photos / Nikko LaMere
grooming / Loftjet
styling /Sara Paulsen
story / Cat King
Bryshere Gray is living the dream. This multi-faceted star with undeniable charm is quickly gaining the admiration of TV fans and music fans alike. Whether you know him from his role as Hakeem on Fox’s hit show Empire, or from his award-winning music act Yazz the Greatest, his talent is evident across the board.
At the age of 22 he has already accomplished a lot more than some of us will achieve in a lifetime. His resume is intimidating, but his demeanor is cool and calm, so it is easy to see why everyone has become so enamored with the young star. Wearing shades and a warm grin, he talks to me graciously about how although fame and fortune are nice, he is mostly encouraged by his mother’s smile. Armed with acting chops, exceptional musical talent, and a good head on his shoulders, it’s safe to say that this is only the beginning of us seeing great things from him.
What first inspired you to get into acting?
Empire! I never had any real desire to get into acting, but I got the job to do the show and it made me want to get better and better. To see Taraji [P. Henson] and Terrence [Howard]… just to see them in action made me want to be like them or even better.
What do you love most about your role?
I love that it is a different layer of who I am, and that it’s like [releasing] the Sasha Fierce in me.
How did you adjust to being thrown into the limelight?
It was weird at first, but it’s all fake, you know. Because if you work hard you will keep seeing progress. I’m not in it for the fame—I guess it just comes with the territory. My team, my family… they keep me grounded.
You had an early drive as a kid being a street performer. Who inspired you when you were younger?
The Roots. I was signed under The Roots, and it was the first label to sign me. I was under Dice Raw and Black Thought—they found me back when I was performing on the streets.
Did you have any personal mantras when you were younger that helped push you on a path?
I prayed a lot to God. That’s it.
What inspires you these days?
Seeing my mom happy. Seeing my grandma proud of me. Now I’m just enjoying and appreciating life.
What is it like when you go back to Philadelphia now?
It’s cool. It’s the same friends doing the same things, but I haven’t been back in a while to be honest.
Do you have any plans to incorporate your own music on Empire?
We did! During the first season we used 80% of our music and we got nominated for a Grammy. We beat Madonna! The album went gold a few weeks ago. My first album went gold, so that’s a lot of pressure. I’m waiting for my gold plaque in the mail now.
What do you have planned for the future with your music project, Yazz The Greatest?
I plan to put music out and have y’all come into my life—you know, feel me out and understand who I am as a person. Every day is a progression.
What do you like better: the West Coast or the East Coast?
The West Coast is nice but it’s just so “Hollywood.” I’m a city person. I like New York City.
How are Yazz and Hakeem most alike or different?
I’d say Yazz is the angel and Hakeem is the devil. If there were two people [standing] on my shoulders, it would be Yazz on one and Hakeem on the other
What are some things you are enjoying in your life right now?
Everything! It’s the Empire effect now. You see through the filter of the show which is good because you can never live this moment ever again. Once it’s over, it’s over, and then it’s time to live a new legacy.