Empire Is Getting That Pepsi Money. Smart. Very Smart.

Fox screenshot
Fox screenshot

For all of its faults – sometimes I feel like the writers behind Empire don’t actually realize that the people watching are old enough to know non-sense when we see it – I do happen to think that Empire is one of the “smartest” shows on television for what they are doing for a few episodes. And here’s why.


During the first season, everybody started noticing whenever famous people managed to make it onto the show. Hell, Naomi Campbell played Hakeem Lyon’s cougar/jumpoff. Naomi freakin’ Campbell. Derek Luke was running security before whisking off to Washington, DC, to work for somebody doing something. Random celeb cameos became part of the Empire excitement, and it worked. It played into the cultural zeitgeist that made Empire a show that you had to see every week.

Well, this season the “thing” that made Empire so hip last season seemed a bit contrived from episode one as we were all supposed to believe that Chris Rock was a hardened criminal; basically, Pookie resurrected himself as a fearmongering murderer from Philadelphia. Nuh uh, no way, no how. But whatevs, I’m here for it anyway.

Oh, and before I forget, Hakeem “No Last Name” TOTALLY got slaughtered in that battle by Freda Gatz. Hakeem was terrible. He better take that shit back across 8 Mile. Hakeem winning that battle was ALMOST as unbelievable as 1) that battle happening in the first place; and 2) Jamal winning that battle in season one singing his R&B tunes in a dingy open mic spot. Sometimes, it’s just best to throw your hands in the air and wave them like you just don’t care.

I also like fish and grits and all that pimp shit. Oh yeah-er.

Back to the lecture at hand; while I do think Empire has definitely stretched the limits of my imagination, I have to give kudos where kudos are due. The people behind Empire? Fuckin’ brilliant.

They basically turned last night’s episode (Espisode 8) into an hour long Pepsi commercial. Which if you think about it is what rappers have been trying to do with liquor and clothing brands for years through all of the free publicity in songs and video, except big leagued by at least 1000 percent because you KNOW the folks behind Empire got broke the fuck off.

I have no idea for how much, but let’s be real: hiding subliminal messages in plain sight to urban demographics for an hour convincing them to drink Pepsi? Priceless. Whatever Pepsi paid, it probably wasn’t enough. Queens? Get the money.


On the show, Jamal is one of ten artists vying for a shot to be the face of a new Pepsi campaign. They created a commercial for him – then ran a bunch of Pepsi commercials during Empire breaks – and he had to create a song. The song, necessary for the Pepsi ad deal which would be the biggest opportunity for exposure of Jamal’s career, allowed Empire to create a storyline pitting Lucious against Cookie as they competed to help create Jamal’s sound for the ad.

Jamal, wisely, blended the best elements from both Luscious and Cookie’s notes and tutelage and created what was actually a pretty dope song. I found myself rewinding it to listen again despite the frenetic clashing of styles. But hey, Big K.R.I.T. told me that life ain’t nothing but an EQ of highs and lows, so who am I to judge? As an ATL-ien, I’m a Coke loyalist, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t want to get a Pepsi because they picked Jamal’s song and I felt like my family won.


Then I snapped back to reality and realized I was watching Empire and I live in a Kool-Aid house anyway.

At the same time, I did stand to my feet and do a slow clap for Empire’s realization that since all of these folks are trying to buy into the Empire business, LET THEM EAT CAKE! Or in this case, approach a huge brand who clearly realized that it couldn’t hurt AT ALL to have a relationship turned into an actual storyline. It’s the best type of advertising out there: co-branding that doesn’t seem random that can slide into a show’s premise.


Brav-fucking-o, Empire.

Urban brands and shows have always had what seems to be an unfair relationship with the clothing or any brands they pushed. Black people are trendsetters and even back on shows like Martin, YO! MTV Raps, and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, I don’t know if the stars were being paid to push the brands they were wearing or if they were just being cool and keeping the shows fresh and hip with the standards of the day but I always felt like those stars should have been paid handsomely for the styles they ushered into school yards and clubs all over.


Well, Empire took that idea and created the perfect way to take Pepsi’s money without shedding any bit of integrity. And I’m here for it. That’s some smart television. The only way it would have been better is if Boo Boo Kitty took a sip of Pepsi and then looked at the camera as she kidnapped Hakeem’s new virginal boo.

To the Empire?

To the Empire.

Panama Jackson is the Senior Editor of Very Smart Brothas. He's pretty fly for a light guy. You can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking all her brown liquors.


miss t-lee

When I saw that Pepsi sponsorship angle I was like…welp!
I can't believe Boo Boo Kitty went off the deep end. I refuse to believe Hakeem is slanging anything that magical to warrant even half of that.
We all know Freda won that battle. Hakeem's "bars" are a hot mess.
Next week's preview? Alicia Keys and Jamal on a song? Gonna be vibrato overdose.
Get your earplugs, ready!