Joining Beyoncé in the years most important issue of Vogue Magazine are the cast of Empire, The Weekend and Lee Daniels.
For those of us who lived through that time in the mid-nineties when hip-hop was still dangerously real enough to get you killed at a Vibe-magazine party (Biggie Smalls) or at an intersection in Las Vegas (Tupac), but was also juuust mainstream enough to be featured in Sprite ads, there was something incredibly surreal about watching the BET Awards in late June. Right after a middle-aged Puff Daddy performed in an old-school red tracksuit with Lil’ Kim, Mase, and Faith Evans for a tribute to Bad Boy Records, the label he started 20 years ago, the cast of Empire came out to perform songs from their hit TV show, one seemingly drawn from the biographies of Jay-Z, Suge Knight, and, yes, Puffy—though the last is the only one who reportedly threatened to sue Fox for “stealing my life story.” When Dr. Dre is an Apple executive and Jay Z is worth half a billion dollars, the drug-dealer-turned-rapper-turned-ultra-rich-record-mogul narrative is but one thread of the American Dream. Turns out no one owns that story.
As everyone knows by now, Empire centers on Lucious Lyon, his ex-wife, Cookie, and their three children, Andre, Jamal, and Hakeem, as they work and sing and backstab to control their billion-dollar Empire, a record label that was built on drug money earned back when Lucious and Cookie were newlywed nobodies in the City of Brotherly Love. And who doesn’t love a do-rags-to-riches story, especially if it’s soapy-smart, trashtastic, and beautifully produced? As everyone also knows, the show grabbed the world by the throat in January and refused to let go. By the time the season finale aired in March, with seventeen million people glued to their sets, it became the first show in the history of the Nielsen ratings to gather a bigger audience with each episode. Empire is not just a success, it’s a cultural touch point, the opposite of a generation gap—a TV show for the whole motherlovin’ family.