Just like Madonna, Beyoncé and Drake in Real Life, Hakeem Lyon is going mononymous. The end of Episode 8 sees Hakeem boldly declaring via freestyle that he’s no longer a Lyon.
“From here on out, I go by Hakeem,” he announces, right after smashing the lights out on part of a “Hakeem Lyon” sign during his freestyle with nemesis Freda Gatz.
The episode opens with Lucious throwing a party for Freda, who performs “Shots Fired,” a dis track about Hakeem. This gets the young Lyon’s blood boiling, so he logs on to the Empire world’s equivalent of Periscope, promising a battle rap against young Freda. It’s time for him to prove his rapping chops.
Jamal is also trying to prove himself, campaigning to be the next face of Pepsi, and the only way he’ll get it is by writing the perfect song for the soft drink company. And yes, it’s as ridiculously branded as it sounds, like one big commercial that’s far more annoying than some casual product placement.
He spends a majority of the episode trying to craft the song, but he can’t do it without help. Though Cookie is his writing partner (which his father still doesn’t know), Lucious comes out of left field, delivering a sick beat for Jamal. The middle Lyon child is torn — does he go with his mom’s song, or his dad’s? The answer: He Parent Traps them into a room together, determined to create a beautiful Frankenstein’s monster with the best parts of both songs.
Of course, his parents can’t do anything together and the meeting soon turns into a competitive battle over Jamal. Cookie decides to make a bet with Lucious — if Hakeem wins the rap battle, Jamal drops his next album via Lyon Dynasty. If Hakeem loses, Jamal stays put at Empire.
Meanwhile, Andre, Mimi Whiteman and Lucious are trying to seal the deal on Swift Stream, even though Jago Locke (Patrick Mulvey) is being a greedy pain. Speaking of Mimi, this character is still a cringeworthy addition to the Empire crew, awkward and forced, despite Marisa Tomei’s valiant efforts.
However, Mimi is nothing compared to this season’s most ingloriously sidelined character, Anika. The one time boo of Lucious and Hakeem pops into the episode wielding a giant knife, spurring many fans to thinks she was about to commit suicide. But alas, no, she just uses comically huge knives to dramatically cut open a pregnancy test.
And guess what? She’s pregnant with young Hakeem’s baby. She gears up to tell him, coming over to his apartment in an attempt to woo him back, but she’s too late. He’s in love — or, hethinks he’s in love — with Mirage À Trois lead Laura. Earlier in the episode, the pair canoodled in Hakeem’s apartment. The vulnerable young Laura also revealed that she’s a virgin. Hakeem is okay with it, determined to take things slow. He does, however, buy her a ridiculously fancy bracelet with both their initials on it.
Sucks to be Anika right now. She doesn’t take too kindly to being left behind, and jars viewers in the very last scene, when Laura is picked up by a car service and the driver is … Anika in disguise. Kidnapping already happened this season, but who knows what Anika’s got up her sleeve.
But let’s backtrack a bit. Later in the episode, Lucious and Mimi finally sign the deal for the streaming service, much to the delight of Locke. Lucious also does it while sucking on a tiny red lollipop, which is honestly just so Lucious.
Then it’s off to the Pepsi meeting, where Jamal has to perform the song. Cookie and Lucious are both there, ready to storm out if their song is skipped, but surprise, surprise — Jamal found a way to use both, merging them into an Empire/Lyon Dynasty super song. Naturally, he gets the Pepsi deal. Hopefully this is the last we see of the company for the rest of the season.
Finally, it’s time for the rap battle, overseen by real life icon Funkmaster Flex. Hakeem and Freda are both in fine form, dropping verses that electrify the crowd. But it’s Hakeem who leaves the lasting impression, using his showmanship to win over the crowd during a performance set to Craig Mack’s “Flava in Ya Ear.” Though Freda is a fine battle rapper, it’s Hakeem’s night. He delivers a killer last verse, topping it off by smashing a sign that reads “Hakeem Lyon.” Well, he actually only smashes the “Lyon” part, announcing his new title.
This stings Lucious, who’s been watching the rap battle from the sidelines (all while dressed like a hip hop Sith Lord). He has a flashback to being a homeless youth, being watched over by a lion statue, no doubt a part of how he chose his stage name.
The episode doesn’t end without giving us a glimpse at Vivica A. Fox as Candace, Cookie’s well-to-do sister. She warns Cookie that their other sister Carol (Tasha Smith) has gone on a bender, leaving her children behind.