Empire, the freshman hip-hop drama currently grabbing huge ratings for Fox, draws from real-life industry events and personalities to create an authentic-feeling musical world. However, NBA star Iman Shumpert and his girlfriend, rising R&B talent Teyana Taylor, believe that the show based two characters directly on their relationship without checking with the couple or giving them credit as inspiration.
In an interview with Northeast Ohio Media Group, Shumpert — who started his career with the New York Knicks and was recently traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers — sounds off on the characters of Hakeem, a rapper with a flat top from New York, and Tiana, Hakeem’s ex-girlfriend who is a promising R&B starlet in the Empire world (and who has a similar hairstyle to Taylor as well). Shumpert says that he doesn’t see how the Empire producers “can deny” that the two characters are based off of his real-life girlfriend and himself.
“They’re using my girl’s character, her style, her look and she’s not getting anything for it,” Shumpert says in the interview. “They didn’t even change her name. They could have at least let my girl audition for the part instead of stealing her character completely.
“And come on man, they’re really using a guy with a flat top like me,” Shumpert continues. “Come on. That’s ridiculous. They never called us. We were blindsided. We found out by our family and fans when the show aired.”
Fox did not immediately respond to Billboard’s request for comment. Shumpert, a defensive specialist with the LeBron James-led Cavaliers, says that Taylor — who released her debut album VII on Kanye West‘s G.O.O.D. Music label in conjunction with Def Jam last year — and her fans are more upset by the striking similarities than he is.
“I’m a ball player, but that’s her field,” he says. “That’s what she does. Me personally, I don’t plan on taking any action but I don’t know about her.”
Last night’s episode of Empire continued the show’s pattern of growing its audience week after week, while its season 1 soundtrack is aiming for the top of next week’s Billboard 200 albums chart. Watch Hakeem and Tiana, played by Bryshere “Yazz” Gray and Seraya McNeill on the smash series, perform “Keep It Movin'” on a recent episode of Empire: