Showrunner and exec producer of the series, Cheo Hodari Coker, has repeatedly emphasized how instrumental music is in setting the tone and shaping the world for Netflix’s Marvel’s Luke Cage series, describing it as a show with “a ’90s hip-hop vibe.” And if you’ve watched season 1 of the series (season 2 premieres Friday, June 22), you’d already have a good sense of this.
Says Coker in a press statement, “The music selection and the sequencing is a labor of love, and is one of the most important things I do as showrunner of this show. I love the fact that all of musical sensibilities meld with our storytelling and dramatic desires as a writer’s room, cast, and production crew. I get to be both John Wells and Quincy Jones.”
And after receiving critical acclaim for their season 1 score, Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad are back again for season 2, expanding the sound to include a rhythm section and orchestra. Inspired by the new series character Bushmaster, Muhammad and Younge created what they call “symphonic reggae” for his theme music – a blend of reggae music with an orchestra. The pair also looked to the films of Alfred Hitchcock as well as Mission: Impossible, plus the TV series Kojak, Baretta and The Incredible Hulk for ideas. In addition to the score, the album also includes licensed tracks, and the song King’s Paradise, performed in an episode by hip-hop legend Rakim, which was written by William Griffin, Younge and Muhammad.
Other featured performances in season 2 include R&B singer Joi performing Love You Forever Right Now, and Gabrielle Dennis performing Family First. The soundtrack also includes two covers by teen blues guitarist Christone “Kingfish” Ingram: I Put a Spell on You and The Thrill is Gone. All songs were composed and produced by Younge and Muhammad.
Adds Coker, “If Season 1 was about the hip-hop and the Wu-Tangification of the Marvel Universe, Season 2 is about the roots of hip-hop: reggae and the blues. How both smashed up against each other to create the sonic backdrop of what we now know as hip-hop. The rhythmic stew of funk, rhythm and blues, soul, melded with the Jamaican ‘DJ’ tradition. Harlem’s Paradise, which is tied to the family legacy of both Mariah Dillard Stokes and John ‘Bushmaster’ McGiver, is where the musical sensibilities of both clash. One of the secrets of the show is whoever looks down at the club from Cottonmouth’s ‘perch’ controls the music of the club and has reign over Harlem.”
In summary, expect to catch yourself bobbing your heads as you watch season 2 of Marvel’s Luke Cage which is now available to stream in full on Netflix! And you might even discover some new music in the process, starting especially with the work of the dynamite duo Pete Rock & CL Smooth, the Mount Vernon, New Yorkers who made their debut with their 1991 EP, All Souled Out and followed that up with 1992’s Mecca and the Soul Brother LP. Hip hop heads who were around in the early 1990s will certainly be familiar. For those who are not, maybe it’s time for you to get more acquainted with some timeless classics from the period.
I single out Pete Rock & CL Smooth because, one significant aspect of the show’s nod to hip hop music is the fact that every single episode is named after a track by a famed rapper or rap group from the 1990s (showrunner Coker’s “’90s hip-hop vibe”). For season 1 it was Gang Starr; and for season 2 it’s Pete Rock & CL Smooth.
Coker previously explained his decision to title episodes of the series after hip-hop tracks, stating: “Well… it wasn’t about the content of music as much as it was about the song titles. One of the old tricks we used to use back in the day in music journalism is we used to pick a song for cover line. No matter what group you’re talking about. If there’s a cool cover line you can do that and then simultaneously as a huge fan of Shonda Rhimes, she also names a lot of her shows. Original episodes of Grey’s Anatomy after different songs. So it was really just a combination of just like finding songs titles that resonate and then seeing how you can build cinematic resonance with your story and your characters… But then at the same time, on top of everything else, it’s a great playlist. So it’s funny a lot of people actually listened to all those songs [in season 1] thinking ‘Hey, maybe I’ll get some insights into the show’, but there wasn’t a real investment in the show from the songs, but what they did get was an education on real hip-hop so I think it served a double purpose.”
Real hip-hop indeed.
Earlier this month, Coker shared (on Twitter) the individual titles for all 13 season 2 episodes of Luke Cage, each a track from one of the 3 albums released by Pete Rock & CL Smooth:
1. Soul Brother #1
2. Straighten It Out
3. Wig Out
4. I Get Physical
5. All Souled Out
6. The Basement
7. On and On
8. If It Aint Rough, It Ain’t Right
9. For Pete’s Sake
10. The Main Ingredient
11. The Creator
12. Can’t Front On Me.
13. They Reminisce Over You.
— Cheo Hodari Coker (@cheo_coker) June 7, 2018
It should be noted that the duo produced just 2 studio albums: Mecca and the Soul Brother (1992) and The Main Ingredient (1994) – which Coker relied on; as well as the EP All Souled Out.
Below, you’ll find videos for the 13 Pete Rock & CL Smooth tracks whose names are used to title each season 2 episode of Marvel’s Luke Cage. Accompanying each video is the name of the album they are from (the majority come from Mecca and the Soul Brother).
Episode 1: Soul Brother #1 (Mecca and the Soul Brother).
Episode 2: Straighten It Out (Mecca and the Soul Brother)
Episode 3: Wig Out (Mecca and the Soul Brother)
Episode 4: I Get Physical (Mecca and the Soul Brother)
Episode 5: All Souled Out (from their debut album of the same name)
Episode 6: The Basement (Mecca and the Soul Brother)
Episode 7: On and On (Mecca and the Soul Brother)
Episode 8: If It Aint Rough, It Ain’t Right (Mecca and the Soul Brother)
Episode 9: For Pete’s Sake (Mecca and the Soul Brother)
Episode 10: The Main Ingredient (The Main Ingredient, the last album together)
Episode 11: The Creator (Mecca and the Soul Brother)
Episode 12: Can’t Front On Me (Mecca and the Soul Brother)
Episode 13: They Reminisce Over You (Mecca and the Soul Brother)
Marvel’s Luke Cage season 2’s original soundtrack album is now available for download and at streaming services.