Creed II

Soundtracking: Swedes, Beats, And The Modern Hip Hop Score

Is the leading voice in hip hop soundtracks… Swedish?

Watching Creed II at an American Thanksgiving matinee, a name appeared in the credits: Ludwig Goransson. It seemed familiar. Full confirmation came a second later when my kind, genius companion whispered: ‘Huh. Childish Gambino.’

Suddenly the wormhole opened up and the imprint a 34-year-old Swede has had on the biggest year for hip hop soundtracks in at least two decades became apparent. In addition to the three Grammy nominations Goransson copped this year, he also had a hat trick of intriguing score credits: Venom, Creed II, and Black Panther.

Now, look, let’s not go giving Goransson all the credit. Certainly other names are in the mix, most notably Kendrick Lamar and the gang at Top Dawg Entertainment on Black Panther’s end and Jen Malone – whose credits also include the Donald Glover series Atlanta – who served as music supervisor for Creed II. That said, Goransson’s hip hop chops should not be undersold.

His on-screen credits include other Ryan Coogler films, including the first installation of the Creed franchise and Fruitvale Station, he’s co-written and produced with Chance the Rapper and Vince Staples (as well as the aforementioned Childish Gambino) and he also happens to be represented by Jay-Z’s Roc Nation. It’s a conspicuous name to be popping up among the artists leading the charge.

However, stepping away from Goransson and focusing more on the evolution of hip hop’s modern use on screen, the latest soundtrack wave has been a long time coming. The decade hasn’t exactly been groundbreaking for movie music, but it has also not been without its share of breakthroughs. Animated films and musicals continue to succeed, as evidenced by the like of Frozen and The Greatest Showman. A few traditional compilations broke through, thanks in most part to the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. Visionary rock artists have struck with highly-successful scores, including Academy Award-winner Trent Reznor (The Social Network), Oscar nominee Jonny Greenwood and Golden Globe-winning Alex Ebert (aka Edward Sharpe).

Where, in all this, was hip hop’s big moment? The data supports that the audience is there, with Drake owning three of the top 15 digital songs of 2018 thus far, and seeing the likes of Post Malone, Cardi B and Lamar right up there with him. That likely all changed with Black Panther.

Black Panther debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 album chart on Feb. 24 and hung around in the top 10 until the middle of May. Suddenly, the on-screen bankability of talents like Lamar, SZA, Staples, Travis Scott, The Weeknd and more had actual sales data to back it up. This was followed in quick succession by Venom, headlined by a new tracks from Eminem, Pusha-T and Run the Jewels and another all-star effort in Creed II, headlined by Lamar (again), A$AP Rocky, J. Cole, Nas and Rick Ross and more.

It’s obviously way too early to tell if Hollywood is going to wise up to the fact that hip hop is now basically the dominant genre in pop music, but the movement is starting to creep in. From Barry Jenkins’ use of Goodie Mob and Erykah Badu in his Oscar-winning Moonlight, to Lamar and Tupac Shakur working their way into the YA effort The Hate U Give, to Jonah Hill (yes, Jonah Hill) plumbing the depths of hip hop’s golden era to bring The Pharcyde, Del The Funky Homosapien and more to his debut Mid90s, the movement certainly appears to be afoot.

As for Goransson… He’ll have a busy enough awards season this spring thanks to co-writing and co-producing this little thing.


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