Lucious Lyon is the successful head of Empire Entertainment, a large hip hop label. After a doctor's visit, Lucious informs his three sons Andre, Jamal and Hakeem that he will be choosing one of them to lead the company in the future.
Lucious's ex-wife and the mother of his sons, Cookie, is released from jail after 17 years. She visits with Jamal and meets his boyfriend Michael, while the reunion with Hakeem doesn't go as well since they don't have much of a relationship.
Cookie goes to see Lucious and demands that she get 50% of the company, five million dollars a year and be the head of A&R, since her money started the company. Lucious explains to her that isn't a viable option.
Lucious meets with Jamal and tells him that a gay artist won't make it in the hip hop world. A flashback shows Jamal as a child walking around his parents home in high heels. Lucious grabs him and puts him in the trash can until Cookie gets him out.
After a meeting with Andre, who is looking for control of the company, Cookie goes to Lucious and blackmails him. In return for her staying quiet about where the money that started the company came from, Cookie wants to be Jamal's manager. Lucious agrees, claiming he never wanted him anyway.
Elsewhere, Lucious's right hand man and friend Bunkie asks Lucious for money but he says no. Bunkie then tries to blackmail Lucious and Lucious responds by shooting him in the head.
In the end it is revealed that at the doctor's visit earlier, Lucious was diagnosed with ALS and is only given three years at most to live.