Bryshere Y. Gray, also known by the stage name Yazz The Greatest or simply Yazz, is probably best known by his character "Hakeem Lyon" on the hit show, Empire with Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard. Hakeem is the spoiled son of a millionaire music mogul who seems to get in trouble when he doesn't get his way. You've also probably seen him on the critically acclaimed biopic mini-series, New Edition, about the road to fame for the legendary singing group. Gray plays Michael Bivins.
"I'm similar to Mike - with contracts [Laughs]," admits Gray. "I'm always thinking about each job like how long is this for, and what am I doing it for? I'm just like Mike in that way. As far as being a perfectionist, I take on that part too."
Born in Germantown and raised in West Philadelphia, Gray recently and opened up to a group of high school students, "I was homeless, and I'm on the biggest show in the world now. I'm living proof that you all can do whatever you all want to do."
Even though he wrote his first song at age nine, he really got interested in rapping at age 16. "I was working at Pizza Hut," Gray explains toVibe.com. "I was just tired. I was like 'Is this life?' I just graduated and I started rhyming and really fell in love with it. When I did my first performance, I was like 'This is what I really want to do.' People loved what I did on stage. I used my first Pizza Hut check to pay for my music video and I promoted it everywhere on Facebook at crazy hours. (Laughs) I was writing raps at my job and I got fired. After I got fired, I just really committed to it," he confessed.
And stayed committed is just what he did. Hard work and dedication is nothing new to the New Edition star. He met his manager, Charlie Mack, who is a good friend to Will Smith, and was able to do a video audition for Lee Daniels and Lee loved it and sent him to L.A. the same time Taraji and Terrence Howard were doing an
audition and they all got a chance to do it together.
And from there he was able to audition for the New Edition role. He pushed that work ethic into that role too as he and his co-stars rehearsed 12 hours a day for over a month to get the moves and notes right for the mini-series.
"I was doing Empire and I was on tour while I was getting into the New Edition role. Bivins told me, 'This industry is only for the people who were born to be in this industry. It's not for everybody.' And I really took that and developed Mike Bivins the character."
But let him tell it, this is jut the beginning of his talent being tapped into.
"My acting abilities are not that developed yet...TV and film will make you grow fast. Things I'm learning now I was taught in high school but wasn't interested in it then but it's catching my interest now...like learning scripts. The script is given to you the day of and you have to remember your lines fast, there's no time to mess up. You gotta wake up mentally prepare yourself you gotta be ready for that."
The young star has also learned a lot from his Empire co-stars.
"I learned how to treat a woman from Taraji," confesses Gray. "She teaches me things on life experiences, cooks for me, Jussie and Gaby-we hang out outside of set and it's like a real family. Terrence, on the other hand, is like...
... a big brother. We had Christmas at his house. It was good to just really connect and get a different relationship other than Lucius and Hakeem. We call each other on the phone as we're leaving the set. We're just getting out of work and we're writing songs on the phone in our vans going home. That's how we are."
Having positive people in his life like his mother, manager Charlie Mack, and friends and family helped him focus on the positive. Gray also said he wished he had had more guidance growing up and cites mentors like Will Smith and the Roots' Black Thought for his continued success.