Does Jussie Smollett Think ‘Empire Is Real Life?

The actor decided to address his recent felony conviction—via song.

Does Jussie Smollett Think ‘Empire‘ Is Real Life?
Image:Nuccio DiNuzzo (Getty Images)

On Empire, Jussie Smollett played Jamal Lyon, the talented son of a family of music moguls. When the going got tough, Jamal often expressed his feelings via primetime-basic but still decidedly catchy pop-R&B tunes. He was a successful musician, and most importantly, a fictional character, so it all kind of worked. Jussie Smollett, however, is a real person who was recently convicted on five felony counts of filing false police reports—which makes his decision to publicly work out his feelings via song a whole lot weirder.

On Saturday, Smollett posted a snippet from his new song, “Thank You God,” to Instagram. Judging by the lyrics, he’s still maintaining his innocence:

“It’s like they’re hell-bent on not solving the crime
Taking out the elements of race and trans and homophobia that’s straight taking lives
But turn around and act like I’m the one that killed the strides.”

In case a refresher on this years-long saga might be helpful, here’s a rundown: Smollett reported in 2019 that he’d been the victim of a targeted and violent racist and homophobic hate crime. Within weeks, Smollett himself was arrested and charged with staging the attack. These charges were later dropped, but in 2020, he was charged once again with filing a false police report, and convicted on five counts in December of the following year. This March, he was sentenced to 150 days in jail, 30 months probation, and a fine of $145,000. After his attorneys argued that jail time was excessive for the non-violent crime of which he was convicted, Smollett was released.

On the song, Smollett also shouts out two of his one-time allies, rapping, “That’s why from L.D. to Don, I still got love for y’all.” “L.D” is likely Empire creator Lee Daniels, who was among Smollett’s initial supporters, but is reportedly no longer on speaking terms with the actor and told Vuture in 2019 that he was “beyond embarrassed” by the whole scandal. (He also told the publication that the controversy was a “major” factor in Empire’s cancellation by its network, Fox.) Don, likely a reference to Don Lemon, was also a friend of Smollett’s burned by the fallout of the case. The CNN journalist reportedly alerted Smollett to the fact that he was being investigated by police.

In the song, Smollett cast himself one of the many real-life victims of law enforcement misdeeds.

“Over and over again, this shit ain’t nothing new
Seen our siblings accused of shit we know they ain’t do
It’s bigger than the cops, it’s coming from the top
Till it changes we can’t sleep, we won’t stop.”

Smollett also added that “100% of the profits” from the song will be donated to organizations including the Rainbow Push Coalition and the Illinois Innocence Project.

After the dramatics at his sentencing hearing, it’s not exactly a shocker that Smollett’s chosen another performative approach to addressing his case. But there is one aspect of this newly-musical drama that is surprising. His Instagram bio notes that the account is “currently run by the Smollett family”—which means that, for some reason, someone other than Jussie himself presumably signed off on this whole thing.

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