He’s one of the lead stars in Fox’s smash hit ‘Empire’ but there’s more to Jussie Smollett than his character of Jamal Lyons. The star is also a musician and is finally ready to show the world what he has been working on outside of the show. In a recent visit to South Africa, Jussie opened up about his famous role and gives us an inside look at his new music – including a brand new music video he filmed right here.

Welcome to South Africa! You mentioned one of your highlights was visiting Soweto. How was that experience for you?

It was life changing. This whole trip has been life changing. Nothing in this world is real except for love and seeing the kids in Soweto reminded me of this. They were dancing, they were so joyful and you hear some really heartbreaking stories. It makes me feel that us as adults could learn so much from children. Their hearts are so pure. I will never forget that experience.

Was coming to South Africa everything you imagined it to be?

Yes and no. I know it sounds crazy but I dreamed this place. When I was 15 years old I was working with an organization called ‘Artists For A New South Africa’ and it was started by a group of incredible people. The organization combats poverty and AIDS and my family and I were very involved with them. I worked there as a fund raiser and artist liaison and I would plan trips but I wasn’t a celebrity so I couldn’t go. Years later, to be here, I feel like I’ve been here before. I’ve been connected to this place and I’m so happy to be here.

Have you been exposed to any local music since you’ve been here?

I love Distruction Boyz’s ‘Omunye’! When I was auditioning dancers for the upcoming video shoot, we needed a song that allowed people to showcase their creative freedom. We put that song on and everybody was jamming to it. We played it five times in a row and we danced and danced and danced. It was such a joyful moment.

Your new single ‘Hurt People’ is fantastic. Tell us more about that track.

I was with my producer and we were talking about different relationships and we were giving excuses for people who may act a certain way. It was then when I said ‘You know, hurt people hurt people’. We were both like ‘That’s a song!’. We created that song in one night. I knew then that I needed to film the video in South Africa and I’m so happy I was able to come down and shoot it.

You’ve been working on your debut album for a while. Why has it taken so long to materialize?

Honestly, I can’t release music while Empire is on air. You know, Jamal needs to have his shine. So, it doesn’t leave a very large window of opportunity to release things. I just have just been quietly and silently recording until this record was created. That’s why the album is called ‘Sum Of My Music’ because it’s just 10 tracks from my heart.

If you could give South African youth who want to get involved in the entertainment industry one piece of advice, what would it be?

Don’t chase celebrity. Don’t do it because you will trick yourself every single time. I’ve seen so many people who are obsessed with likes on Instagram but that doesn’t translate to money, making an impact or uplifting yourself. Also, work hard on what you want to achieve. If you want to be a singer, sing at every opportunity you get. If you’re a dancer, dance! It takes passion, it takes perseverance and you need to work your ass off.

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