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‘Empire’ pays tribute to Prince, with a little help from his friends…and family

A birthday fit for a Prince on 'Empire' (Fox)

In a much-anticipated episode tonight, Fox’s hit hip-hop drama Empire paid tribute to Prince with a climactic performance of his classic Purple Rain opener “Let’s Go Crazy.” Directed by Prince collaborator Sanaa Hamri, the episode featured guests including Morris Hayes (New Power Generation), Hannah Welton (3RDEYEGIRL), Joshua Welton (co-producer of ART OFFICIAL AGE and Hit n Run Phase One), and Prince’s sister Tyka Nelson.

The bulk of the episode, titled “Bleeding War,” focuses on Lucius (Terrence Howard) returning to the offices of his Empire Entertainment company, still suffering amnesia after being injured in an explosion last season. “Does that remind you of JAY-Z, Blueprint?” asks his rapper son Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray) after playing a new track for his dad. “I don’t know much about architecture,” replies the paterfamilias.

Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) convenes Empire’s top artists to audition for pole position in an upcoming showcase, and Lucius demonstrates a newfound empathy. Jamal (Jussie Smollet) starts to make sweet music with singer Tory (Rumer Willis, whose real-life mom Demi Moore plays Lucius’s nurse). For the audition, though, Jamal chooses to sing the love duet “the way I love,” with a man (Terrell Carter as Warren).

The first hint of the episode’s special theme comes as Hakeem and Anika are seen planning a “Prince and Princess” themed birthday party for their baby daughter Bella. Hakeem thinks it can’t be too complicated — tambourines, doves, you’re set, right? Nope, that’s just table ante.

Finally, it’s party time. Little Bella is dressed as Prince circa Purple Rain for her party, and seated with her mom and grandmother right next to Tyka. (The outfit also served, in a way, as a Blue Ivy tribute. Let’s call that JAY-Z reference number two.)

“Y’all know Prince don’t celebrate no birthdays,” notes Cookie. “Ain’t that right, Tyka?” Nelson shrugs, and claps along as Jamal (in a jacket reminiscent of Prince’s coats with MINNEAPOLIS on the sleeve) and Hakeem tear into “Let’s Go Crazy” with a band featuring Hayes and the Weltons.

Other fun details in the party scene include the band’s Around the World in a Day backdrop, a pair of 3RDEYE sunglasses, and a purple tambourine. You couldn’t miss the giant glittering Prince glyph standing on one side of the room, or the Love Symbols on Bella’s towering cake. Happy birthday, baby. Oh, by the way, your mom is suing for sole custody. Kbye.