When the second season of Fox’s Empire premieres on Sept. 23, three months have elapsed since the arrest and incarceration of patriarch Lucious Lyon. No doubt the twists and turns that made the family saga a runaway hit will continue to keep fans talking–as will the introduction of an intriguing new character, Freda Gatz.
Played by rapper Bre-Z (pronounced breezy), Gatz is described by Fox publicity as “a baby-faced emcee (aka The Queen o’ 16s) from Brownsville, Brooklyn. Unapologetically butch, she has won more rap battles than the best male vets on her block. Charismatic and witty, but with a street lean, she’s done some dirt but rhyming is her way out. Moody. Outspoken. A hardhead who is silenced and humbled only in the presence of her gangster father.” Gatz will be introduced in Sept. 23 premiere episode.
Born in Philadelphia and raised in Wilimington, Delaware, the pint-sized Bre-Z landed her first acting role by chance. A friend had pitched her name to someone connected to Empire, which led to an audition in Los Angeles. “I winged it and it worked,” says Bre-Z who adds with a laugh, “I’ve acted a fool but I’ve never been on TV.” But despite her lack of acting experience, she calls her character “a perfect fit. That’s all I can really say. I don’t necessarily want to lose my job by spilling the beans, so people should definitely stay tuned.”
Nicknamed Bre-Z at birth by her grandmother, the self-described “tomboy and jack of all trades” began rapping at 14. At 15 she met Freeway of Roc-A-Fella rap group State Property. “He was the first one to actually put me in the studio and record a song with me,” says Bre-Z, whose fearless, androgynous style (“I will tell you a story from front to back and nothing but the truth”) was shaped by such additional influences as Tupac, Jay Z, Missy Elliott, MC Lyte, Queen Latifah and Lauryn Hill.
By 2008, Bre-Z had moved to Atlanta to further her musical pursuits on the independent underground scene and simultaneously became one of Atlanta’s go-to celebrity barbers, cutting such heads as Ludacris, Akon and Aphilliates Music Group co-founder DJ Sense. “I come from a family of barbers so that was always my occupation as a means of income,” says Bre-Z, who started cutting hair when she was 10 years old.
But she shifted her focus nearly four years ago to concentrate more fully on music, moving to Los Angeles last year. In that time she has collaborated with, among others, Dr. Dre and singer/songwriter Asia Bryant (Compton), The Game (the forthcoming The Documentary 2) and written for Nigerian rapper Wiz Kid and Jennifer Lopez.
Also set to appear on the Empire original soundtrack for season two, Bre-Z says that “for a young girl coming off the streets and getting thrown into this pool of greatness” is very much a surreal experience. “I don’t feel it fully yet. But Terrence, Taraji and everyone have been very embracing and helpful; you can feel the energy and the love. I just feel like I’ve met some very good people and we’re having fun.”