This post contains spoilers.
Few moments are more anticipated in a Rocky or Creed film than a training montage, which Creed II music supervisors Fam Udeorji and Jen Malone — Emmy nominees for their work on FX’s Atlanta — were well aware. The movie gives us two.
For the underwater montage, as Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis throws punches standing on the floor of a pool to prepare for his first fight against Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), director Steven Caple Jr. requested a darker vibe from soundtrack composer Ludwig Göransson and guest rapper Vince Staples. At that point in the film, Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) has decided not to train Adonis, and the lyrics to the ominous track “Ice Cold” capture the mood: “How dare you walk from me/ I’m where I’ll always be/ It’s all downhill from here.”
For the desert montage ahead of the rematch, when Rocky takes Adonis to a barren place where he says fighters go to “get reborn,” Caple’s directive was different: He wanted something soulful. The result was a two-parter: “You Might Find Me,” with the aching vocals of singer-songwriter Jacob Banks, and “Runnin,” featuring Banks and rapper A$AP Rocky. (A different version of the song, featuring Rocky with A$AP Ferg and Nicki Minaj, appeared on Creed II: The Album, a star-studded companion to the film’s official soundtrack that was executive produced by hitmaker Mike WiLL Made-It and included songs inspired by the film.)
“That was a really powerful line — this is a place where people die to be reborn — that we would talk with those guys about. How he was completely broken — broken spiritually, emotionally, and physically — when he gets to this place,” Malone tells Billboard.
Early in the process, they temped in Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit” and Kanye West’s “Blood on the Leaves,” which samples the former, to evoke that feeling. Interscope Records, which released Creed II: The Album, suggested the supervisors use Banks, a Nigerian-born Brit who’s opened for Sam Smith and Alicia Keys. The solemn “You Might Find Me” plays as Rocky and Adonis drive to the outdoor desert ring, where Rocky tells Adonis he can get to use to being in hell since he’s going back there with the young Drago. “Jacob nailed what was happening and what you felt when they get to the desert,” Malone says. “It has this soulfulness, this grittiness.”
The lyrics: “You might find me by the water/ Waiting for the trumpet call/ Oh you see my like a stranger/ I’ve been waiting for the storm/ Amen… Amen… Amen while we fall.”
Göransson’s full-orchestra score leads off the money track “Runnin” as Adonis gets to work sparring, swinging a large hammer, punching tires and taking a heavy medicine ball to the gut. The staccato strings, piercing brass and driving beat eventually give way back to Banks’ voice when Adonis falls while running behind a car driven by Rocky.
“We would FaceTime with Jacob showing him the scene, getting him the background [to write the lyrics],” Malone says. “And then when he was in the studio, we would FaceTime with him after each take and hear it and be like, ‘Okay, can we get something more like this?’ It’s really amazing to be a part of actually creating this whole thing.”
While Adonis is still on the ground, we see footage of him FaceTiming with his fiancée, Bianca, and their newborn daughter, Amara. As Banks wails a powerful “Amen, Amen, Amen,” Adonis remembers why he’s fighting and stands as Göransson’s score swells. “You kinda get the chills, and then Adonis starts running and he’s back to life,” Malone says.
Then, it’s time for A$AP Rocky’s rap to kick in.
Mike WiLL Made-It first brought up Rocky, thinking he could deliver exactly what the film needed in that scene. “It’s just such a great turning moment,” Malone says. “Shit goes hard, and he’s back — and that’s when you get pumped up, ’cause you know he’s back.”
A$AP was on tour in New Zealand the first time he FaceTime’d with the music team so they could show him the scene, have him hear Banks’ voice and blast what they had of Göransson’s score. They gave him the music, and he came back with a verse that got everyone excited: “Breaking out the cage, tell ’em lock the chains/ Adrenaline and rage I may never change/ Pumping through my heart dilute my pain/ Compressing all the stress, asthma on my chest, runnin’ out of breath, they goin’ know my name.”
When the montage got extended and they needed him to add a couple more bars, the music team joined him at Conway Studios in Los Angeles. “We kept the footage up on the big screen, above the board, so he would watch, and you saw him writing them right there,” Malone says. It was Rocky’s idea to have the line “Runnin, runnin, runnin, this shit both legs broke” bounce side to side through the left and right speakers.
As a reborn Adonis sprints ahead of the car, the sound drops to an angelic choir singing, “Fighting hard, fighting strong, fighting harder” — a callback to Rocky’s “Gonna Fly Now” theme, which Göransson also honored in the first Creed movie — then builds again with the sweeping score to the choir’s final crescendo of “fight… fight… fight” (another homage to the original franchise).
Malone credits Göransson, who also scored Blank Panther and co-wrote and co-produced Childish Gambino’s “This is America,” with making it work. “He can move between both of those worlds. He can make that orchestration beautiful and uplifting with the strings, but then he can also get into it and work with Mike WiLL’s beats to tie it all together. I think that’s what makes the desert montage so powerful,” Malone says. “It’s one piece of music that has three movements.”