Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad Bring Harlem to Life with ‘Luke Cage Season Two’ Score (ALBUM REVIEW)


With the first season of Netflix’s Marvel’s Luke Cage, music played an indelible role in setting the tone for the series. As much as any of the Defenders series, the city of New York was a character unto itself—Hell’s Kitchen for Daredevil and Jessica Jones, Harlem for Luke Cage—and music, both the soundtrack and score, went above and beyond in establishing the character of Harlem.

Composed by Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad (of A Tribe Called Quest fame), the score was a mesmerizing blend of modern classical, R&B, and hip hop, becoming a force unto itself. You didn’t even have to watch or like the series to be in awe of the soundtrack; it was a modern classic of instrumental soul that didn’t need context.

And so it is with season two. Once again, Younge and Muhammad have joined forces to craft a work of neo-soul genius that resonates well outside the world of comic fanboys. Fans of music, period, will find themselves enthralled by the depth of rhythm and sound wrought by their collaboration. Presented by Mondo, the two-disc vinyl set is the perfect showcase of the incredible music of this powerhouse duo.

The wealth of influences peppered throughout the album is mind-blowing and overwhelming; Younge and Muhammad pull from 70s soul, 60s R&B, and 90s hip hop with abandon, blending it with elements of more traditional film score work. This creates an impressive sonic atmosphere, with the music seeming to conjure the streets of Harlem from nothing.

It’s at once an ode to the soul and history of the borough, a pastiche of the sounds of African American musical culture, and an homage to the soul soundtracks of the blaxploitation era. Indeed, it’s not hard to hear the influence of Isaac Hayes or Curtis Mayfield peppered throughout the release. It’s an album the recalls a musical day that has passed, reimagined for modern sensibilities.

Intriguing are the interpolations of season two’s villain Bushmaster’s theme. His Jamaican background gives Younge and Muhammad an excuse to play around in a reggae motif, accenting the soul stylings with powerful upstrokes serve to add even deeper layers to the sonic complexity of the work overall.

Also included are four songs from the season, the highlights being Christone “Kingfish” Ingram’s soulful reimaginings of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’s “I Put a Spell on You” and Ray Hawkins’s “The Thrill Is Gone” (made famous, of course, by B.B. King). The difficulty in performing standards such is those is finding the newness within the old, but Kingfish brings an incredible soul to both tracks. Backed as he is by the production of Younge and Muhammad, these renditions make wonderful additions to the catalogues of both songs.

Added to that is a rerecording of R&B singer Joi’s “Love You Forever Right Now.” Originally released in 2006, the new version, with Younge and Muhammad at the helm, adds an extra flavor to the soulful love ballad. Somewhat less impressive is the inclusion of Rakim’s “King’s Paradise.” As great as it always is to hear his voice, which remains as powerful today as it did three decades ago, the track recalls the days when credit sequences featured rappers retelling the plot of the movie in rhyme.

Still, as far as weakest links go, you’re still left with a track that features Rakim, Younge, and Muhammad, which itself is a trifecta to be reckoned with. And Rakim still manages to lace his lyrics with history and intelligence. While it might not be a banger, it’s far from the worst track the MC has leant his voice to over the years.

As ever, Mondo has gone above and beyond in presenting their release in a beautifully crafted, collectible manner. Featuring art by Sara Deck, the set is a loving homage to the series and the landscape that inspired the soundscape. That’s a given with every Mondo release; the Austin-based company always releases fantastic versions of your favorite scores, and Luke Cage season 2 is a fine addition to their catalogue.

Whether you’re a fan of the series, a fan of score, a fan of the artists, or just a fan of music period, Marvel’s Luke Cage season 2 has something for you to enjoy. It’s another classic brought to you by the collaboration of Younge and Muhammad, who I hope continue working together in some form or another indefinitely. They’re certainly a  powerful combined force, as their work on both seasons of the series proves, breathing exciting life to the genres in which they play.

Marvel’s Luke Cage season two is now available from Mondo. You can order it here.

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