Every hero needs theme music. As Richard Roundtree’s leather-caped Shaft brazenly beelined through New York traffic in the eponymous 1971 film classic, it was Charles Pitt’s now ubiquitous wah-wah guitar that shadowed his movements through Gotham. The “Theme From Shaft,” composed by the late great Isaac Hayes, became the signifier for sonic swag. Keenan Ivory Wayans paid homage to the scene and the music in the 1988 film I’m Gonna Git You Sucka as John Slade (Bernie Casey) informs his understudy Jack Spade(Wayans) that the men following him down the street were there to keep the beat. “It’s my theme music, every good hero should have some.”
Fast forward 30 years and everything is coming full circle. Marvel and Netflix haver partnered to create and release a 13-episode series for “Luke Cage,” one of the first Black comic book super heroes, whose creation was inspired by Blaxploitation era stars like Shaft. The live action version will star Mike Colter, who played Cage in the “Jessica Jones” series on Netflix. With Colter continuing his role as Cage, viewers are being given a thorough backstory into “Power Man,” an escaped convict imbued with impenetrable skin, and his struggle to fit into his adopted home of Harlem, USA. Thanks to Showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker, a hip-hop journalist turned filmmaker who literally wrote the book on The Notorious B.I.G and co-wrote 2009’s Notorious biopic, the show’s music and score have been at the nucleus of discussion on this bulletproof super hero. Coker tapped Ali Shaheed Muhammad of a A Tribe Called Quest and Lucy Pearl fame to join composer Adrian Younge to score all 13 episodes of “Luke Cage.” While Younge had prior experience scoring another blaxploitation homage, Black Dynamite, this would be Shaheed’s first time scoring. However, the two musicians had already worked their collaborative process on a Souls of Mischief project and were recording an album called The Midnight Hour when the call came to score Luke Cage. So they spent the next 9 months holed up in their respective studios and Raphael Saadiq’s Blake Street work space to cook up some bulletproof soul.
Jack Spade did take John Slade’s advice, but his theme music came courtesy of KRS-One and Boogie Down Productions, folding guitar licks into some door-busting drums for “Jack Of Spades.” Hip-hop was the bridge then and still is now, so WatchLOUD spoke with both Ali Shaheed and Adrian Younge to offer some insight into crafting the sound and fury for Netflix’s “Luke Cage.”