While season three of "Empire" is well in the black (no pun intended) when it comes to deftly tackling exactly what it means to be Black in America in 2016, the music has been a little less consistent.
While the plot lines dealing with racism have been meaty - and continue to be in this episode - in the previous episodes of this season, fans have been lucky to get one really good song per episode.
However, with tonight's episode "What Remains Is Bestial," this unevenness has been rectified. With three original songs on offer, including the work of guest artists Romeo Miller and Mariah Carey, "Empire" is three for three when it comes to a beast mode night of duets.
In classic Hip-Hop feud style, the first two duets are all about boyfriend beef between Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray) and Romeo Miller when it comes to the Rihanna-esque Tiana (Serayah). Miller, playing gangster turned rapper Gram, comes hard at Hakeem on Empire's turf, performing a number with Hakeem's ex Tiana (Serayah) that leaves little to innuendo.
Gram spits out incendiary lines like, "no I ain't that clown," and "your last boyfriend, mmm not on my level," eyeballing Hakeem who is sitting in the audience with Cookie, Lucious and Jamal watching the rap carnage up front and center. If that wasn't bad enough, Gram and Tiana end the song with some intense and prolonged kissing action.
Aside from the "can you believe this $%it?!?" drama of the situation, musically both Miller and Serayah deliver some serious heat. Naturally, it gets the desired over the top reaction from Hakeem.
When a fired up Hakeem goes into the studio and expects Nessa to deliver the necessary hook for his answer back, things get deliciously complicated. When Nessa reasonably states that she has a problem with the ethics of disrespecting Tiana, a girl that she doesn't even know, Shine overreacts choking Nessa out like the unhinged individual that he is and seemingly always has been.
In a brilliant bit of maneuvering, Hakeem sidesteps the need for continued force by finishing his rhyme with some deft sampling of some of Tiana's old hooks as the needed female touch to complete his master oeuvre. That Hakeem's lines are even more pointed and biting than Gram's initial song is a thing of real musical beauty and highly satisfying as a statement on needless violence to get things done and done well.
Just when it seems like things couldn't get any better from a musical standpoint, "Empire" saves the best for last by closing things out with Mariah. In regards to the storyline, as a method to ease Jamal back into performing, Cookie arranges for him to do an original song with the mega star Kitty, who is played in full corseted body suit splendor by Ms. Mariah Carey.
As we would imagine her to be, Carey/Kitty is the epitome of grace in dealing with Jamal's performance anxiety, and even better once the singing starts. That we even get to hear Mariah go into her highest of the high register is just more icing on the cake when it comes to a performance that makes the whole night.
Something else that makes this episode sing? The question of whether money and education negate blackness. When Andre discusses his unlawful arrest by the police, and his desire to clear his name "correctly" as a Wharton Graduate and also the CFO of a publicly traded company, guaranteed it isn't only Lucious and Cookie who believe that Andre has sadly forgotten that in addition to all of those advantages, he is still a Black man in a country where all is not equal.
"Empire" airs Wednesdays at 9:00/8:00 central on FOX.