When Fox’s musical drama Empire premiered it became an instant hit. In fact, its success with the first season became hard for any pop culture lover to ignore. Starring Terrence Howard as Lucious Lyon and his former Hustle & Flow co-star Taraji P. Henson as Cookie Lyon, the show is about the ex-couple running their Empire Entertainment while raising their three adult kids in the hip-hop business. Since day one, we learn that their road to success was not without hustle. Even when the family reaches music glory, the complex drama continues to take us on a wild ride every episode.
Though the show is good, there is a realness about black culture and hip-hop it brings to the table. This allows its audience a chance to exchange dialogue about some significant issues in the black community.
Empire is an important show for our time. Here are 4 reasons why.
1. The Importance of Hip-hop and Music In General.
I believe the show captures how music plays an important role in our lives. Every genre has its significance but hip-hop has always been about telling compelling stories from those who are from low-income, urban areas. Empire does not always display hip-hop from its roots. A lot of the songs are corporate so it can target a mainstream listeners. Regardless, it shows that hip-hop can tell a person’s story from all walks of life. Hip-hop is still alive and well. Empire’s music plays a vital part of the narrative because the story inspires the music. It’s also good! We could probably thank the show’s music producer Timbaland for the authenticity the music brings to the plot.
2. It Takes On The Negative Stereotypes of Black Women
Cookie Lyon is not a Clair Huxtable. She doesn’t have to be and we love her for that same reason. On the surface she is loud, flashy, and aggressive. These are the typical negative attributes the media attaches to black women. Without waiting for episode 2, we quickly see Cookie as a power player next to her husband Lucious in the creation of Empire Entertainment and in raising her three sons. Cookie quickly became one the main reasons why people tune in every Wednesday night. You don’t care about her past or her brash nature. You see the nurturing mother who tries to instill her children good morals with sheer fierceness, a wife who took the fall for her family, and the outspoken, ambitious business woman who makes sure she gets what’s rightfully hers.
3. Confronting Challenges Faced by the LGBTQ Community
Empire shows a real picture of how black people of the LGBTQ community face dangerous adversity. In Hip-hop, it’s often the case that a gay rapper would keep his homosexuality quiet. We see this with Jamal from the very beginning of the show. Jamal and his father have a strained relationship while Cookie consistently shows love and support regardless of his sexuality. He is torn between keeping his sexual orientation quiet for the sake of his dad’s image or coming out. Jamal eventually does and his music is celebrated. Jamal’s story sounds similar to that of rapper Frank Ocean who came out in July 2012. Instead of getting hate, he was well received by his peers. Empire shows that internal struggle the LGBTQ face in the hip-hop world and the black community that shouldn’t be ignored.
4. Addressing Mental Health
Andre, the oldest Lyon child and CEO of the Empire Entertainment, suffers from bipolar disorder. He tries to hold it together on the job. However, he’s on the brink of falling apart due to his stressful job position and his ongoing family drama. His wife, Rhonda, makes sure he takes his medication to keep himself together. The show’s depiction the illness is debatable but it does show the difficulty of discussing mental illness in the black community. Mental health is heavily stigmatized and, in some cases, ignored.. Those who are suffering may not have a support system. Others suppress their pain by avoiding treatment. In Season 1, we see Lucious not acknowledging Andre’s mental state is in jeopardy. We will have to wait to see how Andre’s conditioned is handled in the upcoming season but we can praise the show for starting a dialogue about the subject matter. Because Empire has a character like Andre, the sitcom is proving that mental illness does not have to prevent a person from succeeding in life. The show maybe painting a harsh picture but it’s reflecting what is happening within the community.
Empire is a show we didn’t know we needed . Though we love the intense drama and comedy of Empire, the show is brave in addressing issues affecting the African American & hip-hop community we need to talk about. I’m sure Empire is here to stay for a long while.