Recording information: Beluga Heights Studio, Los Angeles, CA; Compound Studios, Los Angeles, CA; Hitfactory, Miami, FL; Periscope PA, Chicago, IL; The Village, Los Angeles, CA.
The first season of Fox's television megahit Empire produced a soundtrack so catchy it reminded fans just how talented Timbaland was at producing beat-heavy hip-hop hook monsters. It was a veritable phenomenon for television in 2014-2015 and an order for more episodes was a no-brainer. However, much like the show itself, the quality of songs had become somewhat uneven, producing a lot of MOR Timbaland cuts and not as much excitement as season one hits like "Drip Drop" and "Power of the Empire." The first collection of songs from Empire's second season arrived just before its late-2015 midseason finale, cobbling together a soundtrack nearly halfway full of Jamal (Jussie Smollett) jams, a handful of Hakeem (Yazz) raps, a couple highlights from daddy mogul Lucious (Terrence Howard), and one-offs by second-tier characters like Tiana (Serayah), Veronica (V. Bozeman), Laura Calleros' (Jamila Velazquez) Mirage a Trois, and season two breakout femcee Freda (Bre-Z). Real-life stars like Petey Pablo, Pitbull, and Timbaland himself also make appearances. The highlights logically correspond to the hardest-hitting plot twists in the show, like the sibling rivalry meltdown during the video shoot for the "California Love" homage, the haunting "Ain't About the Money," the breezy Pitbull dance-pop gem "No Doubt About It," and the mysterious mental breakdown during "Runnin'." The album's standout centerpiece is the sitar-tinged climax "Boom Boom Boom Boom," which features a ferocious performance by a gun-wielding Howard and Bre-Z. While the show lost some of the steam from the first season, the desire for more tracks continues to drive more volumes of accompanying soundtracks. Fans will be pleased, but comparisons to season one -- both of the show and the soundtrack -- may overshadow this collection. ~ Neil Z. Yeung