Marvel’s Luke Cage: The Live Score, Sounds of “Harlem’s Paradise”

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The Theater at The Ace Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles

Darkness alongside the 900th block of South Broadway is demystified with the vibrant energy radiating from the United Artists marquee. What used to be a theatre to specifically showcase United Artists films in the 1930s is now The Theatre at the Ace Hotel. Crowds spill out onto the sidewalk from the theatre. Urgency was of no concern; there was an “electric relaxation” throughout the crowd. Inside, everyone was mingling with drinks in hand, while NO I.D., a producer often used by rappers Common, Kanye West, and Jay-Z, provided the beats on the 1’s and 2’s. It was though it was a Friday night at “Harlem’s Paradise”. Cottonmouth …err, Cornell Stokes would’ve been pleased with the turnout and the type of night that ArtDontSleep curated. But this is Los Angeles on a Thursday evening at The Theatre at the Ace Hotel, a night no stranger to us Angelenos to paint the city.

No I.D. providing beats pre-show.

No I.D. providing beats pre-show.

As Russell Peters and Wayne Brady took the stage to get the audience settled in and loosened up, the 40-piece orchestra each took their respective spots, one by one. Conductor Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, and composers Ali Shaheed Muhammed and Adrian Younge soon followed – their eminence filled the void of the theatre. This is whom we were here to see; these men will orchestrate what we want to hear.

If you haven’t already noticed while watching Luke Cage, there’s an exuberance that the score brings. The horns, guitar riffs, and break beats of each song alone were enough to transport you to Harlem. You can almost feel the wet pavement steaming off Frederick Douglass Blvd. on a hot summer day. And if you weren’t bopping your head, your eyes were transfixed on the animated Adrian Younge performing his magic on stage, while Ali’s presence more subtle, though front and center.

Musical score composed by Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammed; conducted by Miguel Atwood-Ferguson

Luke Cage presents itself to us in many ways. On the surface, it’s a man who hedges between becoming a hero and hiding in the shadows – but when danger arises, Luke can’t escape his consciousness of letting Harlem be engulfed in darkness. It’s the same way hip-hop influences the series. The score creates this ambiance, which ends up being the backbone of the environment that Luke Cage is in. But it’s not just any city – it’s Harlem; a culture brewed through barbershop banter, pick up games on the blacktop, and the sounds of jazz, soul, and funk. The sounds that once ruled the airwaves of the ‘70s influenced hip-hop; now hip-hop influences this 40-piece orchestra. In the end, there’s no doubting that this isn’t just any typical score, but one that vibrates from experiences of DJs spinning, MCs rapping, graffiti artists writing, and b-boys breaking.

L to R: Simone Missick, Ali Shaheed Muhammed, Adrian Younge.

L to R: Simone Missick, Ali Shaheed Muhammed, Adrian Younge.

Perhaps just like death often does, like the one of Pop, it brings a community together. One of the most moving and memorable pieces was one that was composed by Ali Shaheed Muhammed, titled “Requiem for Phife”. I couldn’t tell you what scene it belongs to, but for three minutes and forty-three seconds, the theatre was stuck in time to reflect our lost brother in Phife Dawg (R.I.P.) of A Tribe Called Quest.

Just like Los Angeles’ diversity, a showcase of different platforms came to stage: comic books, hip-hop culture, and musical scores. Luke Cage has brought something more than just another additional series to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We now have a bulletproof black superhero to look up to accompanied by a soundtrack for us hip-hop comic book nerds to bop our heads to.

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