LOS ANGELES -- “Empire” is turning over the keys to the kingdom to Prince.

The fourth episode of the upcoming season will pay tribute to the late Minneapolis artist with a rendition of “Let’s Go Crazy,” re-recorded by series stars Jussie Smollett and Bryshere Y. Gray, while other cast members, including Terrence Howard, will be dressed up for a Prince-themed party. While only one of his songs will be used on the show, the entire episode will pay homage to the artist.

“He would have loved this,” Howard told me Tuesday night, hours before boarding a plane back to the Chicago set where he would read the script for the first time. "He loved innovation through music. Most of his songs are written for specific themes, which is great for this show.”

Howard became friends with Prince around 2000 when they were both studying to be Jehovah’s Witnesses. But Prince had an even stronger bond with “Empire” executive producer Sanaa Hamri, who directed videos for “Black Sweat,” “Musicology” and “Call My Name.” Hamri will also direct the special episode and was pivotal in securing the rights to “Let’s Go Crazy” from the estate.

Sanaa Hamri

“I was able to get what we needed, in a weird way, because he trusted me with his work,” said Hamri, whose film credits include “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2.” “He had for many years, so I say, why not do that now and honor him in the best way through a music show?”

Prince had served as Hamri’s unofficial adviser for years and gave her permission to use a song off the album, “Artifical Age” in "Empire"'s first season. There had even been talk of a guest appearance.
That never materialized before his death last year, but Hamri said the two of them had been writing a separate TV show together, a project that is still very much alive.

Hamri said she was excited to be starting work on the episode, especially since the schedule calls for key scenes to be shot on Aug. 21, the day of a solar eclipse.

“I find it very meanigful, his energy shining upon the moment -- although we’re giong to get dark for about 25 minutes,” she told me. “It’s not as hard as I thought it would be because time has lapsed. What’s hard is not hearing from him on a day-to-day basis. That’s what I think about. At the same time, I feel this is very much something he would have wanted. Of course, I’ve always protected his imagery and I’m still doing it now.”

The season premiere, also directed Hamri, airs Sept. 27 on Fox.

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