The Business: Bre-Z--The Newest Face On Empire--Speaks On Thriving As A Female MC In The Industry--& How Terrence & Taraji Keep Her Grounded
In less than a year Fox’s TV show Empire, quickly electrified the landscape for urban television as a stand-out original drama amidst an endless sea of reality shows on most networks. However you feel about Empire, (with this show it only comes in 3 setting 1) you love it 2) you hate it 3) you love to hate it) it was a welcome breath of fresh-air to see Empire actually craft a compelling urban storyline with complex characters, an all-star cast to bring them to life, timely real-life controversial issues, and--most shockingly of all, a music soundtrack strong enough to stand on its own, with or without the show.
Created by Lee Daniels, Empire chronicles the fictional story of Lucious Lyon, a music mogul not to be toyed with portrayed by Terrence Howard, and how he and his ex-wife, the infamous Cookie Lyon, portrayed by OKP fav Taraji P. Henderson, brought their three sons and music “empire” to the top of the music industry food chain, and ruthlessly keep it that way- at all costs.
With Season 1 of the show having characters and guest appearances portrayed from a Who’s Who in entertainment spanning Naomi Campbell, Courtney Love, Jennifer Hudson, Snoop, Juicy J, Rita Ora, and Mary J. Blige, the anticipation is high for the launch of Series 2 which kicks off tomorrow night.
Not surprisingly, the internets have been all the buzz with spoilers about what we can expect with season 2, along with who we can expect to see in it. Along with the highly publicized addition of Vivica Fox to Empire as Cookie’s sister, it’s also been reported that we can expect to see Chris Rock, Lenny Kravitz, and AliciaKeys in Season 2.
Fox teamed up with Colombia Records to release two new songs for the Season 2 soundtrack which debuted earlier this month: "No Doubt About it" featuring Jussie Smollet (Jamal Lyon) and Pitbull, and "Ain't About the Money" by the Lyon Brothers Jussie Smollet (Jamal Lyon) and Yaz (Hakeem Lyon).
Season 2 also introduces us to the new storyline of a gritty female emcee who’s character’s name is “Freda Gatz,” portrayed by none other than Bre-Z, a Philly native (by way of Delaware, Atlanta, and LA) who's an MC and songwriter in real life with past collaborations under her belt with Dr. Dre, The Game, and JLO.
Okayplayer had a chance to get up with Bre-Z and learn about her big leap into acting, and what its been like working with Terrence, Taraji, and arguably one the most important music shows currently on prime time TV.
OKP: Were you watching Empire before you got involved with it?
Bre-Z: Oh yeah, definitely. It's a great show. For somebody like myself, just being young and in the music industry, it was definitely that go-to show to watch.
OKP: How did you actually get involved? Where was the pop-off point?
Bre-Z: The pop-off was really me going in for my audition, and Lee Daniels calling me a few days later. I went in just thinking I was about to rap. I had no idea I was about to read the script and stuff like that, but it turned out great.
OKP: For those of us not really into musicals, you almost forget that Empire is a so-called “Hip Hop Musical.” It feels like you’re watching a great show that just happens to have dope music. How do you think Empire was able to accomplish that and not fall into the cheesy musical trap?
Bre-Z: Because there’s real-life situations in between the music. It's not just your regular fairy tale skipping through the park singing a song. There’s a lot emotion and various emotions running through the different records that you're seeing…
What you’re seeing is that outlet for that particular individual through the music, their reactions through the music. And I think for a lot of musicians, that's 100% accurate. For a lot of us [musicians], that's how we tend to clear our minds, and I feel that that's with anybody who has a particular craft. Whether it be a hobby or something that we work hard at, it tends to be an outlet for a number of things. It's therapy to an extent. They [Empire] just kept it straight up know what I mean?
OKP: Why do you think Empire introduced your character of Freda Gatz in the show? What’s the new element she’s bringing in?
Bre-Z: She’s another walk of life and that’s exactly what Lee Daniels is bringing across in the show. He’s giving you a birds-eye view into so many different walks of life, from Cookie dealing drugs and being behind bars, to Lucious being a single father raising three kids, one who happens to be gay, one who turns out to have bi polar disorder, one who’s just a little brat. He’s just giving an insight on all walks of life, and Freda is another walk of life. She’s a young girl trying to find her way who is rough around the edges, who is attracted to women.
OKP: A lot of fans of the show appreciated the storyline of Lucious's son Jamal Lyon– a gay musician wanting his sexuality to be irrelevant to his talent and his personality. Is Freda’s sexuality as a lesbian central to her storyline?
Bre-Z: I don’t think so, it’s just something that is. Between (Jamal Lyon & Freda Gatz’s character), their sexuality is not who they are. And I feel like that goes for anybody. None of your sexual likenesses are displayed in public view whether you’re with a man or a woman or the same sex. What you do in your bedroom is your business. There’s no need to make a spectacle of it, but you do have to acknowledge that it exists and treat people accordingly, and not be hateful and not a bully or taunt people because they may not walk in the same shoes as you do.
OKP: Fans can sometimes have trouble separating the actor from the character. What parts of yourself do you find in Freda Gatz, and what parts of Freda’s character has nothing to do with you at all?
Bre-Z: Honestly, with me in particular with Freda, the whole role is definitely art imitating life. We are exactly the same, like –exactly. So to sit and watch her, is to sit and watch me and I don't think it's acting because it is who I am. Of course I’ve grown as a woman, but the road that Freda is on, I've already been there and done that and moved on from it, know what I’m saying? So it was easy to get on screen and do my thing, because that's what I do. Like I said, I can't be anyone else better than I can be myself, and that's what makes this character come to life. Is because I’m true to it.
OKP: Freda is described as being a little on the tougher side. She spits rhymes, has an edge, and she’s a little moody. Do you think it's necessary for women in the music biz, especially in hip hop, to take on an armor of toughness to deal with the realities of the business?
Bre-Z: I don't think they have to, but I do understand that in a lot of industries and not just (music). I can speak as being a barber in a male-dominated industry- it’s the same with music. You cannot absolutely have a soft-shell, because you're in a testosterone-driven environment and it just comes with the territory.
I personally don’t walk with that shield on me because I'm just a hundred percent confident in who I am, no matter whose industry they think it is. So I think a lot of women do it because of the stereotypes of what women think they have to do to be successful or what they say women have done. Everyone's got their own choices. It's up to you what you do, but the key thing is being confident and comfortable with who you are. With that you can walk into any building, and that's how I am, so it really doesn’t matter to me.
OKP: You were a barber?
Bre-Z: Yeah, I've been cutting hair since I was about ten years old. I've been cutting hair my whole life, and being a barber was my occupation. That's what I did alongside the music. I cut hair to make money and pay my bills.
OKP: What about where you’re from originally? You were born in Philly, spent a greater part of your life in Delaware, then lived in Atlanta, and then LA?
Bre-Z: I was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Delaware. After I did some time in college, I went to Atlanta with my mom. I was still cutting hair there, but really putting more time into the music. And after spending eight years in Atlanta, came to LA. Just went to LA to try something different and get a little fresh start on everything and get my music career going 100 percent. Through doing that came this opportunity, and here we are.
OKP: What was life like for you as a young teenager with an affinity for hip hop in Delaware? I don’t think a lot of people know what the Delaware scene is like.
Bre-Z: A lot of people don't, and Delaware is the first state [to officially became a US State, in 1790]. It’s a very small state and a tax free state, but Delaware is just a miniature version of any other city, like Philadelphia. To a certain degree it's a little more suburban, but its very much a city. It fits right there with Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia. It wasn’t that different, it was just like growing up in any other city as a youngin’ in the streets fighting your way through the madness.
OKP: Who were you loving as a teen in Delaware in terms of hip-hop music? What was the album you wanted to have on your bedroom wall?
Bre-Z: It was definitely the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. It was Lil Kim, it was Foxy Brown, it was Jay Z, and that whole Rocafella camp. There was the Murda Inc camp. I was a fan of a lot of that late 90s and early 2000s time frame, of everything moving. I was the one who had CDs on CDs on CDs. My whole room was full of CD’s. There was nothing I didn’t have.
OKP: And the first hip hop song you memorized the lyrics to?
Bre-Z: Rob Base - "It Takes Two."
OKP: Before you started working on the show, you did some work with Jennifer Lopez & Dr. Dre. How did that all come about?
Bre-Z: [With] a songwriter, her name is Asia Bryant. We actually co-wrote a single for JLO called “Girls” produced by DJ Mustard. It was just a co-write, just something I came into, and it was the same with the Dr. Dre situation which lead to me working with The Game. Its just building relationships and meeting people. With The Game, he was cool and was homies, and was in the studio like - 'oh what you got?' ...then it was us putting our minds together to work together.
OKP: You have some incredible actors and musicians involved with the Empire cast full time and part time. Who's the funniest when everyone is kicking it off-camera?
Bre-Z: Terrence. We're side by side all day. I love him, he's hilarious and very real and very outspoken. He's very honest, and just became like a big brother to me. He is who I spend most of my time with off screen, so I’d have to say him because I don’t spend that much time with anyone else.
OKP: Aside from Terrence you’ve probably had interesting conversations getting to know your fellow cast members? Has anyone dropped insane knowledge on you about the industry?
Bre-Z: Taraji definetly has. Taraji and Terrence are both so embracing and they definitely have a soft spot in their heart for the younger cast members who are new to this. Everybody got they O.G. and Terrence & Taraji are the O.G.’s of the set outside of Lee Daniels. They’re always kicking knowledge and giving it to us, and it’s always staying humble and staying true to who you are. And I think that’s important.
OKP: What was your biggest surprise working on the show?
Bre-Z: Realizing that all of these people, no matter what tax bracket they lie in, still are just regular people. Working together it’s no 'big fish little fish' It’s not 'oh you can’t say shit to Terrence Howard'... Everyone is treated equally, and that’s on and off screen. Because you never know when you live in a world that is just media driven. All we know is what’s on TV, on facebook, these blogs. That’s all people are getting and you never get what really is going on. I’m just thankful and grateful to be in an environment of such love and great energy.
OKP: What’s been your most surreal moment working with the show?
Bre-Z: Not really one particular moment, but every time I’m on set and I’m there for 18-20 hours I’m like wow this is real. Unless you’ve been on this side I don’t think people understand how much hard work and dedication goes into what you do as the finished product. Every time I’m working its def not about being outside and people notice who you are and people taking your pictures. My wild moments are just the work. The work that has to be done, and I get a great feeling that I went in there and did the best I could.
OKP: For every season of Empire is there going to be a music compilation that comes with it, and are you going to be on the season 2 compilation?
Bre-Z: I created music for season 2. I’m not sure what the future holds, but I’m looking forward to everyone hearing that.
>>>Season 2 of Empire premieres on Fox tomorrow, Wednesday September 23rd at 9:00-10:00 pm ET/PT
>>>Get All Music For Episode 1 Here: https://smarturl.it/ThisWeekOnEmpire