Bryshere Gray — a.k.a. emcee Yazz the Greatest — woke up Wednesday morning to celebrate a No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 chart thanks to the popular “Empire” soundtrack. But the young man behind Hakeem Lyon has no time to pat himself on the back: Tonight, the actor/rapper is set to live-tweet the highly anticipated season finale of Fox’s hip-hop soap opera hit alongside the rest of his cast.
The multi-hyphenate performer told TheWrap it was “very important” that his drama’s soundtrack best Madonna‘s “Rebel Heart” and all other comers this past week, further legitimizing the show from a musical standpoint. (“Original Soundtrack From Season 1 of Empire” became the first TV soundtrack since a 2010 cover-heavy “Glee” offering opened at No. 1.)
“The music is the backstory of the show,” Gray explained during a Wednesday morning phone interview. “It describes the characters more in detail than you can on a regular TV show.”
Gray offered another “plus” about the quality of the cast’s music, which is produced by Timbaland: “Most music on TV you can’t play in the club,” he said.
Yazz the Greatest is a big part of what’s arguably the soundtrack’s most popular song, “You’re So Beautiful,” which also features co-star and friend Jussie Smollett. On the track, Yazz spits, “Hakeem got a thing for the ladies/The ladies got a thing for the Hakeem,” a shout-out to his on-screen character.
“The music is speaking in characters — it’s not about our personal lives,” Gray said of his lyrics and other facets of the 18-track deluxe album, which also comes in a 13-song standard version.
While Hakeem and Yazz are surely different people and different artists, the popularity of the former is surely helping the latter. Because of Hakeem, Gray is getting a lot of attention for his non-“Empire” rap oeuvre, he admitted. But right now, he’s focused on the ensemble project.
Once his whirlwind media tour ends with the show’s mid-week finale, Gray’s work spreading the word of both the Lee Daniels‘ series and solo act Yazz The Greatest is far from finished. Following the finale, Gray’s heading to Tokyo and Brazil to continue signing autographs, meeting fans, spreading the word and, yes, capitalizing on the momentum.
But for now, there’s that finale to get through. And it’s going to be a good one, Gray promised.
“It’s going to be a major catfight that Hakeem has to break up,” he teased for TheWrap. “I might get hit a little bit, beat up a little bit. For my character in general you get to see his growth … but it’s gonna be crazy.”
Expect the combatants flanking Hakeem to be nemeses Anika (Grace Gealey) and Cookie (Taraji P. Henson).
“She is coming back and she’s coming back hard,” Gealey warned TheWrap about her character earlier this week at the show’s live Emmy event in Los Angeles.
Beyond tonight’s cliffhanger and Gray’s subsequent globetrotting, there’s a Season 2 of “Empire” to look forward to — and though it will come with massive expectations, the man behind Lucius Lyon’s (Terrence Howard) youngest son isn’t worried.
“If Season 1 was good, you know Season 2 is going to be wonderful,” he told TheWrap.
The already ordered Season 2 will have more episodes than the 13-count of the show’s freshman run — possibly 18, or even a full 22. That said, the exact episode count is still being worked out.
“It may be more work hours, but not pressure,” Gray told TheWrap. “There’s gonna be more music, so you can expect another great soundtrack next season.”
So what, specifically, may come with the sophomore run aside from more music, hopefully similar ratings and possibly another No. 1 album? Gray, for one, would like to see some added personal growth and career focus from Hakeem.
“I want to see him grow up a little bit mentally, get … deeper into his music and stop getting distracted,” he said. “He gets distracted too fast.”
“He might have ADHD or something,” Gray concluded of his broadcast persona. “He doesn’t stay on the prize.”
Fox, too, would like its newest and biggest hit to stay on the prize next season.
“Empire” has averaged a big 6.8 rating/20 share and 16.5 million viewers thus far per most current Nielsen ratings, which take into account Live +7 Day numbers where available.
The show’s nine-week total viewer growth streak in Live +Same Day numbers is the longest ever recorded for a new series since Nielsen began measuring that stat more than 23 years ago. Expect those numbers to rise and that streak to hit double digits when numbers for the Season 1 finale come out on Thursday.
Watch TheWrap’s interview with Bryshere “Yazz the Greatest” Gray at a recent Emmy live event below or click here.