Your favorite TV shows bring new life to classic hip-hop songs

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Make a scene
Words: Luke Fox
The golden age of hip-hop seeps into some of the most revered television series of the modern era. From Nas to Wu-Tang Clan, classic 1990s rap tracks are scene-stealing moments.
Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the fall 2022 issue of XXL Magazine, now on newsstands.

Nas’ classic track “NY State of Mind” is a fitting soundtrack to fuel the road to revenge. ozark badass Ruth Langmore slips the rapper Illmatic into his van’s CD player and revs up for revenge in the Season 4 episode “Death’s Cousin,” which premiered on Netflix last April. Truck wheels spit mud on a dusty road as DJ Premier’s searing beat for the 1994 track blasts through the speakers and the Queensbridge genius with the half-moon cut rocks its poetic aggression . Nearly three decades after its release, the song has provided a sense of nostalgia in one of the most beloved television series of the modern era.

Of course, acclaimed street music amid contemporary wood decor used in the Emmy-nominated ozark episode for Outstanding Music Supervision may be an odd pairing, but it’s the careful song selection of ozarkGabe Hilfer’s music supervisor making the stage sing. As music supervisor for some of TV’s most cutting-edge series, 45-year-old Hilfer has the ability to weave those 1990s hip-hop influences into top-notch TV and film productions and bring them into the world. whole world. His work on Netflix ozark— a dark and gripping drop into the world of high-stakes money laundering, set in the sticks — garnered rave reviews for its talent for seamlessly weaving rap classics into its gripping narrative.

ozark netflix 1990s hip hop tv series magazine xxl

Courtesy of Netflix

ozark isn’t the only TV series to jump on this trend. In 2022, hits on the small screen such as Euphoria, Booty and Atlanta have enriched their visuals with vintage bars from artists like Juvenile, Wu-Tang Clan, Tupac Shakur, Big Pun, Puff Daddy and Lauryn Hill, to name a few. Although not set in the 1990s, they draw inspiration from this dynamic period to reflect theme, character, and ethos.

Bootywhich debuted on Apple TV+ in June, labors in the gleaming opulence of Bad Boy Records dominance in the late 1990s – Ma$e’s ‘Feels So Good’, ‘Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down by Puff Daddy, “It’s All About the Benjamins” and “Money, Power, Respect” by The LOX – to fit the lavish lifestyle of main character Molly Wells, a divorced billionaire discovering her new life, played by Maya Rudolf.

The show’s musical supervisors, Kerri Drootin and Charlie Haggard, were hired later in production to inject the Los Angeles-based show with familiar New York beats. Puffy’s “Bad Boy for Life” is the soundtrack to the crew’s glitzy car for a charity gala in Episode 6. The show is littered with popular 90s hits as “Feels So Good” opens the series as a yacht heads towards a larger birthday yacht. “It was just a super fun scene,” Haggard shares. “I remember seeing it completely dry. They just had sound effects from the noise of the crowd there. There was no music the first time we saw it. So it was a blank canvas. Coming up with ideas for it and then seeing “Bad Boy for Life” plugged in was just a very rewarding time for what we do.

Clearing monster jams from the Puff Daddy era can pay off, but with multiple samples and guest artists to consider, access to these tracks doesn’t come cheap. “We were looking for really big songs with really recognizable classic samples,” adds Drootin. “Fortunately, we also had the money to do everything.” Haggard recalls a memorable moment on social media in this regard: “We received a tweet from Questlove saying, ‘I never want to hear any complaints from Apple about the money I want to spend on music after I saw Loot being executed.'”

Other shows like Euphoria feature a traumatized street singing along to Tupac Shakur’s “Hit ‘Em Up” during a car ride in the opening chapter of Season 2, setting an unbalanced tone for the episodes that follow. Prior to that, 2020 sports comedy-drama Ted Lasso set the stage with A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘Award Tour’ and Onyx’s ‘Slam’ in its first season while Season 3 of Succession last year had ” MC’s Act Like They Don’t” by KRS-One. Know” as part of a birthday party.

It’s different from the returning series this year like Power Book III: Raising Kanan Where Pam and Tommywho use 1990s hip-hop to emphasize the same time frame of their stories. Wu Tang: an American saga, which launched in 2019 and continued into 2021, also includes music from the Wu-Tang members themselves, as well as EPMD, Fu-Schnickens and Dr. Dre, among others, to capture the essence 30 years ago. The Golden Age of Hip-Hop contributes to the Golden Age of Television soundtrack. ozark‘s Hilfer thinks the influx of 1990s hip-hop into binge-worthy programming is simply a generational thing.

“It’s the music that we’re really proud of and that we own,” says Hilfer. “It’s our music, the music that I feel represented me in my youth and my transformative age of listening to music. And now the people who make the shows, write the shows, make the movies are in the same bracket A good portion of the people who have established themselves and have a more creative influence in the world of television are between the ages of 35 and 50. And these people have all developed a love of hip-hop that overlaps with the music with which we grew up. .”

Over the course of Ozark’s four-season arc, 1990s hip-hop is integral to the character development of Ruth Langmore, a cutthroat hustler played doggedly by Julia Garner. At various points in her journey, Ruth can be heard shaking up early work by The Notorious BIG, A Tribe Called Quest, Wu-Tang Clan and Pete Rock & CL Smooth.

The show was able to erase four tracks from Nas’ 1994 debut album – “NY State of Mind”, “Represent”, “Life’s a Bitch” and “One Time 4 Your Mind” – and incorporate Illmatic as a loud but invisible character in one of Ozark’s most difficult hours.

Hilfer is reluctant to humbly brag, but after spotting heavy metal (The wrestler) and classical music (Black Swan) for his early films, he’s happy that “The Cousin of Death” was nominated for a 2022 Emmy in the Outstanding Music Supervision category.

ozark ruth ilmatic scene

Courtesy of Netflix

Raekwon is a huge fan of ozark and the Illmatic-play particular episode. The Wu MC’s “Can It Be All So Simple” verse can be heard in Episode 9, as Ruth reflects on her cousin’s funeral. He views the times when his older music is included on current television as a yearning fondness for the past.

“It keeps all that 90s nostalgia for what they want us to do,” Raekwon says. “It keeps us relevant. I have tons of music that people can best incorporate into their endeavors.

The esteemed lyricist is in good company when he hears his own 1990s music on revered series alongside other respected rappers. Rae pays particular attention to these placements. He surely caught Wu’s “Protect Ya Neck” performing in Booty; “I’ll Be There For You / You’re All I Need To Get Through This” by My Brother Method Man on HBO Euphoria; and the ubiquity of Enter the Wu-Tang (36 rooms) in Wu Tang: an American sagawhich has a third season in the kitchen.

“It feels good to be around my peers and hear that they shit in dope movies or shows because that time was a special time,” Rae says of the trend. “We were making music not only to appease our fans, but we also wanted to penetrate other audiences.”

Strategic television placements naturally lead to increased streams and exposure for 1990s rap groups who had their radio show swept up by contemporary trap artists. A quick and easy Shazam in a Netflix-and-chill session can mean real revenue and invaluable marketing. Or, as Rae puts it, “It feels good to get that recognition, but it also feels good to get that check.”

“I think part of the reason all of late ’90s and early ’00s hip-hop works so well is partly about getting into a feeling of opulence and not specifically about songs that are just money, money, money,” says Bootyby Kerri Drootin, who fondly remembers listening to the famous Power 106 radio station in Los Angeles at that time.

And with more and more music lovers from the 1990s picking songs for popular programs, it seems inevitable that the marriage between timeless hip-hop and contemporary television will continue.

“Sometimes I thought of Yo, I want to be on the radio,” says Raekwon, who is interested in film music himself. “What now? Oh shit, I’m on TV shows. It just goes to show that hip-hop still dominates in the most important way, and it pays homage to some of the greatest artists who made it to the world. peak and still do.

Nothing better than that.

Read the full story at music supervisors’ renewed interest in placing 1990s hip-hop in today’s television series, on newsstands now. Check out other interviews in the magazine, including our cover story with Eminem, Bobby Shmurda, Yung Miami, JID, Yvngxchris, Sleazyworld Go, Styles P, Jim Jones, Symba, Reason, GloRilla, singer Jessie Reyez, the actor Trevante Rhodes and musical director Katina Bynum. The issue also includes a deep dive into a narrative piece about America’s legal systems’ battle against rap lyrics, rappers’ longstanding connection to anime and the 254 covers passed in XXL history.

See XXL The magazine’s 254 past covers

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