1. The season premiere taps into the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
The show picks up three months after Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) was arrested, and it opens with a #FreeLucious concert in the park. Real-life hip-hop producer Swizz Beatz emcees the show and talks about the 1.68 million black men who are incarcerated in the U.S. Fans want Lucious to be released, and the event is peppered with activists holding up signs calling for his freedom. It’s Empire’s way of channeling the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
2. And Bill and Hillary Clinton are some of those Lucious Lyon fans.
We actually don’t see former U.S. President Bill Clinton in the crowd of the #FreeLucious concert, but he’s there. Mostly, Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) smartly surmises, to stump for his wife and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton. “He needs to be if he wants his wife to get elected,” she says.
4. Cookie ups her fashion game.
The first outfit we see Cookie wearing in Season 2 is a peacock-feathered, colorful, sexy Gucci number — but, bloop, fashion icon (and critic) André Leon Talley makes an appearance and notes that it’s a last season look. Cookie’s Lil’ Kim–inspired, overly animal printed wardrobe from Season 1 hasn’t completely gone away, but she’s much more new millennium than we saw her be last season.
5. And she’s back behind bars…
But it’s not what you think! To make a point about black people being locked up far too often, Cookie steps inside a cage, dresses in a gorilla costume, and beats her chest while being lowered down to the stage. She soon reveals herself and delivers an impactful speech.
6. 50 Cent’s shade makes its way into the show.
As Cookie walks through Empire Records, she looks at her phone to check out what’s happening on Instagram. And 50 Cent, who has criticized the show in real life, gets shaded when she says, “50 Cent is still taking jabs at us. Look at what he put on the ’gram. Thirsty ass.” Double bloop.
7. Marisa Tomei drops it like it’s hot with Anika.
The Oscar winner guest stars as billionaire venture capitalist Mimi Whiteman, and her character is not one to shy away from the dance floor. She impressively shimmies to Bobby Shmurda before inviting Anika (Grace Gealey) — the object of her affection — to dance with her.
8. There’s an awesome new emerging rap star.
Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray) better watch out. Newcomer Freda Gatz (Bre-Z) — who plays the daughter of guest star Chris Rock’s character — has bars for days, and naturally, Lucious wants to sign her. In one great scene, she battles a man and just about shuts him down in the streets…until he verbally attacks with the one piece of truth that sets her off.
9. A Real Housewives of Atlanta alum shows up.
NeNe Leakes isn’t the only RHOA cast member who can snag a gig on a hot, scripted TV show. Miss Lawrence — whom we were first introduced to as Sheree Whitfield’s hair stylist — gets to sing (as we saw him do in Kandi Burruss’s studio when he performed “Closet Freak” in Season 3) and lounge on a piano. And he absolutely nails it.
10. Get ready for more music from Jamal, Hakeem, and Tiana.
Jamal (Jussie Smollett) wants to write more, get back in the studio, and do the thing he was really born to do in Season 2, as opposed to being his dad’s henchman. Thankfully, we see him belt out what will be our new music obsessions. Hakeem also has some fantastic, gritty raps that will set our world on fire, and even Tiana (Serayah McNeill) has a fun, bouncy, almost Caribbean-inspired new track that could be quite the girl power anthem. Check out some of the new music here and here. And it also looks like we’ll see more collaborations between Empire characters and real-life musicians. Even the show’s music producer Timbaland makes an appearance, performing with Hakeem.
11. And expect more rapping from Lucious.
Being incarcerated has inspired the former emcee to bring the beast out, and he begins rhyming again. His verses are so good, they could rival the music his sons create. After hearing him spit those verses in the yard, trust you’ll want more of it.
12. There are cameos for days.
Bubbles is on Empire! If you’re a fan of The Wire, you know who Andre Royo is — a phenomenal character actor who played junkie Bubbles on HBO’s critically acclaimed series. Another fun cameo: Tyra Ferrell, whom fans of Boyz n the Hood will recognize as Doughboy (Ice Cube) and Ricky’s (Morris Chestnut) mom.
13. And one of them will break your heart.
Lovable rapper Ludacris plays a jerk of a correctional officer in the facility where Lucious is being held. Officer McKnight is the kind of guy who hates rappers — ha, ha — and wants to make the cell block’s most famous prisoner’s life a living hell.
14. Cookie still slays.
She’s known for coming up with the best one-liners and zingers, and nothing about that has changed at all. When Hakeem wants to develop a Latina girl group, she’s all for it. “Ain’t nothing wrong with a couple of J.Los — as long as they can really sing.” Zing!
15. But Boo Boo Kitty finally takes a page out of Cookie’s book.
Finally, Anika gets a good line in over Cookie. In a heated conversation, and after Cookie zings her nemesis with some per usual biting words, Lucious’s former fiancé delivers this: “I get it, I get it. You are the baddest bitch ever. You are badder than all the animals whose prints populate your wardrobe.” Oh, OK, girl. We see you.
16. Jamal has changed a lot.
Our sweet, thoughtful Jamal who struggled in the first season to get his father’s acceptance has now become his father. He’s mean and far more aggressive than we’ve seen him before.
17. And be prepared to see a new side of Lucious, too.
Kelly Rowland plays mama to Lucious Lyon in flashbacks, and more of his backstory begins to unravel. Through those scenes, we start to understand a bit more as to why he is the way he is— and it may make you feel sorry for him. (Mama can sing, too. We see where he gets his talent from.)
18. Latinos get a lot of love.
Last season, some of the criticism Empire earned was over the lack of Latino characters in the world of hip-hop. Not this season! We’re going to see a Latina pop princess emerge and we get a fantastic guest appearance from Pitbull (who performs a new song with Jamal).
19. And the broom is back.
Duck, Hakeem! We see another broom in Season 2, just like we did in the Season 1 premiere, but it looks like both Cookie and Hakeem have grown a bit. Just wait.
Empire Season 2 premieres Wednesday, Sept. 23 at 9 p.m. ET/8 CT on Fox.
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