Exclusive: That Grape Juice Interviews ‘Empire’ Star Malik Yoba

Published: Wednesday 18th Feb 2015 by Rashad
thatgrapejuice-malik yoba-interview
(Photo Credit:  Kevin Kneeland & Nicole Oriatti of K&N Media)

FOX’s wildly popular new show ‘Empire’ has breathed life anew into the career of television star Malik Yoba. Best known for leading the channel’s former flagship series ‘New York Undercover,’ fans of the hit 90’s show (and ‘Empire’ alike) were so sure that the veteran actor had been off TV’s radar since the show’s unceremonious end – a belief Yoba wholeheartedly shuns.

From memorable showings on Tyler Perry‘s ‘Why Did I Get Married’ movie franchise to at least 12 other showings across television, he’s been far from out of sight over the past two decades.  And, if our exclusive chat with the star is any indication, we should expect to see much more of him in the near future.

Tuck in below as Yoba dishes with TGJ editor Rashad on ‘Empire’s success, its critical backlashes (see: alleged “gay agenda,” poor representation of African Americans), and much more.

Never one to bite his tongue, it’s safe to say Malik Yoba made this a “must read”:

That Grape Juice (TGJ):  Let’s just hop right into the monster success that ‘Empire’ has become!  As of last week, it became the first television show in history to see a ratings increase in each of its first five episodes.  How does it feel to be a part of such a huge TV movement?

Malik: I’m not surprised.  There’s not a lot of black people on television and you can almost count the number of shows on one hand.  For as much as it’s about the fashion and music, it’s also about a lack of quality programming starring people of color.

‘Empire’ fills that gap.

TGJ:  What initially drew you to this script?

Malik:  Lee Daniels (the director).  I knew that this was his first foray into television.  We had an opportunity to meet to discuss it and I liked his approach.  It was more so about an opportunity to work with him than what was on the page, so to speak.

TGJ:  As personal fans of the show, we would be remiss if we didn’t ask about the direction your character, Vernon, and eldest ‘Empire’ son, Andre, are cooking up with their scheme (as seen on the latest episode).

Malik:  All I can say is keep watching and enjoy the ride!


TGJ:  We’ll definitely do that!  And, as the ride continues, we’ve already learned that the show has gotten the green light for a season 2.  Do you ever feel any pressure for it to match or exceed the success of season 1?

Malik:  I personally don’t because I don’t write the show.  If the writers play their cards right and continue to feed “the monster,” it’ll be fine.

You can’t predict those kind of things, but I feel the DNA of the show is one that people are “starving” for.  I’ve been on TV for the past 20 years and I’ve seen there is a dearth of this kind of content for people, so as long as it keeps coming, even if there are other shows with equally strong writing, people will want to see it and there will be success.

TGJ:  Excellent point there, Malik.  Because part of the draw to ‘Empire’ is its “in your face” content – which has also drawn its fair share of fans and critics.  How do you respond to people who complain about the way the show portrays African Americans or allege it has a “gay agenda”?

Malik:  Those people need to get over it.  There’s a “Jamal” in all of our families or inner circles.  Gay people have been around for as long as there have been people.  The lack of representation [of black people on television] is what causes this kind of thought.

White people don’t protest and complain when you see a Honey Boo Boo because they have so many other forms of content to watch.

TGJ:  Very true!

Malik:  Think about it.  20 years ago, when ‘New York Undercover’ was around, it had a similar DNA to this show. I found an old TV Guide article that said, “great show, but it only appeals to a very niche audience and probably won’t go main stream.”

Truthfully, the show was doing just as well or better numbers than ‘Empire’ without the promotion.

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(Photo Credit:  Kevin Kneeland & Nicole Oriatti of K&N Media)

TGJ:  Another excellent point.  Now, let’s segue into your other ventures.  What else is keeping you busy these days?

Malik:  Iconic 32 is a culmination of all the things I’ve been doing for the last 20 years – working in pop culture and pushing for “social good” in some shape or form.  It’s a great opportunity to formalize that around a company in two ways:  1) we do branding, consulting, and strategy work around social responsibility and 2) we’re developing social eccentric products and services.

I started doing digital content for companies about 5 years ago and that’s what got me more on this track.  As a matter of fact, we’re working with some artists – some of whom you’ve seen their work on ‘Empire’ – and put their work up for auction to let the proceeds go to benefit people’s dental care who are uninsured, our partner ‘The Common Ground’ foundation, and more.  The company is 15 months old and we’re very proud of it!

(Photo Credit:  Kevin Kneeland & Nicole Oriatti of K&N Media)

TGJ:  Now, as with many interviews, we’ll wrap this up with our  segment called “Five From Fans” where we received five questions from our readers for you. 

1)  If you had to choose one of the three ‘Empire’ sons (Andre, Jamal, Hakeem) to inherit the label, who would you choose and why?

Malik: It would be Andre because from a business perspective, he’s the best.  But, of course, I’m a little biased.

TGJ:  2)  ‘Empire’ is a very hip-hop/R&B driven show, but what kind of music do you listen to?

Malik:  I listen to everything, but I’m really into Mali Music’s stuff these days.

new york undercover thatgrapejuice

TGJ:  3)  You’ve been in the industry for over 20 years and starred in over a dozen television shows, but if you had to revive one television show – of your own or someone else’s – what would it be?

Malik:  ‘New York Undercover,’ without question.  I just have not been able to shake how that show was killed before its time, and audiences have never let me forget that.

Believe it or not, there are also constant references to [‘Empire’] on Twitter.

TGJ:  4)  We’ve seen you portray Martin Luther King in Lifetime’s ‘Betty & Coretta,’ but if you had the opportunity to star in and/or direct someone’s story that’s yet to be transformed into a biopic, who would it be?

Malik:  Paul Robeson.  Considering the time he did it, he was able to be a scholar, singer, athlete, and so much more!  Even my own life story.  There’s so much people don’t know about me.

A lot of time people tell me “welcome back to TV,” not knowing that I’ve been on a television show every year since ‘New York Undercover’ went off the air.  Also, there’s still so much more for me to do.

TGJ:  5)  Because ‘Empire’ centers so much on people trying to “make it in the industry,” what advice do you have for aspiring artists?

Malik:  My father always said “build your own generator, so that when they turn off the power, you can still have light.”  It’s important to work hard to build your own path.

Sometimes you can ride the back of a great franchise, institution, and/or platform, but the people who really endure – like Jay Z, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs – build their own.

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(Photo Credit:  Kevin Kneeland & Nicole Oriatti of K&N Media)


Interview by:  Q. Rashad (That Grape Juice US)


Click to follow Malik Yoba on Instagram//Click to follow Malik Yoba on Twitter 

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  1. FutureCIARA February 18, 2015

    He always plays the same roles….

    • Ciara The Flop February 19, 2015

      Just like Ciara in her music – She always playing the flop. Save her, sis. Save her!

      • Again? February 19, 2015

        LOL! and i like ciara.

  2. Natasha3 February 18, 2015

    I Love” New York Undercover” still to this day.

    • Again? February 19, 2015

      Yas these lil flamming hot faaaaagggs don’t know nothing on this blog.

  3. TheElusiveLamb February 18, 2015

    This is a really good interview. Very professional Rashad.

  4. The BeyHIVe Cure February 18, 2015

    Thankfully, you didn’t ask a Beyonce question. There is some integrity to this blog — slowly but surely.

    • Again? February 19, 2015

      That’s because the hive is dying off.

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