Raphael Saadiq Explains How Writing for 'Luke Cage' Was a Dark Dream Come True

Emily Berl/Redux
Raphael Saadiq poses for a portrait at his studio in North Hollywood, CA.

Singer, songwriter and producer Raphael Saadiq is the kind of musical polymath who doesn't necessarily need to go seeking interesting projects -- they tend to find him. That was very much the case with Marvel's acclaimed new Netflix series, Luke Cage. Setting the stage, literally, for a cast of real-life musicians who have played the show's fictional club, Harlem's Paradise, Saadiq appears in the first episode, playing one older song ("Good Man" from his album Stone Rollin') and one new one written for the show ("Angel"). "My really good friend and brother is [A Tribe Called Quest's] Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and I'm good friends with Adrian Younge too," Saadiq says of the show's two composers. "We always go out to eat breakfast together in LA." Muhammad and Younge told him they were working on Luke Cage and said, "you should do a joint on the show." Saadiq wasn't looking for work at the time, but his friends eventually convinced him. "Definitely I have to thank Ali Shaheed and Adrian for being friends and saying, 'Man, get off your ass and come over,'" he says with a laugh.

Saadiq ended up getting a front row seat to the composition process, as Muhammad and Younge used his Blakeslee studio for strings recording ("I have a huge strings room, and I watched them doing orchestrations"). And Saadiq himself was inspired to transform a song he'd intended for his forthcoming new album for the show's purposes. "I sent Cheo [Hadari Coker, Luke Cage's creator] three songs, and I thought he was gonna pick the other two," Saadiq says. "But he picked 'Angel,' which I hadn't even really written -- it just had a hook on it, I hadn't finished it. I was trying to find a vibe for my album, and I go through lots of different shapes and colors and moods working on a record. That was a dark type of song." 

Appropriately, on Luke Cage, Saadiq's song becomes the backdrop to a very dark montage culminating in a shootout. For Saadiq, it was oddly a dream come true. "I always wanted to watch my music, like....with people getting killed in the background," he says, before quickly clarifying: "In film! Not in real life! I love mafia movies, and you've always got an orchestra when the murders are going down. I love Nas, and he tells stories like that. So I've always wanted my music to be somewhere in the middle of a Nas story, with an R&B feel like the Delfonics. All the girls love the Delfonics, but they really sang about crazy, dark, sexy stuff."