I Kind Of Hate The Music On Empire

Photo: Jean Whiteside/FOX
Ever since she played opposite Tyrese in 2001’s Black cult-classic Baby Boy, I’ve been a fan of Taraji P. Henson. I love the chemistry and camaraderie that she and Terrence Howard share any time they’re in the same room. I watch Instagram and YouTube videos of them making appearances and goofing around. I also get that sense of joy when I come across Gabby Sidibe and Jussie Smollett's candid moments. I love hip-hop. So you’d think this would make me Empire’s No. 1 fan. But I’m not, and I’ve finally accepted the reason why: I can’t stand the music. Let me clarify, I don’t hate the tunes that are interspersed throughout the episodes. The legendary Timbaland, who served as supervising musical producer for the first two seasons, is the hit-maker responsible for a sizable amount of my iTunes content. His season 3 successor, Rodney Jenkins, has worked with the likes of Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga, and Beyoncé, and is sure to deliver some rhythmic fire. It’s not the songs I dislike. I kind of just hate that Empire, with all of its heavy-hitting moments, is basically a musical. And it’s weird, because I’m also not against musicals. I sat the third row to see Katdashians: Break the Musical, and I, too, one day hope to receive a pair of coveted Hamilton tickets from a wealthy benefactor. The Wiz and Hairspray are still two of my favorite movies. But something about the mixture of gritty drama and impromptu performances on Empire feels unnatural to me. Perhaps it’s because so much of the integrity of hip-hop artists is layered in with their mannerisms and credibility. More than any other genre, we look to hip-hop artists to embody the principles of their music both on and off the mic. For me, it makes a hip-hop musical about hip-hop artists in the music industry feel almost satirical. The culture of hip-hop is often packaged in a way that seems completely against the ritual of song and dance as a means of communicating actual feelings, even though that is the history of hip-hop itself. If this seems like a completely arbitrary paradox — it’s not you, it’s me. I can admit when I still have work to do. I’ve tried to catch up Fox’s hit series at least three times to no avail. I’m rooted to the spot on my unpopular and deeply conflicted side of the fence (the soundtrack for season 1 topped the Billboard 200 chart, and the one for season 2 reached No. 16 ). But occasionally, I find myself peeking over top of it — to get a glimpse of Cookie Lyon in all of her bold-print glory.

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