Review: Original Soundtrack from Season 1 of Empire (Deluxe)
One of the hottest new shows on television, Empire, released its first season soundtrack on Tuesday, March 10, 2015. In the stores for those who still partake of the physical CD, only the standard edition of the album – 11 tracks – was issued. For those who couldn’t be without the indulgence of say “Drip Drop,” a digital deluxe version comprised on 18 tracks is available via iTunes, amazon mp3, etc. Being one who indulged in the deluxe version, here’s some thoughts on the Empire Soundtrack.
The first two songs of the Empire soundtrack “Good Enough” and “What Is Love” hail from the pilot episode. “Good Enough” (featuring Jussie Smollett) is an emotional standout, within the plot of the series, where see how strained the relationship between Jamal (Smollett) and Luscious (Terrance Howard) is. Luscious doesn’t accept Jamal’s gay lifestyle, an important part of the storyline throughout Empire. “What Is Love” is featured in its entirety on the soundtrack, something that didn’t occur on the digital EP. By all means, “What Is Love” is one of the better songs of the soundtrack – among the most complete.
“No Apologies” undoubtedly ranks among the most popular songs, featuring the talents of Smollett and Yazz (aka Hakeem portrayed by Bryshere Gray). This definitely represents one of the bigger musical moments of the show by all means, finding brotherly love in sync – or something like that. “Keep It Movin’” served as the product of the semi-faux relationship between Hakeem (Gray) and Tiana (Serayah McNeill). The song itself is typical Timbaland at his best – crazy beats, disjointed sounds, and a modern picture of R&B.
“Keep Your Money” (Smollett) marks another standout moment in regards to the series’ most likeable character, Jamal. By this segment in the show, Jamal was funding his own studio time and came up with this sick gem after spending plenty of time to make it absolutely perfect.
“Drip Drop” (Yazz and Serayah McNeill) found Hakeem and Tiana back at it again. An irresponsibly delicious single, “Drip Drop” is dripping in corniness, yet brilliantly represents the rap song for the clubs. It is one-part cringe worthy, but mostly it is nothing short of infectious.
The scene where “Can’t Truss ‘Em” (Yazz) occurs within the series came from the episode entitled, Out, Damned Spot. Hakeem is in the studio and he begins rapping as lazy as albeit. Daddy Luscious forces him to get some ‘pep about his step’ or better yet infuse some fire into his rhymes. It clicks, and the biting, ferocious “Can’t Truss ‘Em” is the product. Smollett’s mellow “ I Wanna Love You” which follows, also appeared on the same episode.
How cool is it to hear an urban makeover of Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing.” Of course the original is the standard bearer, but its definitely ambitious than an R&B/hip-hop oriented show/musicians would take on this particular record. A classic – of course not, but give the musicians credit.
Who would’ve thought Courtney Love (who plays Elle Dallas) would’ve appeared on Empire? She has joined a number of guests, and she also got her spot on the soundtrack via soulful rock ballad “Walk Out On Me.” Like “Money For Nothing,” it is moments like these that show the range and ambitiousness of the soundtrack.
The ‘anthem’ of the show, “You’re So Beautiful” unsurprisingly rears its head, in the hands of Smollett and Yazz. There have been many versions of the songs featured, but the ‘contemporary’ version wins out. It’s definitely ‘feel good.’
“Conqueror” was already quite the sight to behold in the hands of Estelle. The song appears on Estelle’s 2015 album True Romance and was featured as part of the soundtrack for the film Addicted. Here in duet form with Smollett, the song receives a beautiful reinterpretation that makes the listener embrace its prudent message even more.
“Remember the Music” is one of two features for R&B powerhouse Jennifer Hudson. Hudson also appears on the penultimate joint “Whatever Makes You Happy” alongside Juicy J. “Remember The Music” is a big adult contemporary R&B ballad that listeners have come accustomed to from the singer. Even so, “Remember the Music” won’t supersede her best ballads by any means.
Mary J. Blige’s “Shakedown” interestingly becomes a duet with Luscious (Terrence Howard) – the original was a duet with Usher from 2009 album Growing Pains. Considering the later appearance of “Shakedown” within Empire Season 1, attaching a purpose for this duet is difficult and ultimately doesn’t carry much weight outside of its purpose on the show. Yazz spits about “Power of the Empire,” while Smollett has “Nothing To Lose.” The soundtrack closes with Charles Hamilton and Rita Ora performing “NY Raining.”
So how good is the Empire soundtrack? It is best enjoyed with knowledge of the show. The newbies at the end of the soundtrack are harder to get into, mostly because they haven’t played out within the show (as of Tuesday, March 10, 2015). Even once they play out, the impact has to be near monumental to supersede the best moments of this soundtrack, which appear early on in the season. Weekly viewers best enjoy this rather than someone looking for a hot urban compilation.
Gems: “Good Enough,” “What Is Love,” “No Apologies,” “Keep Your Money,” “Drip Drop” & “Conqueror”