Timbaland, who helmed the songwriting team for Empire since its inception, has exited. Joining Fox’s hit television series for its third season (Sept. 21, 9 p.m. ET) are four-time Grammy Award-winning songwriter/producer Rodney Jerkins as supervising music producer. Also contributing to the show’s music will be songwriter Ester Dean.
“We were happy to work with Timbaland during the first two seasons,” says Shawn Holiday, senior VP of A&R for Columbia Records, which releases Empire’s music. “But we wanted to take a different approach for season 3. We dealt a lot with family drama in the first season through songs like ‘Good Enough’ when Lucious Lyon threw his son Jamal in the trash can. That was a very emotional music moment. So we’re going for the same success with upcoming songs like ‘Mama,’ about Cookie being the backbone of the family, and a duet with Mariah Carey and Jussie Smollett.”
Of bringing Jerkins and Dean onboard, Holiday adds, “Rodney is a dynamic, multi-format producer experienced in urban, rhythmic and pop. And Dean excels at writing big songs with catchy hooks.”
Jerkins’ best-known credits include Michael Jackson (“Rock My World”), Beyonce(“Déjà Vu”), Lady Gaga (“Telephone”) and Brandy & Monica (“The Boy Is Mine”). Dean, a co-star in the popular Pitch Perfect film franchise, has written for Rihanna(“Rude Boy”), Katy Perry (“Firework) and Nicki Minaj (“Super Bass”).
To round out season 3’s music team, Holiday revealed that Empire has also recruited Grammy-winning songwriter Johntá Austin (Carey’s “We Belong Together,” Mary J. Blige’s “Be Without You”), Makeba Riddick (Beyoncé’s “Deja Vu,” Rihanna’s “Rude Boy”) and Jesse St. John (Britney Spears’ Glory album). Songwriters Ne-Yo and J.R. Rotem, who joined the team last year, are both returning.
Among other new songs featured in the first half of season 3 will be the Dean-written “Aces High.” And besides Carey, the guest star list includes Biz Markie, Cash Money principal Birdman, French Montana and Romeo Miller (formerly Lil Romeo). Also previously reported: the addition of actress/singer Sierra McClain as Nessa, a protégé of Lucious Lyon’s rival Shyne Johnson. The latter is portrayed by new series regular Xzibit.
Dismissing critics of season 2’s storylines and music, Holiday says, “We started out with 24 million viewers. That’s like Michael Jordan scoring 80 points in the first half. There’s no way he’s going to score another 80 the second half. We knew some mistakes would be made. But you’re going to see the actors and characters grow more mature and seasoned as music artists. And we feel that we have the chance this season to break an artist from a television show. We haven’t seen that since the early American Idol days.”
An Empire season 3 soundtrack will arrive next spring. Empire: Original Soundtrack From Season One bowed at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, the first TV soundtrack to do so since 2010. The show’s Season 2, Volume 1 soundtrack peaked at No. 16 on the Billboard 200, while Volume 2 reached No. 26 on the same tally. According to Nielsen Music, six Empire tracks have sold more than 100,000 digital downloads: “Conqueror (268,000), “You’re So Beautiful” (246,000), “Good Enough” (199,000), “Keep Your Money” (138,000), “No Apologies” (128,000) and “What Is Love” (109,000).
Billboard has reached out to Timbaland’s rep for comment.