Release Date: Mar 10, 2015
Record label: Columbia
Genre(s): Rap, R&B, Contemporary R&B, Soundtracks, Stage & Screen, Pop-Rap, TV Soundtracks
Fox’s "Empire" is many things, all of them absurd. It’s a hip-hop musical (they don’t do well) about a family dynasty (rap has very few) led by a tenacious singing mogul (hmm) and the drug smuggling, songwriting wife who took a fall so that her husband and sons might prosper. It’s a ratings juggernaut, smashing decades-old records for increases in viewership with every episode.
When the soundtrack to Empire entered the US charts at No 1 in March, no one could have been particularly surprised, with one possible exception: Madonna, who unexpectedly found herself debuting at No 2. All that effort promoting your new album – the interviews, the online courting of controversy, unceremoniously falling on your arse at the Brits – and you’re pipped at the post by one of the oldest tricks in the book, the one that Micky Dolenz of the Monkees famously described as “the equivalent of Leonard Nimoy really becoming a Vulcan”. It’s almost 60 years since Ricky Nelson performed Fats Domino’s I’m Walkin’ on his parents’ sitcom and ended up a real-life pop star, but launching a musical career by pretending to have a musical career on a TV show still seems to work like a dream.
Throughout the first season of Fox musical drama Empire, the Columbia label released episode-specific digital download bundles of the series' original music, executive produced by Timbaland. Each batch consisted of two to five tracks and arrived a day before the original broadcasts. Just prior to the initial airing of the first season's 10th (of 12) episodes, Columbia issued this season-spanning compilation, 11 tracks in CD form.
Lucious Lyon looks, acts, and sings like a heavily mentholated cat daddy. Hakeem is a struggle rapper with fashionably generic sensibilities, down to the overly stylized eyebrow. Courtney Love, bless her heart, can't even sing. How does any of this work as well as Empire somehow does? Empire, suddenly the most popular show on television, is a melodramatic musical about rap label shenanigans at the titular Empire Records, founded by hip-hop mogul Lucious Lyon and his ex-wife, Cookie.
Where's Cookie when you need her? This soundtrack for the hottest show on TV could use more of the beat-you-with-a-broomstick fire of Taraji P. Henson's character. Instead, stars Jussie Smollett (Jamal) and Bryshere "Yazz" Gray (Hakeem) headline a spotty set of original tracks with production by music supervisor Timbaland and his protégé Jim Beanz.