At the stroke of midnight on Friday (Sept. 30), viewers everywhere dropped what they were doing to tune into Netflix’s newest Marvel series, “Luke Cage.” Introducing audiences to the latest (future) member of The Defenders, we got a closer look at the life and times of one Luke Cage (Mike Colter).
Not only does the show pay tribute to its comic book roots, the series is also a love letter to the city of Harlem, gangster movies of the past — there are some series shout outs to “New Jack City” throughout — and the music (and literature) that formed the city and its culture.
The man behind the series is one Cheo Hodari Coker and if anyone was the perfect person to bring “Luke Cage” to Netflix, it’d be him. Not only does he succeed at embedding elements of the city’s real-life history into the mix, he also stays true to his journalistic roots by using music to really bring the whole thing to life.
We spoke with Coker at San Diego Comic-Con and he not only hinted at each episode of the season being named after Gang Starr songs (the music videos are all linked below) but he compared each member of The Defenders to members of The Wu Tang Clan.
What you have here is a series that tips its hat to Notorious BIG (with a simple picture on the wall) — Coker not only wrote the book on Biggie’s life, he wrote the 2009 companion film, “Notorious.” There are also nods to ground breaking African American authors like Donald Goines and the show even throws some real movers and shakers in the hip hop world into the Marvel mix.
If anything, “Luke Cage” is a series that firmly knows the world it is representing. And with the help of production duo Ali Shaheed Muhammed — from A Tribe Called Quest — and Adrian Younge, the soundtrack takes viewers down an aural path not usually walked on the small-screen.
Since music is a big component to the series, we break down the important musical moments from the first 13 episodes of “Luke Cage” below. Be warned, if you have not watched every episode of the new series, there are spoilers below!
Episode 1: ‘Moment of Truth’
In the season’s opener, we’re given a look at how the tension on the streets of Harlem is effecting its citizens. Luke is attempting to live a quiet life, staying under the radar working odd jobs, but Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali) ends up making that quite difficult.
Covering a bartending shift at Harlem’s Paradise, Raphael Saadiq hits the stage with his 2011 hit “Good Man.” Obviously, the meaning here is clear: amidst its seedy backdrop, Luke Cage is a man to be trusted. Even by one Misty Knight (Simone Missick).
As a bonus, Saadiq stayed on the stage and performed a new track. “Angel” will be featured on the “Luke Cage” soundtrack.
Episode 2: ‘Code of the Streets’
A fun cameo for true hip hop heads, D-Nice shows up as the house DJ at Harlem’s Paradise. In a quick scene, the crowd goes nuts as he spins a very familiar sounding hook. For those who don’t recall, “They Call Me D-Nice” was a big hit in the early ’90s.
Another performer to hit the stage at Harlem’s Paradise is Faith Evans. If the image of crowned Biggie watching over the club wasn’t powerful enough, the impact of his widow performing her track “Mesmerized” really helped to ground the series as one that knows New York’s history, as well as hip hop’s itself.
Episode 3: ‘Who’s Gonna Take the Weight?’
It’s the 3rd episode of the season that really clinches Luke’s power and purpose. After a brutal attack on Harlem’s “Switzerland,” the viewer gets another view of the club’s stage where Charles Bradley sings, ‘Ain’t it a Sin.’ With the terrible act pinned directly to Cottonmouth, the answer is most certainly yes.
As a precursor to the episode’s pinnacle fight scene, Domingo (Jacob Vargas) confronts Cottonmouth. It’s a subtle scene that gives a clear message: War is coming. “Enemies All Around Me” by Ghostface Killah playing softly in the background.
And then, Luke Cage brings the ruckus. The choice to move from Ghostface Killah directly into a Wu Tang Clan classic was a beautiful move and one that nailed home the unblinking carnage Cage brought in this series’ version of that iconic “Daredevil” hallway fight.
Episode 4: ‘Step in the Arena’
Delivered a massive blow, Episode 4 takes the viewers back in time to witness Cage’s prison backstory. The Gang Starr track this episode is named after takes center stage. It may not have played during any of the action, but its relevance to the story is key.
Episode 5: ‘Just to Get a Rep’
Coming at the people of Harlem, in an effort to sully Luke’s name, the theme of Episode 5 mirrors the Gang Starr song perfectly. While we see his men rough up the citizens at store fronts on on the sidewalk, Jidenna performs his track, “Long Live the Chief” at Club Paradise while Cottonmouth views from the VIP seat.
Later, “It Serves You Right To Suffer” by John Lee Hooker plays as Luke and Bobby Fish (Ron Cephas Jones) prepare for the funeral of a fallen friend.
Episode 6: ‘Suckas Need Bodyguards’
The classic sound of The Stylistics help to give the story some old school flavor as Cage tries to save the community from falling apart. But after a connection between an assumed friend and Cottonmouth is discovered, Luke realizes he’s not sure who is on the right and wrong side of the law.
Episode 7: ‘Manifest’
Mariah (Alfre Woodard) takes center stage in this episode, which finds her political career in danger. Opening with “Plain Gold Ring” by Nina Simone hauntingly playing as Luke tries to pick up the pieces, we’re soon given some unsettling information regarding Mariah and Cottonmouth’s past.
It’s a flashback scene that shows the moment when Cottonmouth broke bad. And with the gun in his 14-year-old hands, John Lee Hooker hauntingly serenaded the scene.
Episode 8: ‘Blowin’ Up the Spot’
Mariah puts her political hat back on and does her best to turn the police and Harlem’s citizens against Luke. With a new leader running Harlem’s Paradise, Ghostface Killah’s “King of New York” helps usher in a new force to be reckoned with.
Episode 9: ‘DWYCK’
With the bulletproof man wounded and on the run, the story takes a turn to focus on Misty’s struggles to find herself. Between her rough interrogation and Mariah’s newfound — and unwelcome — partner in the picture, The Delfonics sing sweetly about the search for love.
Episode 10: ‘Take It Personal’
Luke and Claire (Rosario Dawson) head for some much needed help. While he gets the assistance he needs, he also learns more about his past and the information Reva (Parisa Fitz-Henley) kept from him. Does he “Take it Personal?” You could say that.
Episode 11: ‘Now You’re Mine’
We get a closer look at who this new enemy is. Not only is it someone from Luke’s past, his biblical quest for violent power seems to know no bounds. Much like Luke, Willis Stryker (Erik LaRay Harvey) is also the “Son of a Preacher Man.”
Episode 12: ‘Soliloquy of Chaos’
As Misty continues to dig, with the intention of proving Luke’s innocence, we are treated to a Method Man cameo.
He may be on the run but that doesn’t stop Luke from saving Meth and others during a failed liquor store robbery. Luke even references Method Man’s “P.L.O Style,” before the two exchange hoodies.
Later, Meth recalls his experience on Sway’s Universe before spitting a song from the upcoming “Luke Cage” soundtrack, “Bulletproof Love.”
Perceiving weakness in Stryker — aka Diamondback — Domingo comes after him and his men in what turns into a bloody shoot out. “Blood On the Cobblestones” by Ghostface Killah carries the scene as the bullets fly.
Episode 13: ‘You Know My Steez’
In the final episode of Season 1, Luke proves his worth to both himself and Harlem as he goes one-on-one with Stryker. With all eyes on the two men, Luke emerges as the hero his city truly needs.
While victorious, Luke is once again faced with his past and the episode closes with Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings performing at Harlem’s Paradise as Mariah settles into a new leadership position.
Luke may be heading to face some old demons, but we get a feeling he’ll be coming back stronger than ever.
To relive all the musical glory of “Luke Cage,” here’s a spotify playlist for your listening pleasure.