The formula has been done before. A TV show pulls away the veil from a certain industry or profession so well that you feel you know it all. The West Wing did it for politics, ER did it for hospitals, Law & Order, CSI, NCSI, Blue Bloods, Rescue Me, the list goes on and on. So it's no surprise that Fox's Empire is doing the same for the urban music industry. Yes, we've seen movie biopics that pulled on that same veil as well, like Notorious, and Straight Outta Compton. Yet, those are movies that gave us a good taste of the happenings behind the curtains, while telling the story of an artist or group of artists.
Empire is doing just that, except they tell the story through the eyes of an entire music family. Imagine the Jackson Family in a life of crime. Empire gives us a look behind the curtain into an industry already known to be hostile. Getting to the top in the Urban Music scene is the equivalent of walking through a minefield in the dark, with objects being thrown at you while you try to move forward. Those that make it are battle hardened in such a way that you can't help but either be inspired, or frightened. This is a show highlighting the reign of a powerful record label headed by a music mogul with little empathy for those who stand in his way. It's Scarface, minus the cocaine with the ability to sing.
Of course, you can't have a music mogul this powerful and not send him to jail, like Empire did to its CEO Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) at the end of season 1. Add to that fact that the record label itself was built on drug money and criminal endeavors, mirroring the success of many real life record labels in modern history. Basically, the show plays on an ugly truth behind the success of many hip hop moguls of today, as well as yesterday.
With that said, it begs to ask the question: is Empire good for the music industry? The show is great, the acting superb. The story is strong and once you tune in, you're automatically drawn in. Plain and simple, Empire is great television. Now, the symbolism of its characters does have something negative to say about the urban music industry itself.
Lucious Lyons is the mirror image of many well known urban label CEO's that have come and gone since the mid-1980s. All have followed the same path, the same formula which gives the necessary ghetto-street cred needed to reach the top of the billboard charts. The story of Lucious Lyons boils down to this: the bad guy won, the bad guy rules, A story repeated many times in reality. Not to name names and label any record label mogul a bad guy, but the actual back stories for some of the biggest names in the hip hop industry speak for themselves.
Now, if you thought Lucious was bad, wait till you meet his wife Cookie (Taraji P. Hensen), an ex-felon who stole $400,000 in drug money, the seed that started the label, and paid for it by having to serve prison time. Hmmm, starting a record label with drug money: haven't we heard that story before somewhere?
Is Empire continuing the trend of shining a bright light on an urban music genre riddled with the criminal element? Is Empire glorifying what's wrong with hip hop today? Is the success of this show a testament to how little we care about the truths behind the veil? This is a great show, and its success is well deserved. It's just sad that the moral to the story may paint an ugly picture of what life in the hip hop industry really looks like for those that rule.