national hit who’s ratings and viewer audience numbers only get bigger week to week.  The show itself (if having to be explained in a nutshell) is about Terrance Howard’s character, Lucious Lyon who is for all things considered a combination between Jay-Z and Suge Knight.

Howard’s character is a supposed hip-hop legend who runs a label called “Empire.”  Taraji P. Henson plays Cookie, his ex wife who is back home after a 17-year prison stint and they are the parents of three sons of whom are all in the running as “heir to the Empire.”  Trai Byers plays the oldest brother, Andre, who is a book-smart yet bi-polar character who works for Lucious yet lacks the musical talent of his younger brothers;  the role of Hakeem is played by little-known rapper “Yazz” who is the youngest of the three – Hakeem appears to be Lucious’ favorite of the sons because of his rap talents, but Hakeem is young, brash and controlled more by women than anything else.

This leaves Jussie Smollet to play the role of Jamal, who is the least favorite of Lucious’ sons because Jamal is gay.  Lucious refuses to see that Jamal is the more talented and headstrong of the sons, although to mostly everyone else it is obvious.

The reason, the characters are important to the soundtrack is because the characters are heavily involved in the music which the show is based on and around.

Mostly the characters of Hakeem and Jamal. The soundtrack works best if following the show – although, one could only imagine that the soundtrack would only be purchased by viewers of the program anyway. . .

Timbaland is the show’s musical producer and his influence is sprinkled throughout the soundtrack.

Yazz “the Greatest” who’s real name is Bryshere Y. Gray, is set to release a solo album called “Respect” some time in the near future, but for now, he’s been able to show what he can do to a weekly television audience.

His style is more appealing to today’s musical standards for what it’s worth and it’s noticeable on the track “Drip Drop,” which is a sexually-inspired anthem with a simplistic hook.

His flow outshines his lyrics, which are typical if anything: “You hella pretty/ are you from the city? / Let me  put you in a viddy, maybe later on say ‘hello kitty.”  His song content stays the same on “Can’t Truss ‘Em” but lyrically he steps it up : “Get out my way chick, cause I already know the game / If you tryna talk to me, I’m on my college football, In other words, I’m a act like I don’t Notre Dame (know the dame). . .” The track is trumpet heavy very similar to those on C-Murder’s “Down For My N*gg@z” and Kanye West’s “Blood On The Leaves.”

For those unfamiliar with Jussie Smollett, go dust off your DVD of “The Mighty Ducks” as he played Terry Hall, who was one-third of the pee-wee hockey team’s “Oreo Line.”  Now a days, Jussie has now found fame with the role of Jamal on Empire.  He has even inked a deal with Columbia records as of last month.

Jussie has a talented and versatile vocal range, which Timbaland exploits to the tune of Justin Timberlake-lake melodies.  “Good Enough” is one of the album’s stronger records as it’s Jamal’s plea for his father’s love.

The song’s arrangement is accompanied by the trademark Timbaland beat-box and with a chorus in which Jamal’s pleading is felt: “I just want you to look at me and see that I can be worth your love / I just want you to look at me and see that I can be – Good enough.”  Jussie flexes the versatility by singing along the street influenced “Keep Your Money.”  Another horn driven track with a slow and steady bass line.

The two artists collaborate often but it doesn’t always translate well.

For some reason, someone somewhere thought it was a good idea to remix the Dire Straits 1985 song “Money For Nothing.”  The song comes off nothing short of corny as the guitar work and lyrics are terribly outdated and no amount of “cool” can save it.

“You Are So Beautiful” is a confusing song because it’s supposed to be one of the bigger hits in the career of Lucious Lyon, who is mostly noted for being a “gritty, street rapper” — the song is mostly an uptempo love ballad.

On the show, the two sons remix it and it sounds just as bad as when their father did it.  The one time Jussie and Yazz truly nail a collaboration is on “No Apologies” which has a defiant feel from the opening piano to the big chorus sung by Jussie: “I do what I want and say what I want with no apologies / excuse me if I’m blunt, I say what I want with no apologies.”  Yazz comes off with a rapid fire third verse which works : “They can’t be mad at me, look at my family / I guess it’s all in my blood line / If you keep ridin me for my apology, you’ll be waiting for a long time.”

“What is Love” is performed by V. Bozeman who is one of Timbaland’s newest additions and the girl has some pipes.  Her character has seemingly jumped shipped to a rival label currently, but her one song “What is Love” is one of the stronger songs on the soundtrack.  It’s enough to make people want to see more of her on the show, or even better – put out her own album (Timbaland has already said she is on his next project “Opera Noir” and her album “Music is My Boyfriend” is in the works. . .”)

Jennifer Hudson was given two songs on the album, “Whatever Makes You Happy” with rapper Juicy J, just seems out of place on this collection while her song “Remember the Music” is a sappy ballad which is sung to the bi-polar brother Andre, in attempts to help his health.

The Mary J. Blige and Terrance Howard duet of “Shake Down” is once again confusing, because we still haven’t seen Terrance Howard rap yet. . .  His singing is nothing special and although Mary J is beyond special – her talents are just wasted on this boring track.

Surprisingly, the Courtney Love song “Walk Out On Me” is nice rock-blues break from the R&B heavy release and even more surprising is that it actually isn’t a bad song.  Remember, we’re talking about Courtney Love here.

The Courtney Love, who is actually perfectly cast as a drug addicted, has-been rocker named Elle Dallas. Serayah McNeill plays the role  of Tiana, who you can say is molded after Rihanna (equipped with a big forehead and everything).  Her song “Keep It Moving” is actually a catchy dance track with Yazz.  Her range is nothing spectacular but the song’s arrangement keeps it fresh for the whole three minute listen.

Jussie Smollett is the obvious star of the soundtrack while Yazz shows limited abilities lyrically.  The guest appearances seem forced, especially songs like “NY Raining” which finds Charles Hamilton and Rita Ford in what can only be described as an explainable pursuit of below averageness.

The plot twists on the show far surpass the efforts of the soundtrack although, die-hard fans won’t care – they’ll pretty much listen to the tracks they liked most from the show anyways.

Rating: 6 out 10

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio


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