Spoilers ahead! If you don't want to read spoilers, please go watch the first episode and come back to us!
After working together on Daredevil and Jessica Jones, the latest Netflix/Marvel collaboration, Luke Cage, made its grand introduction to the world today and so far, the reviews have been bulletproof. Based on a Marvel comic hero, Luke Cage is trying to survive day to day after losing the love of his life and spending years in jail. Played by the towering Mike Colter, the character is a solemn hulk of a man, gifted with super strength and impenetrable skin. When drug kingpin Cotton Mouth starts to take over Harlem, Cage is forced out of his self imposed exile to save his city from the brink of ruin.
Check out the bodacious teaser for Luke Cage below:
The show takes place in Harlem, the birthplace of Hip Hop — a genre that spread to the five boroughs of New York City and created rap legends such as Notorious B.I.G., the Wu-Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest, Nas and Jay-Z. Showrunner Cheo Coker understands the importance of Hip Hop to black NYC culture and spoke to Billboard about steeping the show in the genre, describing Luke Cage as the "wu-tangification of the Marvel Universe."
Using O.D.B.'s "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" in the teaser above is a good start but Coker has gone the extra mile, using music as a vital tool in his storytelling. We take a look at the use of Hip Hop in the bulletproof new show as well as the references you might have missed.
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To get you in the mood, check out the Hip Hop playlist curated by the composers of the Luke Cage soundtrack:
Hip Hop's Finest Came Together To Create The Score
Rap producers were stumbling over each other to compose the score for Luke Cage but Cheo Coker managed to enlist two of the greatest producers the genre has ever known. First and foremost, Ali Shaheed Muhammad made a name for himself as the principal beat maker for A Tribe Called Quest, the afro-centric rap group who injected poetry and sophistication into the genre in the '90s. The iconic producer elevated sampling forgotten jazz and soul records to an art form that gives Luke Cage its authentic sound.
Check out a sample of Ali's beats below:
Adrian Younge earned the attention of his peers by masterfully bringing the sound of '70s soul and funk into the 21st century with his original Hip Hop compositions. Ever since, he's worked with Ghostface Killah, Souls of Mischief and Nas and is the perfect fit for Muhammed's jazz-centric beats. Together they connect the jazz and soul roots of Harlem with the current landscape of rap to present an authentic, aural history of black NYC culture.
Check out Younge and Muhammed discussing the Luke Cage score below:
Each Episode Is Named After A Gang Starr Song
The rap duo Gang Starr hail from Brooklyn and are icons of the '90s rap scene. Working closely with fellow New York legend and seminal producer DJ Premiere, Gang Starr's sound was built on breaking down the hoodlum stereotype most rappers hid behind. Each episode of Luke Cage is named after one of their songs and perhaps is inspired by the hard-hitting, straight-talking crew. The first episode was titled "Moment of Truth," named after Gang Starr's uplifting track that features lyrics that may help understand the story of Luke Cage:
"We all must meet our moment of truth. The same sheisty cats that you hang with and do your thang with, could set you up, wet you up."
Check out this handy playlist Movie Pilot's own Eileen McNulty-Holmes set up of all the Gang Starr tracks featured as titles on Luke Cage:
Method Man Stops By To Pay His Respects
In this teaser, Luke Cage takes back the streets of Harlem to the sounds of Nas's boisterous "Made You Look." We see Luke getting support from locals, including none other than Method Man. Arguably the strongest rapper from Wu-Tang Clan, (let the debate begin!), Method is as starstruck as the reluctant superhero. Cage professes his love for Method's underground classic "P.L.O. Style" while Method Man praises the black Superman for taking back Harlem. The Wu-Tang member even swaps his designer hoodie for Cage's, poking his fingers through the bullet holes!
Shout Out To Biggie
Shot on location in Harlem and Brooklyn, Luke Cage is filled with beautiful moments of eye-candy. The sinister drug kingpin Cotton Mouth does his business in his Harlem nightclub, Paradise. Coker took inspiration from the art-deco jazz clubs of the '20s such as the Cotton Club and Small's Paradise where big names like Duke Ellington, Lena Horne and Cab Calloway became famous. In a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment, we see the drug overlord pose in front of the iconic image of the late Notorious B.I.G. wearing his crooked crown.
The Most Illmatic Soundtrack Out There
The first episode demonstrated the importance of Hip Hop in Luke Cage and laid the foundation for the rest of the season. The soundtrack is not just used to evoke emotion, it dictates the rhythm of the show, it defines characters (they bond over music) and it shapes Luke Cage as a black superhero.
Which track defines New York Hip Hop ?