Jadakiss, Busta Rhymes and Lord Afrixana are just a few of the artists whose music is featured in the
third season of MGM+’s 1960s-set “Godfather of Harlem.” “I don’t pick artists based on their names, I pick artists based on what we’re trying to do,” says Swizz Beatz, who serves as the show’s music producer and creative director.
In putting the show’s sonic landscape together, Beatz says he tried to be thoughtful when using a placement. “Music is so powerful and with this, I wanted to use it to give the characters an authentic landscape,” he says.
He also didn’t want to put himself in a box by selecting music from the 1960s, rather, he was given creative liberties to use new artists which helped him find the right approach and voices.
Bumpy Johnson, played by Forest Whitaker, is the notorious crime boss who, in the third season, is fighting to keep control of Harlem. Beatz wanted the music to “become the voice inside Forest’s head and to be a part of the character.”
For the show’s theme song, “Hustle, Repeat,” by Beatz and Jadakiss, Beatz says he began by looking at bad guys in movies.
Based around the season’s cold open, the song harkens back to the timelessness of East Coast hip-hop and features Bumpy’s anthem. In the scene, Bumpy and his cohorts pull off a bank truck robbery. “Bumpy has lost everything and he has to get money, hustle, repeat,” explains Beatz. “The song is what Bumpy is thinking in his head, ‘I gotta get it and get back on my feet,’ and that’s how it came about.”
Beatz wanted to do something that felt strong, so he called on Rick Ross and DMX to help and add vocals. “Rick is a great storyteller and brings all this energy, it feels like something we’ve never seen before,” Beatz explains.
He recruited SAINt JHN, Fivio Foreign and BIA for “Street Opera,” a club vibes tune. For that placement, Beatz says, “I wanted to give the youth something they could think and feel. It’s so dramatic and dangerous. Fivio went crazy on the track, and I thought it would grab the scene and sit well in the show.”
In working with collaborators, Beatz comes up with the track first before asking who would sound good on the track.
He explains, “I needed female energy on ‘Street Opera’ and that’s why I picked BIA. But Fivio is at the top of his game, and so, we reach for the stars and see if we can get them.”
Listen to the soundtrack below.