Musical legend Lucious Lyon has risen from teenage drug dealer to become the head of Empire Entertainment. He credits music with saving his life, and he's just taken the company public with a promise that it will be a haven for young musical artists. Lucious announces to his three sons that he has to pick a successor, but who will it be? His youngest, the brash and commercially successful Hakeem? The middle child, sensitive and brilliant musician Jamal, who is gay, much to Lucious' disapproval? Or the eldest, cool and calculating Andre, who has business sense but no musical talent? Each of them must prove to Lucious over the next several months that they can lead the company, before he makes his decision. Things are complicated when Lucious' ex-wife, Cookie, is unexpectedly released from jail after nearly twenty years, during which Lucious divorced her – Jamal was the only one who visited her in prison (aside from her cousin and Lucious' aide, Bunkie, who has a gambling problem) – and she's here to get what's hers; namely, half the company, as it was started with her money. As Bunkie warns Cookie that Lucious is watching her, Andre's scheming wife, Rhonda, suggests pitting Hakeem and Jamal against one another... and Andre also has the support of his Uncle Vernon, who is Chairman of the Board. With Andre's encouragement, Cookie blackmails Lucious into forcing him to let her manage Jamal. However, Jamal, who is happy playing small clubs, doesn't agree with Cookie's grand plans for him. Hakeem loses his confidence when Lucious pressures him to cut an album, but Jamal helps him out, writing a song for him and playing on the track – the two brothers are close... though when Hakeem starts tearing it up in the recording booth, Lucious refuses to acknowledge Jamal's contribution, crediting it all to Hakeem. Lucious finds himself the target of blackmail once more when Bunkie demands money for his gambling debts. And as Lucious tries to come to terms with the Lou Gehrig's disease that will eventually take his life, a disease he was just recently diagnosed with and has been keeping a secret, he realizes that he and Cookie are going to be at war.