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Empire: Ludacris puts Chris Rock's cameo to shame, while a Dynasty is born

Julie Sprankles is a freelance writer living in the storied city of Charleston, SC. When she isn't slinging sass for SheKnows, she enjoys watching campy SyFy creature features (Pirahnaconda, anyone?), trolling the internet for dance work...

Empire's second episode shines — thanks to strong cameos, even stronger music and Cookie

After a second season premiere that left some fans shaking their heads, Empire easily regained its footing this week by falling back on the trifecta that made it a ratings hit in the first place — characters, music and melodrama.

Dare I say, Empire managed to best itself. As a fan of the show, I can say with all certainty that I much preferred tonight's episode to last week's premiere. While some of the reasons tonight's episode was strong are obvious (*cough* Cookie!), the show managed to pull a few new tricks out of its bag, too.

To recap, the premiere last week started off with a #FreeLucious concert that mimicked the real-life rallies held by the Black Lives Matter movement. While that ruffled some feathers, fans did enjoy getting a glimpse of how Lucious was adjusting to life behind bars — and how the rest of the family's coup backfired. It was a strong showing, for sure.

But I still think tonight's episode stole its thunder. Here's how.


In news that surprises no one, Taraji P. Henson can do no wrong, y'all. From Cookie's fashion to those barbs she was slinging in every direction (the ones aimed at Boo Boo Kitty were particularly classic), the matriarch of the Lyon family was in true Cookie Monster form. And, seriously, can we just talk for a minute about how Empire's Twitter emoji tonight is a cookie in a fedora? Be still, my heart.

And I am loving the idea of Cookie creating her own "Dynasty." After all, this chick was the driving force behind Empire and never got her dues. It's her time!

More: Empire's Cookie is about to get a juicy new love interest

The cameos

No disrespect to Chris Rock, who I think is hilarious, but tonight's cameos made the comedian's role, uh, kind of the laughing stock of the prison yard. Exhibit A: Valentina. Played by Becky G, this feisty diva auditions for Hakeem's budding girl group, only to tell him, "With or without you, I shine," upon realizing she wasn't going to land a solo recording contract.

Or, my personal favorite (on the show and, you know, in life), Luda! Sure, his character was, for lack of a better word, a total dillhole. Or is? It's hard to tell his fate after being jumped by a henchman hired by Lucious' new lawyer — played by the fantastic Andre Royo, another guest start to add to the list of tonight's top-notch cameos.

The music

Don't get me wrong — the premiere's concert was cool and all. Real talk, though: A huge part of the reason the audience fell for this show in the first place was the Lyon family. And tonight, we were treated to insane performances by Jamal and Lucious.

We would have loved to see Hakeem, but he's focusing on forming the next Destiny's Child. To that end, though, we got to enjoy stellar stylings by Valentina (Becky G) and Tiana (Serayah McNeill).

We were even treated to snippets of a song from "V" (Veronika Bozeman) and Kelly Rowland as a young Lucious' mom who — in an interesting twist — seems to share Andre's bipolar disorder. Basically, I'd happily buy every track from tonight's episode and impatiently wait for more next week.

More: Empire spoilers: Everything you need to know about Season 2

The depth

One of the most pleasant surprises of the night was also a brilliant strategic move on Empire's part — adding depth to existing characters. In the show's first season, fans fell fast and hard for Lucious, Cookie, Jamal and Hakeem. We only really got to see the kind of intensity eldest son Andre (played by Trai Byers) and his wife Rhonda (played by Kaitlin Doubleday) were capable of. So seeing them move closer to the forefront tonight really rounded out an already rich cast. And other fans were feelin' the shift, too.

Now, who wants to put money on whether Rhonda is really carrying a little Lyon cub or not?

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