Inside Terrence Howard’s Music Career

Terrence Howard is known to most people as an actor, with iconic roles in Hustle & Flow, Empire, and more. But at one point during his acting career, Howard delved into the world of music.

Terrence Howard honored at the HOllywood Walk of Fame
Terrence Howard | Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images

Howard first started acting in the early 1990s. He appeared in TV shows such as Family Matters and starred alongside Taye Diggs and Nia Long in the 1999 romcom The Best Man. He even appeared in music videos for Ashanti and Mary J. Blige.

Howard’s breakout role came in 2005 in the film Hustle & Flow. He played a pimp and aspiring rapper, starring opposite his future TV wife, Taraji P. Henson. He performed all his character’s tracks himself, including “It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp,” which ended up winning the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Howard himself received a nomination for Best Actor at the Oscars.

Terrence Howard on Empire
Terrence Howard | FOX via Getty Images

Terrence Howard’s music career

In 2008, Howard demonstrated his musical talents by releasing the album Shine Through It, an adult contemporary LP with R&B and country influences.

Howard spoke about his dive into the music industry in a 2008 interview with Blues & Soul. “My initial reason for making the album was because I felt I had something to say,” he said honestly. “As an actor I’ve been limited by the direction of my director, limited by the imagination of my writer, and by the funding of my producer. I have had some autonomy in making the film and creating the character, but overall it’s always been controlled. Whereas music for me is my own personal form of expression.”

“The album title was representative of finding your inner voice and not being afraid of the roar within your inner voice,” he continued. “You know, a lion isn’t so concerned with the creatures of the jungle being frightened by his voice. He knows that they’re supposed to be. And, as a result, he roars to make sure that everyone not only hears it but feels it.”

“That’s exactly what light does,” he continued. “It pushes through and it illuminates not just the soul, but also the spirit — which is why I called my album Shine Through It.”

Terrence Howard’s music was personal

Howard went on to talk about the album’s material, which included songs that have some sort of tie to his real life.

“A lotta the lyrics either come from personal experience, or from personal observations,” he said. “‘Love Makes You Beautiful,’ for example, came from me just watching people on the street, seeing them hugging and kissing, walking the dog, or playing with the children. And realizing that people of all shapes and sizes are made beautiful by a mere act of love.”

“The title track, as I said, talks about having personal faith inside,” he continued. “‘Plenty’ is about wealthy people and the wealthy experiences I’ve had, where you forget the value of humanity because you’re so busy trying to value the dollar.”

Terrence Howard admitted he doesn’t have a singing voice

Howard wrote all the songs on the album, and he worked with accomplished producer and musician Miles Mosley, whose more recent collaborators include Kendrick Lamar. Even though Howard sang on the album, he admitted that doesn’t have the best voice fit for singing.

“I don’t have a singer’s voice. I am an expressionist,” he said. He likened his voice to that of James Brown and Nina Simone. “I don’t have the vocal gymnastics that people like Usher or Chris Brown do. And, when my voice falls flat or cracks — I don’t think there’s such a thing as wrong notes, just notes that aren’t appreciated — it cracks because perhaps there’s a huge gulf between the pain and the solution. And sometimes you have to fall into that gulf before you hit the water.”