THE GRADE B+
BOTTOM LINE The Fox show’s stars are finding their groove musically.
It’s a quirk of the entertainment industry that soundtracks from the second season of a TV series (or a surprise hit movie franchise) are markedly better than the ones from the first installment.
“Empire” (Columbia) is just the latest example. Though the show has seen a drop in ratings in its second year, the music it has generated has only gotten stronger.
After seeing the first season, Ne-Yo professed his love for the show, signing on to write music for this season. And true to his word, Ne-Yo, who has written his own hits like “So Sick” and smashes for others that includes Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable,” has contributed some of the season’s strongest tracks, including the standout “Shine on Me.”
While “Shine” reinforces some “Empire” plot points, it also reflects the outside world, especially when Jussie Smollett sings about seeing “murder on my street, death on my block, cops that be more criminal than cop.”
J.R. Rotem, best known for his work with Rihanna on “S.O.S.” and the string of hits with Sean Kingston, also contributes a couple of winners, including “Crown,” which is performed on the show by Mirage a Trois (Jamila Velazquez, Yani Marin and Port Jefferson Station’s Raquel Castro, in real life).
“Crown” takes Justin Timberlake-styled R&B and applies it to the girl group, one of several strong female-driven tracks from the show, including the Fifth Harmony-like “Look But Don’t Touch” from Serayah and the sassy pop of “Fabulous” from DMK.
The biggest surprise here is the great inspirational old-school soul track “Hemingway,” which Smollett co-wrote as well as sings. Sometimes, Smollett gets a little too caught up in his role as Jamal Lyon when he’s singing, as he does in the plot-driven “Like My Daddy.” But for the most part, the “Empire” Season 2 soundtrack stands on its own just fine.