Ali Shaheed Muhammad is trying his best to not spill the proverbial beans. This is what happens when you are involved in one of the most anticipated series of 2016, Netflix’s Luke Cage, and you are given orders by the suits at multi-billion-dollar-grossing Marvel Studios, owned by the mammoth Disney, to keep it light on specifics.
“Without giving too much away…it’s a compelling series,” Ali says with a sheepish laugh of the buzz-heavy superhero street drama, a follow-up to the critically acclaimed shows Daredevil and Jessica Jones. One of the founders and members of the iconic hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest — who went on to produce everyone from soul messiah D’Angelo to ‘90s supergroup Lucy Pearl — Ali teamed up with fellow left-field hip-hop producer Adrian Younge to score the music for Luke Cage, set to premiere September 30. “The Luke Cage fans will be happy,” he adds. “The persona and character is important to people. Just to be a part of that is special.”
(Photo: Myles Aronowitz/Netflix)
Given Marvel’s now legendary reputation for secrecy, it’s little wonder that only a few features and interviews from ambitious showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker have been granted. There has indeed been a ridiculously long wait for the live action version of the company’s first African-American super-powered crime fighter, also known as Power Man (his martial arts mastering partner, Iron Fist, will be featured in his own series in 2017), who made his debut in June of 1972. Both Wesley Snipes and Tyrese Gibson were circled for the role at certain points, which more than a decade later went to the criminally underrated Mike Colter, who commands the small screen with a quiet, fiery presence.
For Ali, the entire experience of working on the two-fisted music for Luke Cage was one of divine intervention. “The creator is masterful,” the devout Muslim and cultural activist says. “Because when I got that call about working on the Luke Cage project, there were a lot of changes going on in my life at that moment. And one of the people that I had been working with, Adrian Younge, at the time we were recording our album. So it was serendipitous that Cheo wanted both of us individually to work on Luke Cage. He didn’t know that we were working together at that time.”
Because Luke Cage is one of the few high profile African-American superheroes to headline his own comic book series, much less a television show, Ali believes that there was indeed a heavier responsibility to do right by the groundbreaking badass. But he even connects the cultural ascension of the no-nonsense Hero for Hire and Avengers member to more serious matters: America’s racial polarization.
“Knowing how important Luke Cage is to the African-American community and knowing how severe tensions are racially for the young black male at this time, as a teen I didn’t ever think we would get to this point,” Ali says. “A Tribe Called Quest really tried to make music to inspire all races. In this day in age where we have an African-American president and to see that things have progressed, I thought Luke Cage coming out at this point in time was again serendipitous. Anybody could have gotten that call. There are so many dope musicians out there.”
So what’s it like having one of the most lucrative film studios throwing their full support behind you? Ali is awestruck. “From the platform of Hollywood we all know the powerful reach that Marvel has,” he explains. “So for Marvel to get behind this character in this way and in this time period, it’s an honor to be a part of this entire project. Partnering up with Cheo and Adrian gave us an artistic license to do what we wanted to do. Netflix and Marvel both supported our vision.”
Of course, it all comes back to the soundtrack, which will not only feature original works from Ali and Younge, but classics from the Wu-Tang Clan and other hip-hop giants. “I hope that people love the music,” Ali adds. “But more importantly, I hope that there’s a sense of pride.”
(Photo: Earl Gibson III/Getty Images)