The season premiere of Empire will tackle gun violence via a song performed by Jussie Smollett.
Ahead of next week’s season premiere, a new track called “Need Freedom” has been released. The song features the soulful voice of Smollett, who stars as Jamal Lyon on the Fox drama, making a plea for the end of violence. The track references recent victims of gun violence, including those murdered at Pulse in Orlando, Florida, as well as Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, two men shot and killed by police officers.
In an interview with Billboard, Smollett said the July shooting of Castile by a police officer in Minnesota especially impacted the track. “I recorded this exactly seven days after Philando Castile was shot,” Smollett said. “Between the shootings of Castile, Alton Sterling, at the Pulse in Orlando and the police officers in Dallas — not to mention the other numerous killings over the last couple of years — it was like we couldn’t breathe. What are we doing as a people, a nation; what messages are we sending to the next generation. Then this song came.”
“Need Freedom” also seems to clearly fit in the narrative of the show as the end of last season saw Smollett’s character shot at the hands of his friend and fellow artist Freda Gatz (Bre-Z). Also speaking with Billboard, new Empire supervising music producer Rodney Jerkins said the track originally began as “Free Freda” — which is the version that will be used in the episode — but after discussions about what’s going on in the country evolved into this iteration.
Empire, which also stars Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, returns on Sept. 21 at 9 p.m. ET. Listen to the song below.