“Empire” Season 3 Fall Finale Recap And Musical Review

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For a fall season finale, things were kind of oddly muted and weepy on “Empire” this week.

It was weird to see not only Jamal, but Cookie and Andre all crying in one episode for separate reasons when as a rule, Lyons don’t leak much like Black don’t crack.

That is not to say that it wasn’t entertaining, because some seriously loose ends got all tied up.

Tiana and Hakeem ended their will they or won’t they dance and became Takeem.   Andre finally said goodbye to Ronda in beautiful if not entirely sane fashion.   Jamal, after a whole season of vacillation, beat his inner demons and successfully smashed his first big public performance post PTSD. But when you consider that last season’s finale ended with Jamal getting shot, Ronda being thrown off a building and Lucious marrying his son’s baby mama, the absence of blood and incest makes this week’s “A Furnace For Your Foe,” decidedly tame.

However with Andre’s final declaration to Shine about Lucious, sometimes folks need some beachside catharsis so they can turn around and plan the killing of their own father….but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Musically, things started off in a lot of dribs and drabs with Jamal getting cut off mid rehearsal by D-Major for messing up his choreography and barely more than a sample’s worth of young Lucious performing in flashback to a young Cookie.

Given all of the tiding up of storylines, it’s not altogether surprising that a lot of “a Furnace For Your Foe’s” music got the short end of the performance stick.

However, what was surprising is that one of the best performances allowed to play to completion involved an otherwise uncredited “thug” issuing a brilliant threat to actor Frank Whaley.

Naturally this is in reference to the terror rich rap verse that Lucious issues via one of his musical rap henchmen to journalist Edison Cruz as a ‘favor’ to Diana DuBois. As one of the best freestyle performances of the finale, “Empire” got it right by allowing this number to play out all the way through to the mic drop.

In fitting fashion, the rest of the fall finale performances were part of Angelo DuBois’ People’s Ball event.

The return of Angelo’s youth group WOKE was a nice flourish and seeing them perform “I Did It For My City,” was even better as a mini showcase of what young talent can do.

Between the two big ticket musical items – namely Tiana and Hakeem’s duet and Jamal’s long awaited return to performing, Jamal’s performance was positioned by “Empire” writers to be the showstopper but arguably it was the other way around in reality.

With sparkling lyrics and shine worthy choreography, Tiana and Hakeem’s performance was a melding of talents that warranted the scripted chants of ‘Takeem!’ that followed.

A well crafted piece of musical art from start to finish, the number underscored the undeniable Rihanna/Drake reminiscent chemistry that both Serayah and Bryshere Gray possess when they are allowed to share the stage.

In contrast, while it definitely wasn’t strike out territory, Jamal’s People’s Ball performance seemed out of step with Jamal/Jussie Smollett’s identity as one of Empire’s more sensitive and nuanced artists.

While the song’s the winning bridge of “sacrifice, determination/ I’m ready for the world to see,” had all of the right dramatic elements for Jamal’s final big reveal, the up tempo in your face style of the song, paired with a hyper sexualized delivery seemed out of character as an authentic declaration of his long awaited return to the stage.

But then again Cookie did have to use her daddy learnt plumbing skills to get a little more prescription poison into Jamal’s system for him to perform, so maybe that was the discordant fly in that particular tub of ointment.

“Empire” airs Wednesdays at 9:00/8:00 central on FOX.

Empire “The Unkindest Cut” Recap And Music Review (VIDEO)

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The saying typically goes, “with friends like these who needs enemies,” but in the case of Jamal and the secrets uncovered at the end of “The Unkindest Cut,” it’s clear that “friends” have nothing on family when it comes to “Empire.”

As poor Jamal tries to valiantly face up to his PTSD trigger via Lucious, the man that he took Freda Gatz’s bullet for, Jamal only learns that it was in fact his own mother, Cookie who started the whole set of events that put the bullet into play in the first place.

Given the almost Shakespearean level of deception when it comes matriarchs, patriarchs and death via violent ends, one has to wonder if someone as artistically sensitive as Jamal will ever truly get over his PTSD now with all of these old Frank Gathers’ ghost bones flying out of the closet.

Empire Cast

But Jamal’s revelation wasn’t even the most scandalously dramatic turn in this episode. Lucious’ mama seemingly joined forces with Tariq and the Feds to hurt Lucious – only to show her double spy status in a strangely intimate mother son tie dance.

Annika and Lucious got seriously freaky in some foreplay that involved the wanton destruction of numerous priceless artifacts (save the one that was the most phallic) and finally one rich white girl woke up with all of her Marsha Brady grade straight hair cut off and lying around her in bed like that bloody severed horse’s head in “The GodFather.” Yes, when it came to dramatic plot lines this week’s “Empire” did not stutter when they took it all the way to the wall.

However, were the musical selections equally as good in their badassery? If we are honest, it was a mixed bag.

First, things started off with Tiana practicing a pretty basic signature number. It was chocked with all of Tiana’s usual stuff, but it was really just elevator muzak for Cookie, Angelo and Diana to show their happy boyfriend, girlfriend, boyfriend’s mama trio deal while giving Gina Gershon time to add her special brand of high-class brittleness as the racist fashion mogul Helene Von Wyatt of HVW Fashion.

While the song itself was unremarkable, Tiana’s tirade after the face was a tidy art imitates life masterpiece in sly shade. As Tiana, played by real life pop personality Serayah rips on HVM Fashion, saying that Helene is only collaborating with “Empire” to improve her image after a “wack ass out of Africa Collection that had no black people in it,” one can only wonder how Serayah’s real life famous friend Taylor Swift felt about this bit seeing as Swift has a certain wack ass “Out of Africa” music video herself. Go ahead, “Empire.” We see what you did there.

Next, courtesy of Andre “fixing” Miss Von Wyatt’s “whites only” aesthetic to something more ethnically diverse via a middle of the night chopping off all of Helene’s daughter’s locks, Nessa replaces Tiana as HVM Fashion’s new musical headliner. While it was a guilty pleasure to see Nessa singing “Black Girl Magic” in resplendent living color versus a whitewashed HVM palette, one has to admit that the 180 degree turn was a bit of an overreach in last minute couture plausibility.

Nessa does perform the song beautifully, but the segment gets a bit repetitive due to a lack of lyrical complexity. Case in point, while the celebration of black hair is a starting point, Black Girl Magic has always been about more than just hair. The narrow concentration on hair with the multitude of intercut images of black women with different hair styles started to feel a bit more Dove hair commercial campaign versus a great “Empire” single. Good effort, but it needed more to live up to the “magic” in it’s name.

Lastly, the best musical performance of the night was appropriately the most cutting. Jamal’s accusatory song to his father, “Heartless,” set to the same home movie footage used for last week’s musical ode to Cookie shows just how differently a child’s estimation of their two parents as individuals can be. As a sample of Jamal’s new album, “When Cookie Met Lucious,” one can only hope that Jamal can pull himself together long enough to finish it – familial repercussions be damned.

“Empire” airs Wednesday nights at 9/8 central on FOX.

“Empire” Season 3 Episode 6 Recap and Musical Review

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In a season dealing with a lot of big societal issues such as classism, racism, and prescription drug dependency, “Empire” Season 3, Episode 6, “What We May Be,” is a pared down return to a simpler more universal kind of pain. With it’s focus being a dramatic elegy for parental figures lost too soon, starting with Nessa’s brother and then Cookie’s sad history with her father, the musical selections are as structurally on point as they are emotionally moving. In an inspired slow reveal, the two musical selections, Jamal’s “Oh Mama” and Nessa’s “Heart Of Stone,” are brought out gradually with continuous changes over the course of the episode. The result? Both pieces develop haunting lives of their own while gathering more steam and collaborative flourish with every sample. If anyone had any doubt about who would be the female flip side to Jamal’s more meditative music (as Tiana is a thematic female complement to Hakeem’s more demonstrative versus contemplative music), this week it becomes clear that Nessa, as played by Sierra McClain is Empire’s female artist with a deeper shade of soul.

While all of this loss is done beautifully in “What We May Be,” in fair fashion, “Empire” doesn’t forget that too much sadness makes “Empire” a dull watch. To remedy any overdose of too much seriousness Phylicia Rashad makes her literal grand “Empiric” entrance as Angelo DuBois’ imposing and politically connected mother Diana DuBois. Ms. Rashad is more magnificent than anyone could have hoped as the gold standard for cultured elegance, wit and grace with bite. Watching Cookie alternately jump through hoops and knock back barbs from her boyfriend’s mother “Meet The Parents” style makes for some genuinely funny high-low humor. However, to the “Empire” writers’ credit, things do not end acrimoniously between Diana and Cookie. When Diana shares with Cookie that the DuBois family wealth started from bootlegging, suddenly in a few lines Diana’s character elegantly sidesteps annoying stereotypes about the existence of insurmountable differences between old money and new money within America’s African American community.

To return to a more throughal examination of the music, Jamal’s “Oh Mama” which incorporates visuals from Cookie’s childhood as a sort of “musical museum” that Jamal is creating for his mother is a very clever thematic mash up of Tupac Shakur’s “Dear Mama” as reconceived with a Marvin Gaye/ Raphael Saadiq sensibility. Given these comparisons as laid out here, it’s a special event. As for Nessa’s “Heart Of Stone, “with the aid of some superlative lyrics coupled with a bang out collaboration with Freda Gatz, McClain once again puts on a clinic when it comes to what a real vocalists can do.

The one lone sour note of “What We May Be” is fixable but troubling if it is a harbinger of future episodes. The product placement of Alexa and Lincoln Continental was so heavy handed in episode 6 that it actually stopped the flow of the story when introduced. The number of times that Porsha said the word “Alexa” in her one scene with Cookie would have entered drinking game territory had that scene been any longer. In similar fashion, the overblown beauty shot treatment given to Andre’s Lincoln Continental when he shows up at Shine and Nessa’s party is just way over the top. However, barring these missteps “What We May Be,” may be one of the best episodes of Season 3.

“Empire” airs Wednesdays at 9:00/8:00 central on FOX.

Kid Cudi Shares Letter Thanking Kanye West, Tegan And Sara, Scott Aukerman, & Dozens More Celebrities

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NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 18:  Kid Cudi  attends "Vincent N Roxxy" Premiere during the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival at Chelsea Bow Tie Cinemas on April 18, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Roy Rochlin/FilmMagic)Kid Cudi recently checked himself into rehab for depression and suicidal urges. He got out earlier this month, appearing onstage with Pharrell, Travis Scott, and, most recently, Kanye West, and now he’s posted a lengthy note on Facebook thanking Kanye West, Tegan And Sara, Scott Aukerman, and dozens more celebrities … More »

Kanye West, Musical Innovator, Attempts To Transform The Concert Experience

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Kanye West's Saint Pablo TourNot long into Kanye West’s Saint Pablo Tour stop Sunday night in Columbus, after his floating stage had made its first complete pass across the Value City Arena floor, he launched into “Famous” — the one with the video depicting naked celebrities in bed together, yes, but also the one with the TaylorMore »