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Mar 7, 1:43 PM EST

Jussie Smollett finds his voice and builds his own empire

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NEW YORK (AP) -- Jussie Smollett marked a breakthrough in 2015 when "Empire" debuted, launching his career and even earning a record deal with Columbia Records.

The anticipation had built around Smollett, with feverish fans constantly wondering when he would release music apart from his Jamal Lyon persona.

But the songs never came.

The openly gay singer says he was "sitting in a room full of old straight white men" at the Sony label and "they're telling me what piece of (my music) should be heard by the people that it actually was created for." He says that process didn't "feel like freedom.'"

So he asked Fox, which airs "Empire," to renegotiate his contract and get him off the label. And they did.

Smollett finally put out his debut album, "Sum of My Music," independently last week.

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