Ali Shaheed Muhammad & Adrian Younge Bring Harlem's Paradise to Los Angeles for Live Score of Netflix's 'Luke Cage'

Jesse  Gilbert/ArtDontSleep
 Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Younge onstage during 'Luke Cage: Live Score' at The Theatre at Ace Hotel in Los Angeles on Oct. 6, 2016.

Marvel’s new comic-turned-Netflix smash Luke Cage plays on one of America’s unfortunate truths: Black men have been viewed as threatening targets by law enforcement in recent years (if not for centuries).

At the Live Score concert for the series on Thursday night (Oct. 6) in Los Angeles' Theatre at the Ace Hotel, host Wayne Brady harped on Cage's strength as a Black man. "We’ve got a Black person wearing a hoodie that’s bulletproof," Brady joked. "He really looks like he will beat your ass." Brady also indulged in banter with co-host Russell Peters about the classic sitcom Sanford and Son, while spitting bars during acclaimed producer No I.D.'s set about a Black hero whose superpowers were to become invisible and remain debt-free. 

Jokes aside, the evening featured a 40-piece orchestra playing works from the action-packed show by composers Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, the latter one-third of iconic hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest. Muhammad, clad in a black blazer and white shirt, stepped out along with Younge, conductor Miguel Atwood-Ferguson and the orchestra. The Tribesman played both xylophone and piano, while Younge strummed the guitar and hopped on the microphone. 

"Welcome to Harlem's Paradise," said Younge, addressing the audience as if they were in the fictitious New York nightclub owned by Luke Cage villain Cottonmouth. The trio brought the soulful feel of Uptown New York to life with the score. Fans recognized the classical-meets-hip-hop tunes, which soundtrack the hustle and bustle of the streets, the fight scenes that showcase Cage’s brutal hand-to-hand combat, and of course, a love scene here and there. One of the night’s highlights came when a woman in a shimmering black dress floated onstage to briefly pant and coo sexually. Her minute-long display of passion earned her a surprising amount of applause and whistles.

The evening served as a solid entry point for orchestra and symphony novices. Gorgeous strings from violinists and bassists often gave way to the boom-baps of a drummer, who also brought R&B sensibilities to the forefront. A middle-aged guitarist also brought much funk to the function. On several occasions, he could be seen in a wide stance rocking to his own grooves, thrusting his pelvis into his instrument, clearly pleased with the music and the additional vocals from two opera singers.

Muhammad eventually grabbed the mic to introduce a song he produced in memory of Tribe member Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor, who died at 45 this spring from diabetes complications. The track, "Requiem for Phife,” is fittingly used for one of the biggest scenes in Luke Cage. "I wrote this song three weeks before my brother died," said Muhammad of the song, recorded just after Phife's passing. "[I wish you all could] feel the love that was in the room the next day," Younge added of the studio session. Gentle strings cried throughout the cut, with small dips and builds as Muhammad tapped the keys and a picture of Phife Dawg throwing up the peace sign lit up a screen onstage. 

As the night wrapped, Cage director Cheo Hodari Coker emerged to thank Muhammed and Younge for their work on the show. "Musically, they elevated it to another level,” Coker said of the score. (The Luke Cage soundtrack also goes on sale today (Oct. 7), and is available on major streaming services.) "If you want to get it right, you have to go to the source." Younge returned the love by giving props to Coker, for cutting "no corners in making something unapologetically Black."