The Opulent Majesty of Hakeem’s Music Video on Last Night’s ‘Empire’


In Episode 5 of Empire, titled “Dangerous Bonds,” Hakeem Lyon (who, any time he holds a basketball, looks frighteningly like Swaggy P) stands at a crossroads in his burgeoning hip-hop career. He’s just recorded a hot new single called “Drip Drop,” which, from what I can tell, is about the percolation process required to brew coffee.1 As catchy and infectious as a song with the chorus “Drip drop, drip drippity drop” can be, Hakeem has the Solange to his Beyoncé, his upstart brother Jamal, to deal with.

Jamal is in a cramped studio spitting flames and over-emoting like a British character actor in a Batman film. What Hakeem lacks in the sort of honesty and poetry that is his brother’s trademark, he makes up for in resources. As long as daddy Lucious is putting up the cash, Hakeem should hypothetically be able to bury his struggling rival. Hakeem’s trump card is revealed to be an opulent music video, which was meticulously storyboarded so the grandeur of the vision could be easily conveyed to those with the power to say yes or no to such an audacious concept.

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And what an audacious concept it is. Hakeem — on a Jet Ski in the middle of the ocean, shirtless, with a pretty girl riding on the back — is poised to come off looking like a true baller. Some of the scenes look like they’re pulled straight from the pages of a comic book.2 Lucious loves the concept so much that he appears visibly moved, as though the tears could come at any moment. Here’s a father who has been waiting patiently for at least one of his sons to rise to the occasion and show some real initiative. He finally gets his wish when his little boy explains how his dream is to roll around on a gold bed with a bunch of women in their underwear. I would have cried too.

Unfortunately for the patriarch of Empire Entertainment, his son’s vision is not cheap. Soft-ass fuckboi brother Andre reminds his dad that the video for “Drip Drop” is a million dollars over budget. I don’t have a cost breakdown with me right now, but based on that little piece of information, I assume the video costs more than a million dollars. Like, a lot more.

For reference, the video for Britney Spears’s “Work Bitch,” which at one point was rumored to cost more than $6 million, was estimated by VH1 to only cost between $800,000 and $1.2 million. That would mean that Empire Entertainment was probably planning to spend twice that on “Drip Drop.” Keep in mind that the “Work Bitch” video had Spears dancing in the middle of a man-made lake with fake sharks circling her, and a Lamborghini doing doughnuts in the desert for no reason. With that cost estimate and Lucious’s incredulous, borderline incoherent response to his son’s plans in mind, there’s only one thing we could have assumed while watching last night’s episode:


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The first thing we see once the story moves to the actual filming of the video is Hakeem on the very Jet Ski we were promised, shirtless, with the very same girl in a bikini we were also promised. Granted, instead of filming out in the ocean (or even in a controlled water tank), Hakeem is in front of a green screen. To the untrained eye, that might seem like a major budgetary compromise, a shabby replacement for verisimilitude.  

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Fortunately, Hakeem explains to his crew (and by proxy, us: the non-visionary, lizard-brained audience) that with a green screen, he can do anything. He could even put his Jet Ski in space!3 If Kanye’s video for “Bound 2” taught us anything, it’s that through the magic of cheap, rudimentary special effects, anything is possible.

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At this point in the episode, I started to wonder where all the money went. Did the Jet Ski cost $250,000 to rent? Were the crew members androids? Did they buy a Tesla and then drop it into the Grand Canyon and I just didn’t see that part of the storyboard? Were the sheets on this bed made of human skin?

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Gold rain? Who directed this, Hype Williams’s limo driver? When is something going to blow up? This isn’t even as impressive as the video for Mariah Carey’s “Honey.” At least in that video, the Jet Skis went into the water. If I was Jamal, I would have punched my brother in the stomach too, just for being so wack. Hakeem actually had to call fuckboi Andre for more money to finish his video faster in order to beat Jamal to the punch.

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I’d rather watch Jamal cling-clang bing-bang on some more garbage cans than watch the “Drip Drop” video ever again. As such, I’m going to have to put Hakeem last in my “Who Will Assume Control of Empire Entertainment?” standings:

  1. Andre
  2. Jamal
  3. Some illegitimate son of Lucious we haven’t met yet.
  4. Joffrey Baratheon
  5. Nick Young
  6. Hakeem

Step up your game, Hakeem.

Filed Under: TV, empire, Music Videos, Hakeem Lyon, Fox, Soap Operas, Colossal Wastes of Money

Dave Schilling is a general editor at Grantland.

Archive @ dave_schilling