known for his groundbreaking role as tortured pop star, Jamal Lyon in the mega-hit television series Empire, is now emerging beyond what many call one of the most powerful characters on television. Yes, the show is a pop culture phenomenon, smashing records and is quite symbiotic for Jussie Smollett, but his arrival at this pivotal moment with the release of his album SUM OF MY MUSIC on March 2, 2018, is the culmination of years of perseverance that started for him quite literally at the age of four and has delivered him to the present as a singer, songwriter, actor, director, performer and activist.
To some it may seem like Smollett popped on the scene just a few years ago as the middle Lyon son, a role in which he won Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series at the 2017 NAACP Images Awards, but Jussie has co-starred in some of the most memorable projects of his generation. From The Mighty Ducks and Rob Reiner’s North, to playing the son of Halle Berry and Danny Glover in Alex Haley’s Queen to starring opposite his five real-life siblings in the ABC/TGIF sitcom On Our Own, he’s never been far removed from the spotlight.
He stunned audiences with his portrayal of Josey, a runaway slave, desperate to find his wife, in WGN’s Underground. In 2012, Smollett received rave reviews for this portrayal of, Magnus, a medical student hosting his college friends for an eye-opening New York City weekend in the cult favorite, The Skinny. Most recently co-starting as Sergeant Ricks in Ridley Scott’s number one box office hit, Alien: Covenant; and his cameo as legendary poet and childhood hero, Langston Hughes, in Reginald Hudlin’s Marshall with Black Partner start Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad and Kate Hudson.
But for Jussie, music has always been the thing that he came back to regardless of this schedule or other commitments.
“Music has always been my heart. Something I can always and will always create,” he explains. “When I was working day jobs in offices, as a waiter, in retail or even as a clown at children’s parties, music awas the thing that I could always do at night, on weekends, in the morning time; I could create music around anything I was doing, There’s never an excuse to not create.” It’s that passion and fearlessness that propels him to do what he’s always done. CREATE.
So, despite a massively compacted schedule filled with shooting and now directing for empire, Jussie is in the space he’s always been in – He’s creating music whenever and wherever he can. And fans have gotten a taste of what Jussie can do musically already.
The Empire soundrack, for which Smollett was both a writer and cocalist, went to number one on the Billboard charts, was nominated Outstanding Collaboration with Estelle for “Conqueror,” and Outstanding Song for “You’re so Beautiful,” which heco-wrote, for the 2016 NAACP Image Awards. He has been chosen to perform three times at the Kennedy Center, inducted the great Marvin Gaye into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, sang for the Obamas at the direct request of president and MRs, Obama and opened three sold-out dates for the iconic Mariah Carey in Hawaii.
On March 17, 2017, Smollett released “F.U.W.” (F** Up World), a smoldering song and visual that took a hard stand against the current administration’s policies by highlighting injustices around racial prejudice and the fight for religious, human and LGBTQ rights. Jussie explained, “This is not a sing. It’s not a song to promote the series (Empire). It’s an artistic expression. My view of this sick cycle, an era in which we must fight our way out of before it’s too late. This view of unity is something they may nver understand. That is why it is up to us. Train your daughters and sons to be soldiers of love despite and in spite of this F** Up world.”
The first music from the upcoming album was released January 2018. The record titled, “Freedom” and music video is a beautiful visual that is an unapologetic celebration of love. Jussie explains, “..I wanted to show love in its most honest and pure form. A couple doing what every couples does..just living their livew.”
the video stars award winning actress Tika Sumpter (Southside With You, Ride Along) and Tony and grammy award Winnder, Cynthia Erivo (The Color Purple). Most recently, Jussie released “Catch Your Eye” featuring Swizz Beatz. Fader Magazine declared the music video for “Catch Your Eye,” as “mesmerizing.” In the neon-lit backdrop, covered in paintings from artists all over the world, including Nigerian visual artist Laolu Senbanjo and acclaimed Opera singer, Lauren Michelle, Jussie makes an impassioned appeal in this head bop tune.
“To have one of the true Kings of Hip Hop like Swizz leading this with me is just bananas, ” says Jussie. With the visual, I wanted to take it even further. I was inspired by Hype Williams’ film BELLY and really just Hype in general. But I also wouldn’t be me if there wasn’t some stream of consciousness in there.”
The third visual, “Hurt People,” will be released in mid-March and was filmed in South Africa. It is inspired by Nelson Mandela and was shot all over johannesburg and Soweto, including Constitution Hill, the prison where Mandela was first taken when he was arested. The video is made up entirely of black South Africans, including the crew and all the clothing designers. Every single piece is local, made by the people of South Africa.
And true to that consciousness, Jussie is releasing this album completely independently. He owns his masters and his company, Music of Sound, and is funding the entire project. “I was an indepnedent artist before Empire. I was creating music and putting it out there.
I was slowly building a fan base on my own with absolutely no budget.” he explains. With the audience and profile that Smollett now has, he’s been fortunate to have many options available to him for releasing this album. However, the choice to release it independently is the comfortable fit for an artist who live to create and wants an unabridged connection to his fans
“I’M RELEASING JUST A PIECE OF WHO I AM WITH THIS PROJECT AND I JUST WANT PEOPLE TO HEAR IT, FEEL IT AND VIBE WITH IT. ALL I WANT THEM TO FEEL IS THE LOVE PUT INTO THIS. ANYTHING ELSE IS JUST GRAVY.”