There’s no doubt the drama will be hot and heavy when Empire returns for its second season (Sept. 23). At the same time, the series will be upping the ante musically.
As previously reported, joining Timbaland behind the boards is a new cast of songwriters/producers including Ne-Yo, Swizz Beatz and J.R. Rotem. But fans should also keep an ear tuned for more writing and performing from Terrence Howard, who plays Empire patriarch Lucious Lyon, as well as “more of a pop look” on the show, says Shawn Holiday, senior VP of A&R for Columbia Records.
Holiday notes that one of the Howard-featured songs, “Snitch Bitch,” will be performed in episode two. “I think it will be a game changer for Howard,” says Holiday. And, says Holiday, Ne-Yo will be one of the key songwriters working with Jussie Smollett, while Timbaland will collaborate closely with Yazz this season. Fans can also expect to hear more from Serayah McNeill’s character Tiana. “We’re going to get her in sessions with Swizz Beatz to give her some classic uptempo songs,” explains Holiday. Helping to rep the pop/rhythmic side will be Rotem.
“It’s a whirlwind,” adds Holiday of the Empire pace. “Eighteen episodes multiplied by four songs … that’s 72 songs to prepare, mix and master.”
Here’s a quick look at four of those songs — including the recently released “No Doubt About It” and “Ain’t About the Money.” Volume 1 of Empire: Original Soundtrack from Season 2 is slated for release in late November/early December.
“No Doubt About It”
Following the success of 2011’s Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 “Give Me Everything,” co-writers Ne-Yo and Pitbull reunite for another pulsating, get-on-the-floor party jam. A video for the track is scheduled to shoot in Miami on Sept. 19, directed by Gil Green (Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, Pitbull).
“Ain’t About the Money”
Performed by Smollett and Yazz (Hakeem Lyon)
The brothers Lyon reunite on another Ne-Yo co-write/co-production, a mid-tempo rap/sung collaboration that could double as the family’s manifesto: “If I don’t know nothing /One thing I know / Power over money, man / That’s just how it go.”
Performed by Bre-Z (Freda Gatz)
The baby-faced, pint-sized rapper, who plays Chris Rock’s daughter, delivers a raw, gritty street style on this declaration about ignoring haters and forging her own lane (“I’ma shine forever”). The song will be introduced in the first episode. “When you first hear Bre-Z’s sound, it takes you back to those early days of rapper Eve,” says Columbia’s Holiday. “She also has some exciting music coming up later with Terrence Howard.”
V. Bozeman (Veronica)
Bozeman’s recurring character is the singer who was recording with Lucious in the first season’s premiere episode. Behind the scenes, Howard co-wrote and co-produced this piano-driven power ballad about love and sacrifice.
An edited version of this article originally appeared in the Sept. 26 issue of Billboard.