Recording information: Blakeslee Recording Studio, North Hollywood, CA; Periscope Post And Audio.
Throughout the first season of Fox musical drama Empire, the Columbia label released episode-specific digital download bundles of the series' original music, executive produced by Timbaland. Each batch consisted of two to five tracks and arrived a day before the original broadcasts. Just prior to the initial airing of the first season's 10th (of 12) episodes, Columbia issued this season-spanning compilation, 11 tracks in CD form. It's anchored by performances from lead artists Jussie Smollett (Jamal Lyon) and Yazz (Hakeem Lyon). Smollett, who signed a real-life recording deal with Columbia just before the compilation hit shelves, is showcased best in pilot episode track "Good Enough," which resembles a decent album cut from Justin Timberlake's Timbaland-assisted 20/20 Experience. Rapper Yazz, who portrays the spoiled but eager youngest Lyon sibling, shines most on the unassisted "Power of the Empire." Contributions from V. Bozeman (Veronica), Courtney Love (Elle Dallas), Serayah McNeil (Tiana), and Terrence Howard (Lucius Lyon) are also selected. Bozeman's despairing ballad "What Is Love" is, by far, the standout of that bunch (and perhaps of the series as a whole). Additionally, Columbia opted to load the disc with the season's high-profile guest appearances -- two from Jennifer Hudson, one each from Mary J. Blige and Estelle -- and thereby squeezed out some of the more memorable cast performances. Among the surprising omissions are Yazz's divisive club track "Drip Drop" and Smollett's version of "You're So Beautiful," two songs that were more prominent, and more deeply embedded, in the story line. (Both of them are on the 18-track digital download edition.) Few of the songs are worthy of life outside the context of Empire, yet it's impossible to imagine the program, an unequivocal hit, being half as appealing without them. ~ Andy Kellman