In an interview with Vulture, the composers for Marvel’s “Luke Cage,” Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Younge, talked about creating the score and tone and the lack of opportunities for black composers.
Muhammad and Younge said that they’ve composed music together before, strengthening their dynamic and work on “Luke Cage:”
“Ali Shaheed Muhammad: Since about 2013, when he was working on theSouls of Mischief record, and he asked me to be a part of it. That formed our friendship and production partnership, but we had never spoken about scoring together, so when [showrunner] Cheo [Hodari Coker] reached out to us individually, it was easy to fall into.”
Vulture also asked about how the score would affect and inspire future musicians as well as the opportunities, or lack of opportunities, black composers have in the industry:
“Adrian Younge: We are two black composers, and black composers don’t really get the opportunities to support things of this magnitude. It is a cyclical process. If you look back to Duke Ellington, to Quincy Jones, to Isaac Hayes, these opportunities are seldom, and when black composers have been awarded these opportunities, it is something where you must make a statement. The statement we sought to make is that people of our culture should aspire to do more than just sampling or producing for someone else. Don’t just stop there. You can score film, you can have an orchestra, you can go as far as you want to.
When I say our culture, I am talking about urban culture. And that includes people that are in hip-hop. You don’t see hip-hop producers composing. We can count on one hand how many we know. It is unfortunate. But it is something that ties into the fact that you don’t see many black composers having these opportunities. We knew we wanted to set a bar, and we wanted to make something pivotal, unique, and novel for people to watch and feel.”
According to Muhammad and Younge, it’s the second episode where the tones and themes of the score start to flourish. They also said that they’ve created different themes and tones for each character of the series and talked about which character theme was hardest to create.
“ASM: The funny thing about that is that the second episode was the first episode we scored. That was the one where we knew — everything has to go into this moment.
AY: And when we did that episode, it helped convince Marvel and Netflix that these guys should have an extra budget now to have an orchestra. They love what we were doing so much. Dawn Soler at ABC pushed hard for us to get an orchestra. That song that starts and ends episode two is the song where they were like, “This is it. This is the sound of the show.” They always believed in us, but what we said to them is you don’t have to have any needle drops here, you don’t have to license as much music, let us create more score. Let us create more source material for you guys so that the music all comes together to create a world of Luke Cage. Instead of songs just being pulled from everywhere. That helped us have this orchestra for 13 episodes, which is very expensive.”
Muhammad and Younge created different themes for each character. In the interview, they talked about the instruments and voices they decided to use for each character. Muhammad then talked about Shades’ big episode two entrance and how he was that one of the hardest themes to create in the score:
“AY: For Diamondback, we have a voice for him, it is opera singing — Brooke deRosa, whom I have worked with for years. For Luke Cage, we use Loren Oden. Whenever Luke Cage is having one of those dramatic or emotional moments, his superhero-type tone is Loren’s voice, kind of like his inner voice. And Cottonmouth, he is a pianist, and he plays the Fender Rhodes. We pretty much exclusively use Fender Rhodes keyboards for him. That is who he is.
ASM: They all seemed to be seamless, but Shades came early on. He made such a large entrance in episode two, when he comes in the kitchen, and we played to that, and Marvel really liked it, but they wanted us to preserve what was structured for him for way later.”
The whole first season of “Luke Cage” is now readily available for streaming on Netflix.