*** Spoiler Alert***
“Empire” Season 3, Episode 4, “Cupid Kills” was definitely a night of girl power.
For a long time, Hip Hop has had it’s difficulties when it comes to giving female artists their due as headliners versus side dishes.
Too often the musical story is limited to an artist’s sex appeal and who they can appeal to as the “it” hot girl of the week or some “it” rapper’s hot arm candy and/or hot protege. However, such was not the case tonight when it came to Nessa and Tiana – both in regards to the plot line, as well as their music. And yes, in case you were wondering they both laid it down hard.
As has been well set up from the start of the season, Nessa has been little more than the physical property of her manager Shine. Truly, he treats her as little more than a favored slave when it comes to free will. If Nessa doesn’t do exactly what Shine says, he’ll beat her.
If anyone around her shows any interest in her they are also subject to a beat down. She is literally a ghetto songbird trapped in a gilded cage.
To great effect, Nessa starts out the show with a song that is essentially a lament about how difficult it is to be a pawn of the system.
That the episode starts with Nessa’s track about the “Crooked System” as the background music while Andre and Lucious drive through the urban decay of their old neighborhood – it’s something akin to musical and visual black magic of that highest order.
The cherry on top is when Andre and Lucious arrive at their destination, and Nessa is singing the song in the studio while rival reps from other music companies are already there itching to get Nessa signed away from Empire.
The song and it’s delivery are as powerful as the shockingly ice cold double entendre of exactly how crooked the system is when it comes to Shine’s mendacity when it comes to exploiting Nessa to his own best reward.
That Andre seems to be even more taken with Nessa at first sight than his brother Hakeem – well, that’s another juicy turnabout that we didn’t expect.
Another nice payoff?
That Andre and Nessa connect over math and their shared talent for numbers versus musical ability and raw sexual attraction.
However, the sparks are definitely flying when Andre murmurs to Nessa, “If I had your musical talent, I’d already own Empire.” Damn, Andre. Spell it out – Nessa, you are much too good and too smart to let Shine use you as chattel, girl!
Speaking of Hakeem and his propensity to come in second to other dudes, that brings us to the second female heavy hitter of the night, Tiana.
From the previous episode, “What Remains Is B######,” Tiana has been ordered to do a clap back at Hakeem to help settle the score between him as her ex boyfriend and Gram as her current man.
Supposedly, according to Lucious supporting one man or the other is something that Tiana “needs” to do in order to stay relevant and supply Empire XStream with it’s constant need for content…. or does she?
In a unexpectedly unique bit of writing, Tiana – with the help of Cookie and a sampling of Musetta’s Waltz from the opera La Boheme – comes up with a smoother than silk anthem where she rejects supporting either man in favor of just sticking up for herself.
With the simple but infectious hook, “Nobody loves me like me,” it’s a nice little single. However if one had to choose, Nessa’s song is the clear winner.
As the full package, Nessa’s “Crooked System” has more resonance and vocal range, and soul compared to Tiana’s amicable “I love me some me.”
But with an episode with the title “Cupid Kills,” of course their must be blood.
When Andre and Lucious force Shine to sign Nessa’s contract with a literal gun to his head, as a master stroke of genius, it is Jamal’s alternately tender and then wicked ferocious song about being “caught in the middle” of PTSD and a nasty prescription drug addiction that serves as the background for Shine declaring war on the Lyon family for stealing Nessa from him Romeo and Juliet style.
And he’s not wrong, as the episode ends with a literally bang a trois as Andre had sex for the first time with Nessa with his hallucination of his dead wife Rhonda egging him on as a willing and very involved third participant.
“Empire” airs Wednesdays on Fox television at 9pm/8pm central.