Hakeem Lyon

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Hakeem Lyon
Bryshere Y. Gray as Hakeem Lyon.png
Empire character
Portrayed byBryshere Y. Gray
First appearance"Pilot" (2015)
Created byLee Daniels and Danny Strong
Record producer
Partner in Lyon Dynasty
Former CEO of Empire Entertainment
ResidenceNew York City, New York

Hakeem Lyon is a fictional character from the original FOX musical drama Empire played by Bryshere Y. Gray. Hakeem, one of the main characters within the series, is the youngest and once-favorite son of hip-hop mogul Lucious (Terrence Howard) and his wife Cookie (Taraji P. Henson). Hakeem has the star quality to become a superstar like his father, but lacks the discipline and guidance because of his strained relationship with Cookie.


Season 1[edit]

Hakeem Lyon was born to Lucious and Cookie Lyon. He grew up in a Philadelphia ghetto with his father, brothers, his cousin Bunkie Williams, and father's friend Vernon Turner. He was only a baby when his mother was arrested; she was helping his father sell drugs to pay for his music career. Hakeem becomes a successful rapper signed to his father's record company, Empire Entertainment. Lucious announces plans to take the company to the NYSE, and he wants to groom Hakeem into his successor and the future CEO. However, Hakeem's arrogance, and lack of wisdom inhibit Lucious from immediately giving him the position. Due to his laziness, Hakeem incessantly asks his older brother and best friend Jamal (Jussie Smollett) to help him write and compose melodies for his songs. Although Hakeem gives his brother credit, Lucious refuses to acknowledge Jamal's musical talent. Once their mother, Cookie, is released from prison, she takes control of Jamal's career. Cookie and Lucious pit Jamal and Hakeem against one another in a competition to see who is more talented and who should be Empire's CEO, with both having upcoming album release dates. Hakeem detests Cookie and repeatedly insults her when she visits him.[1]

Hakeem's haughtiness reaches new heights when he makes a viral video condemning Barack Obama and insulting white people.[2] Hakeem begins dating an R&B singer named Tiana Brown (Serayah McNeill), but has a much older lover named Camilla Marks (Naomi Campbell) whom he sees on the side. Hakeem's oldest brother Andre (Trai Byers) has his wife Rhonda (Kaitlin Doubleday) leak a video of Tiana making out with a female model to the internet. Although initially frustrated and disinterested in continuing his relationship with his bisexual girlfriend, Hakeem decides to pretend that he and Tiana are a couple because Lucious and Cookie believe that the two will sell better together as an act than apart.[3]

Andre sees some of Hakeem's gangster associates during a recording of his new music video "Drip Drop", and has them rob Jamal during one of his recording sessions while pinning the blame on Hakeem, though the robbery fails due to the intervention of the studio engineer. An angry Jamal believes that Hakeem set him up, and punches him in the stomach.[4] The two later make amends after a duo performance during a concert hosted by Empire, after which Lucious informs his family that he has ALS. When Andre only expresses concern about the company's IPO and not his father, Hakeem indignantly tries to fight him, only to be restrained by Jamal. Hakeem begins to improve his relationship with Cookie, but she tries to end his relationship with Camilla because she views it as an unhealthy psychological desire to fill the void as a mother that she left behind when she was imprisoned.[5]

Hakeem goes to church to pray for an improvement in Lucious' condition. Meanwhile, his father pays off his lover Camilla to leave the country and Hakeem behind because he believes that she is greedy and only out for Hakeem's money. When Hakeem discovers this, he insults his father during a concert. An angry and disappointed Lucious punches Hakeem, finally deeming him unworthy to inherit the company. Once Lucious gives the company to Jamal, Andre and Hakeem plot to overthrow him. Hakeem tries to sign to Billy Beretti's (Judd Nelson) company, but Jamal coerces Beretti into letting him out of his contract. Hakeem then sleeps with Lucious' ex-fiance Anika Calhoun (Grace Gealey), and he and Andre team with her and his mother to obtain Empire for themselves. Andre tells Hakeem about Lucious' murder of their cousin Bunkie, and the two inform the police. As Lucious is arrested, he realizes that Andre and Hakeem had a hand in his arrest.[6]

Season 2[edit]

After spoiling the hostile takeover attempt, Hakeem leaves the company with Cookie and Andre to start a new label—Lyon Dynasty. Hakeem hooks up with Valentina, (Becky G) -- the singer he has chosen to lead his girl group Mirage a Trois.[7] With Jamal promising to bury his album, Hakeem leaks his music online and Jamal threatens to sue him sending Andre back to Empire. With Cookie's assistance, Hakeem quickly prepares the girls for their debut on Sway's radio show. Hakeem is furious when Lucious buys the radio station to keep Lyon Dynasty off the air and signs Valentina to Empire. When both Empire and Lyon Dynasty are investigated by the FBI due to Vernon's recent disappearance, Hakeem once again questions if Lucious killed Bunkie. To present a united front in public, Jamal and Hakeem team up to do a video shoot for "Ain't About The Money" during which Lucious tries to lure him back to Empire. Hakeem gets jealous of his father's constant praising of Jamal and slashes a painting of Jamal. The brothers then get into a fight and Hakeem walks off set. Hakeem later sees the talented singer Laura (Jamila Velazquez) performing and chooses her to replace Valentina.[8] However, plans go awry when Laura rejects his romantic advances. Hakeem tracks her down and agrees to keep the relationship strictly professional. While working out, Hakeem is kidnapped.[9] After the kidnapping and his rap battle against Freda Gatz, when Lucious' job as CEO and Chairman of Empire is jeopardized, Hakeem, spurned on by Camilla(back from England after marrying Mimi Whiteman), votes against Lucious, causing him to be kicked out of Empire. Being named CEO of Empire, he's urged by Camilla to get rid of his girlfriend Laura. He does by going to Lyon Dynasty while Mirage A Trois is rehearsing, drunk and insults the girls causing them to storm off. He realize he really does love Laura and reconciles with her, promising her to really be together. Later, Hakeem meets with Lucious at the spot where Lucious killed Bunkie, tells him he really killed his uncle, gives him a gun and gives him two options: kill him or spare him and next time he sees Hakeem, he'll do his best to kill him. He turns back and urges Hakeem to point the gun to his head and pull the trigger. Hakeem puts the gun to his head but throws the gun to the ground and walks away. Lucious warns him to watch his back telling him that he keeps his promises. In Season 4 He moved to Los Angeles, In the season 5 premiere, he is shot and is recovering.

Creation and development[edit]

"I created Hakeem to be a spoiled, young kid — like the kids that are out there who are not respecting their parents, not grateful for the things they have. That's what you see in Hakeem. He's a great musician, but he has a lot of flaws. He doesn't want to grind as hard for the things he really wants. He wants to be a boss so bad; he wants to be Jay Z and Kanye, but he doesn't want to work as hard for it. So that's his main flaw."

Bryshere Y. Gray on the original concept for the series.[10]

Gray said of the character's origins: "[the show's writer] Danny Strong influences the character. Kanye, Justin Bieber's antics—not Justin Bieber himself but his antics, snapping out to the world, doing rants—Hakeem embodies hip-hop and situations that occur in the hip-hop industry. He's that. You all get to see Chris Brown and you get to see the rappers and Jay Z, but you don't really get to see their lives. And that's what they're doing with Hakeem. They're going behind a wall that artists have up."[11]

Casting and portrayal[edit]

"Fans just get to see artists like Hakeem performing on stages, driving in nice cars and flaunting their lifestyle, but fans don’t get to really see their lives,” says Gray. “Their personalities are often swept under the rug and fans don’t get to really experience who they are behind the scenes. Empire gives people a look at that other side, which is part of what made me want to be a part of the show."

Gray on what attracted him to join the series.[12]

On March 6, 2014, it was announced that Bryshere Y. Gray commonly known as rapper "Yazz The Greatest" had been cast in the role of Hakeem, the youngest son of Lucious (Terrence Howard) and Cookie Lyon (Taraji P. Henson). This was Gray's first acting gig.[13] The role was initially to be played by actor, rapper and singer Quincy, the son of hip hop mogul, Sean "Diddy" Combs. However, Diddy not agree with contractual obligations for the musical aspect of the series.[14][15] Hakeem has the "swagger of a rising superstar" and is favored by Lucious to run the company.[13] Gray found out about the audition from his manager, Charlie Mack and did a video audition for Lee Daniels. Gray then flew to Los Angeles where screen tested with Howard and Henson.[16] Gray said it was Howard who instructed him to dig deeper during the screen test that helped him land the role.[17] The audition was Gray's very first acting experience opposite. He later sought formal training to prepare for the role.[18] Gray revealed that he was close to being evicted when he finally booked the role of Hakeem.[19] Gray took advice from actors Will Smith and Jamie Foxx in preparing for the role when they told him "if you feel like you're embarrassed, when you're acting, you're doing something perfect."[20] Lee Daniels revealed that he patterned the character of Hakeem after his own 19-year-old son who like Hakeem, grew up very differently from his father because of Daniels' success. Like Hakeem, Daniels said "My son wouldn't know how to work right now, because I wanted him to have everything that I didn't have... . and now what?"[21]


Bryshere Y. Gray revealed that he personally tried to avoid borrowing from the personalities of real life artists in his portrayal of Hakeem.[12][22] Gray described Hakeem as "disrespectful, ruthless, spoiled and the 'heart throb' of the Lyon family." According to Gray, Hakeem is a lot like Lucious which is why he treats people so badly. "Hakeem doesn't really know how to respect females" because Lucious was his only example. "He really is a product of his habitat." However, "Hakeem doesn't have the ambition" that Lucious had. Because he's been handed everything, he doesn't feel like he has to work hard. "It's obvious he has mommy issues" the actor declared.[10] When Hakeem is hurting, he acts out and usually does things he doesn't mean. Gray has said that his skills as a rapper gives his character "bravado."[16] Gray said the role is "challenging" because Hakeem is "reckless" and he lacks the proper "guidance."[10] Hakeem is a "spoiled, young brat and a bit of womanizer," Gray stated. Hakeem can learn from his mistakes, but he has to make them first. "He's a kid that's trying to grow" and he "doesn't think" before he speaks.[23] Hakeem is the kind of kid that would "want to be president" if he got the chance, despite the fact that he doesn't have the experience; "he wants the glitz and the [glamour]" but he lacks the drive to get there.[23] "I basically made Hakeem my own" Gray said on his portrayal of the character. "I had to make people uncomfortable and make people hate me" he continued. When asked who he modeled Hakeem after, Gray said "I packed rappers who are out today and tried to be honest."[18] Aside from the musicality, "Hakeem is the total opposite of me," Gray said of his character. "He's the antithesis. He's so spoiled, he's so rich." When asked if he and could ever be friends with Hakeem, Gray responded, "Hakeem is an idiot. Yeth is a sweetheart." Gray made a conscious effort to keep Hakeem "honest" and with "no limits."[20] Though Hakeem isn't "mature enough to have the company," he thinks he is entitled to it.[20] Hakeem is "trying to get attention doing dumb things."[22] However, Gray admitted that even he was surprised when Hakeem attacked President Barack Obama in the press.[24]

Show runner Ilene Chaiken said the Hakeem "changes and grows the most" throughout season 2.[25] Gray himself later revealed that Hakeem goes through a "transition" in the second season; "his mind is somewhere else."[26] Chaiken said, Hakeem is "teetering on that precipice on being a man who's overcome a lot of childish, foolish behavior." Hakeem is "so strong" as long as Cookie is by his side, but he can't handle the pressure without her. Much like his father, Hakeem is "moved by talent" and "he really is a mogul in a way that neither of his brothers are." Hakeem is becoming the man Lucious initially envisioned him to be—but he has to earn it.[8]


Though Lucious favors Hakeem, Lucious blames Hakeem when he screws up failing to understand that he does not lead by example.[16] While Hakeem wants to "satisfy Lucious" and live up to his expectations, he leans on Jamal for "advice -- especially on music."[23] Hakeem and Jamal have a strong bond because as kids, Jamal was the only person Hakeem had. "Jamal is the person that Hakeem tells every secret to"[16] because he knows Jamal won't judge him.[23] Hakeem knows how good he and Jamal can be together.[16] Throughout season 1, the duo are at odds for several reasons, but usually make up. With their new success, Gray said "It's about if they're going to stick together through the new adventures in their life."[27] Because he had no contact with her for 17 years, Hakeem struggles to accept or even respect his mother. Cookie's return only reminds Hakeem of how "very hurt" he is.[16] Their relationship is very confrontational, which is displayed in their very first scene in which he calls her out of her name, and she beats him with a broom.[17] While the actor did not agree with Hakeem's treatment of his mother, he understood it. "A mother-and-son relationship is very important." And to miss out on that for 17 years only to have Cookie suddenly show up, Hakeem is "thrown off." Gray who grew up without his own father can identify with Hakeem's reaction because his father came back into his life after he landed the role of Hakeem.[10] He has a lot "emotions" attached to his relationship with Cookie and it will take time for him to "let it go."[23] Gray said that Hakeem is "emotionally and mentally hurt by [Cookie's absence] so he goes out and loves older women because he gets this type of affection that he hasn't gotten from his mother."[22]

Hakeem feels a sense of "security" in his romance with the much older Camilla Marks, played by Naomi Campbell. She teaches him the things that Cookie couldn't.[10] Though Hakeem "deeply" loves Camilla, he also takes an interest in label mate Tiana (Serayah McNeill). While he initially thinks their relationship is all fun and games, Hakeem starts to develop real feelings for her. However, when he realizes she might not feel the same way, it pushes his buttons.[23] Gray said "Hakeem is all in his emotions" when he finds out Tiana has a "sidepiece" even though he is also seeing Camilla. "He's just being a little brat and not being a man and owning up to his actions. So... he's not talking to her. Tiana will be back."[28] By season 2, Hakeem and Tiana's relationship has developed beyond their former romance. "Tiana's family now" as far as Hakeem is concerned. While there is still some underlying flirtation, "it's almost a sibling relationship" according to show runner Ilene Chaiken.[7]

In the season 2 premiere, Hakeem starts a short lived romance with singer Valentina (Becky G) whom has he chosen as the lead singer of his girl group.[7] In July 2015, E! Online reported that Hakeem would pursue talented singer Laura, "professionally and personally" throughout season 2. However, Laura is not interested in romance.[29] Played by Jamila Velazquez, Laura "plays an important relationship role [as] a love interest for Hakeem."[25][30] Laura is introduced in episode 2.04 when Hakeem who in looking for a new lead singer for his girl group witnesses her performance at a nightclub. "It amounts to a different experience and a different relationship for Hakeem" Chaiken said of the character's dynamic with Laura. However Hakeem and Anika end up having sex which is later shown that she is pregnant[8] Hakeem's relationship with Laura is on the line and he proposes to her but their wedding is ruined and she leaves him. Hakeem's daughter Bella is born and he struggles to be good father even though Luscious has to be the legal father for publicity.

Hakeem reconciles with Tiana and very soon she is pregnant with his child. They marry and their son Prince is born.


The character of Hakeem initially received mixed reactions from viewers and critics. Life+Times described Hakeem as a "love to hate" character.[12] Jozen Cummings from Billboard declared Hakeem as the least likable character in the series. Cummings gave a scathing review of the character. "The hate for Hakeem knows no bounds. He doesn't have any redeemable qualities to speak of... . He may be fictional, but my disgust for him is very real."[31] Complex magazine described Hakeem as the show's answer to "Tyga and Kid Ink." The character immediately stirs up controversy when he verbally attacks President Barack Obama in the press.[22] Of the character's growth and acceptance of his mother, Los Angeles Times said "we can put the brooms away; he's finally acting his age, not his shoe size."[32] Sadie Gennis of TV Guide said the character had taken Jamal's place as the "anchor" during the second season of the show. Gennis described Hakeem as the "constant amidst the chaos" of the season. He is "something real to hang onto." Gennis said her investment in Hakeem stemmed from the character's motives being so easy to understand and his intriguing dynamics with the other characters—specifically his parents' and brother Jamal.[33] For the 2015 Teen Choice Awards, Gray was nominated for the "Choice TV: Breakout Star."[34]


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  2. ^ Cummings, Jozen (February 18, 2015). "Every 'Empire' Character Ranked by Likability". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved March 19, 2015.
  3. ^ Kline, Meredith B. (February 4, 2015). "'Empire' Episode 5 Recap: Winners, Losers, and Cookie's Best Line". Entertainment Tonight. CBS Television Distribution. Retrieved March 19, 2015.
  4. ^ Lindsay, Craig D. (February 5, 2015). "Empire Recap: My Girl Got a Girlfriend". Vulture. New York Media, LLC. Retrieved March 15, 2015.
  5. ^ Slezak, Michael (February 25, 2015). "Empire Recap: Break a Legacy". TVLine. Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved March 19, 2015.
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  7. ^ a b c Wagmeister, Elizabeth (September 30, 2015). "'Empire' Showrunner Dishes on the 'First Big Arc' of Season 2". Variety. Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved October 22, 2015.
  8. ^ a b c Wagmeister, Elizabeth (October 14, 2015). "'Empire' EP Ilene Chaiken Says 'The Bunkie Story Lives On' as Uncle Vernon Resurfaces". Variety. Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved October 22, 2015.
  9. ^ Wagmeister, Elizabeth (October 21, 2015). "'Empire' Boss on Cookie's New Man, Jamal's Woes & Hakeem's Dangerous Cliffhanger". Variety. Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved October 24, 2015.
  10. ^ a b c d e Greco, Patti (February 2, 2015). ""Empire" Hottie Bryshere Gray Wants Taylor Swift to Guest on the Show". Cosmopolitan. Hearst Corporation. Retrieved February 16, 2015.
  11. ^ Hope, Clover (February 25, 2015). "Bryshere Gray On Playing Empire's Bad Boy, Rihanna & 'Drip Drop' Tees". The Muse. Retrieved March 18, 2015.
  12. ^ a b c Acevedo, Kai (March 4, 2015). "Actor Bryshere Y. Gray Talks "Empire" Role, Working With Timbaland, & More". Life+Times. Jay Z. Retrieved March 18, 2015.
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  22. ^ a b c d Tharpe, Frazier (February 25, 2015). "Bryshere Gray Talks Playing Hakeem on "Empire," Kissing Naomi Campbell, and "Drip Drop"". Complex. Iconix Brand Group. Retrieved March 18, 2015.
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  29. ^ Dos Santos, Kristin (July 14, 2015). "Spoiler Chat: Scoop on Vampire Diaries, Walking Dead, Empire, Arrow and More!". E!. NBCUniversal Cable. Retrieved October 22, 2015.
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  34. ^ Johnson, Zach (July 8, 2015). "Teen Choice Awards 2015 Nominees: Wave 2 Revealed!". E!. NBCUniversal. Retrieved October 24, 2015.

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