(Mild spoilers for "Luke Cage" follow!)
The Marvel cinematic universe isn’t exactly known for its gripping musical scores. Quick, hum a few bars of "Iron Man"’s theme song! What’s that, you can’t? Yeah, because it’s boring and he really doesn’t even have one in the first place.
“Marvel’s Luke Cage” on Netflix, however, blows all that out of the water. The show’s soundtrack blends original music by Ali Shaheed Muhammad (A Tribe Called Quest) and Adrian Younge (“Black Dynamite," because OF COURSE) with tracks from hip-hop, soul, and R&B performers like Raphael Saadiq, Faith Evans and Jidenna — often performed on screen by the artists themselves.
Adrian Younge even put together his own "Luke Cage"-inspired playlist yesterday as hype for the show — but it's missing a lot of songs that actually appear in the show. So to help immerse you into the lush, gorgeous sounds that permeate showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker’s vision of Harlem, here’s our playlist of the best music “Luke Cage” has to offer:
"Dap Walk" — Ernie & The Top Notes
Before the first episode of "Luke Cage " starts — and before you even see a single character in his world — you hear the words "Get up brothers!" against a black screen. It's from this song by Ernie & The Top Notes that begins the series, so it's only fair that we begin the playlist the same way.
"Good Man" — Raphael Saadiq
Saadiq himself appears in the first episode to perform this song at Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes’ nightclub, Harlem’s Paradise. The lyrics are a perfect representation of the show’s title character, too — what is Luke Cage (Mike Colter) if not a decent guy who works two jobs and maybe went to jail one time but it wasn’t his fault and don’t ask him about it?
"Mesmerized" — Faith Evans
Faith Evans was famously married to Biggie Smalls around the time that he was murdered in 1997, so it makes sense that Cottonmouth Stokes (Mahershala Ali) — who, remember, has a giant framed portrait of Biggie in his office — would invite her to perform at Harlem's Paradise. (Or, IRL, that she'd appear in a show created by the guy who directed Biggie's biopic, but in-universe explanations are way more fun).
"Ain’t It A Sin" — Charles Bradley
Luke Cage has a pretty cool theme song already, but if he wanted a new one then this song from Charles Bradley's newest album would be perfect. He tries to be a righteous man but he's so tired, you guys!
"Bring The Ruckus" — Wu Tang Clan
Luke Cage certainly does bring the ruckus while this 1993 Wu Tang Clan song is playing — specifically because it’s playing underneath his first major brawl of the show, in the third episode. Funnily enough, though, the version in the show is censored just a little bit, because even though Marvel and Netflix are totally down with curse words, the one word they won’t broadcast is “fuck.”
"Long Live The Chief" — Jidenna
Jidenna himself opens the fifth episode with this song off his 2015 debut album — and Cottonmouth Stokes in the only person in the audience. Pretty appropriate considering that it’s a diss track about a dude who comes up from nothing and is now running the game in a well-tailored suit. That sounds a lot like Stokes, right?
"People Make The World Go Round" — The Stylistics
Switching back to classic '70s soul, this song from the Stylistics plays at the end of the sixth episode as things start to go badly for Stokes — and the lyrics, which are about the ups and downs of corruption and politics, are especially poignant in context.
"Plain Gold Ring" - Nina Simone
Without spoiling anything, episode 7 is when "Luke Cage" really starts to twist and shift into something unexpected (which is, of course, exactly why that's where the press screeners cut off there — curse you, Netflix!) And this Nina Simone is hauntingly perfect to usher that twist in.
"Bad Like Jesse James" — John Lee Hooker
This song is playing in the background of episode 7 as we finally get into Cottonmouth's backstory — namely, his first kill as a dorky Julliard-bound teenager. So much for that dream, I guess.
"King Of New York" - Ghostface Killah
Fun fact: "Luke Cage" composer Adrian Younge himself collaborated wth Ghostface Killah on this 2015 track, which is the perfect song to usher in Black Mariah's rise to power.
"Stop And Look (And Have You Found Love)" - The Delfonics
Adrian Younge also collaborated on this 2013 album, which was a throwback to The Delfonics' '70s heyday. We hear it during Misty Knight's episode-long, super intense interrogation with a fellow police officer.
"Take It Personal" - Gang Starr
"It was only a matter of time before an actual Gang Starr song appeared on this playlist, given that every single "Luke Cage" episode is named after a Gang Starr song. And with lyrics like "I never thought that you would crab me / Undermine me, and backstab me" it's a pretty fitting one, given what we learn about Reva Connor's past in this episode.
"Son Of A Preacher Man" - Dusty Springfield
A bit on the nose for a song to play in the background of a Willis Stryker scene, don't you think?
"Bulletproof Love" - Method Man, Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad
You know that freestyle Method Man rapped about meeting Luke Cage in the 12th episode? Yup, it's already on Spotify — Marvel put it up the day before the show was released. Thanks, Marvel?
"Blood on the Cobblestones" - Ghostface Killah
Another song that's a little bit on the nose, this time played during the last big shoot-out of the first season between Domingo, Willis Stryker and a whole bunch of people who are now very dead.
"100 Days, 100 Nights" - Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings
The series began with a "Dap Walk," so it's only fitting that it end with the "Dap Kings," right?
"Shimmy Shimmy Ya" - Ol' Dirty Bastard
Obviously we had to include this classic Ol’ Dirty Bastard track. When it appeared in the first San Diego Comic-Con trailer for “Luke Cage,” it signaled to all Marvel fans that this show would be unlike anything in the Marvel Netflix universe so far. Also, that Luke likes it raw.
"Made You Look" - Nas
While this song never made it into the series, it's featured prominently in the behind-the-scenes music video. And really, is there anything cooler than watching a bunch of dudes trying to shoot Luke Cage to the words "They're shooting! Aw, made you look?" It's almost too perfect.