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The Music of Luke Cage

In the ever growing landscape of television, Netflix is one of the few channels/streaming services that is consistently putting out quality content, and their partnership with Marvel has produced some of the best and most entertaining shows in the last few years.




Daredevil was certainly a well-known character before he made his debut on the popular streaming service, and his series laid the foundation for Marvel’s street level heroes on Netflix. The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen later led to the gritty crime drama Jessica Jones, and that series featured a recurring character that is now the stare of his own Netflix series, Luke Cage.


Luke Cage is a bit of a mystery for a novice comic book movie and show fan. His powers aren’t abundant, and he’s pretty much just really strong and indestructible. However, there has been some recent information about the series that has been revealed by Luke Cage’s showrunner, Cheo Hodari Coker, that makes this show immensely intriguing, especially for those that love ‘90s East Coast Hip-Hop.

When the first trailer for the show dropped, the musical backdrop seemed very interesting. It begins with the unmistakable tickling of the piano keys from the Ol’ Dirty Bastard classic, “Shimmy Shimmy Ya,” with lyrics that only the ODB could ever eloquently spit. The track mixes in well with the carnage that is being bestowed about by Cage as he dismantles bad guy after bad guy. It was a teaser that didn’t say much about the plot of the show, but one thing was apparent, Luke Cage was going to have an awesome music selection throughout the series. There was even an official trailer that was recently dropped with a truly amazing track, “Heart is Full” by Mike Snow, featuring Run the Jewelz.


Within a few days after dropping the SDCC teaser that blew everyone away, Cheo Coker announced that every episode of the first season would be named after a Gang Starr song. Clearly, this show was going to tout its allegiance to ‘90s East Coast hip-hop all over the place, but why Gang Starr? How familiar are younger viewers with this group that’s been around since the ‘80s?

The answers to those questions aren’t really going to be point of this post. All you need to know is that the main voice you’ll hear out of all these tracks is that of MC Guru. The duo’s sound is classic hip hop. Their music has simple, not over-produced beats, and their lyrics are on point. It flows like freestyle lyrics, and their music never strays away from the message of their songs, and like any great hip hop artist, those lyrics are relevant today and will likely always be.

Fortunately, Coker has already announced the first six episode titles, and I have taken the liberty of creating a Spotify playlist with those songs, and what I think could (or should) be the final eight episodes. If you’re unfamiliar with Gang Starr, trust me, you’ve probably heard some of their music before.

As poignant as Gang Starr’s lyrics are, I have to imagine that there are portions of each song that are relevant to the tone of the show, and to get you even more excited about the series and its characters, let’s examine each song and see how the lyrics might match up with Luke Cage. At the very least, you’ll have been introduced to one hell of a rap group that might’ve passed you by.

Ep. 1 – “Moment of Truth” – Perhaps the best Gang Starr album is 1998’s Moment of Truth, and the titular song might make it seem self-explanatory as to its relevance to Luke Cage, but this passage is peak Gang Starr, and seems to sum up what we know about the character of Luke. From the trailers, we can already see that Luke struggles with his powers and the responsibility of using them, and he’s obviously at one point presented with a moment in which he realizes what he must do.

They say it’s lonely at the top in whatever you do
You always gotta watch motherfuckers around you
No one is untouchable, no man is bulletproof
We all must meet our moment of truth

Ep. 2 – “Code of the Streets” – Netflix has done a great job developing their villains as well as their heroes, providing them with detailed backstories, and the second episode seems like a perfect time to show the motivations of the central antagonist. Harlem isn’t exactly Silicon Valley, and the people that live there are clearly struggling, even Luke himself. It’s a perfect recipe for a villainous origin story.

What about the system, and total corruption?
I can’t work at no fast-food joint
I got some talent, so don’t you get my point?
I’ll organize some brothers and get some crazy loot
Selling D-R-U-G-S and clocking dollars, troop

Ep. 3 – “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight?” – This one is a little harder to gauge. The question this song is asking is who’s going to take responsibility for the situation we’re all in, and ultimately, it seems as though that weight should fall on the shoulders of the only person capable of carrying it.

The weight of the world is heavy on my mind
So as my feelings unwind I find
That some try to be down just cuz it’s trendy
Others fall victim to envy
But I’ll take the road less travelled
So I can see all my hopes and my dreams unravel
Relievin’ your stress, expressin’ my interest
In the situation that you’re facin’

Ep. 4 – “Step in the Arena” – This is likely when the series starts to pick up the pace, and  though Luke has proven how capable he is at dealing with adversity, we don’t really know what he looks like angry. Hopefully, this is when we see that. This song makes its intentions from the opening line.

Once you step in the arena, cheater, you`re gonna be a-
Mazed when you gaze at the armor on this leader
Fully clad and glad to find a cause, I won`t pause
Fear is a joke, slowpoke, I`m like claws
That`ll rip `cause your gift, is merely flesh
Superficial and I wish you, would give it a rest
But if you don`t, I`ll unsheath my Excalibur
Like a noble knight, so meet ya challenger
A true hero, while you`re a through zero
Gettin beat to a pulp so that you can`t run for help

Ep. 5 – “Just To Get a Rep” – This song is all about the evil that men can do and the consequences that inevitably come back their way. It’s hard to say at this point in the season where it fits with Luke’s story, but lyrically, this is a vastly interesting song.

The rep grows bigger, now he’s known for his trigger finger
Rolling with troops of his sons like a gansta figure
He’s near the peak of his crazy career
His posse’s a nightmare, mack and jewels and crazy gear
But as we know, the things we do come back

Ep. 6 – “Suckas Need Bodyguards” – Sadly, this song is currently available on Spotify. “Suckas Need Bodyguards” takes to task the fake tough guys that are the cliche ridden men in charge that wield power over those below them. However, when tough times come, they often cut and run.

Fake MC’s, they always act hard
But won’t walk the street without they bodyguard
I hate fake MC’s, they always act hard
But won’t walk the street without they bodyguard

Possible Episode Titles

“Work” – A singular word. Nothing spectacular about it, but this is arguably one of Gang Starr’s most recognizable songs, and it has stood the test of time. This is where the speculation of titles starts. Based on the lyrics alone, it’s pretty apparent that this is when Luke starts to hit his hero stride.

Aiyyo I’m gonna be on ti-dop, that’s all my eyes can see
Victory is mine, yeah surprisingly
I’ve been laying, waiting for your next mistake
I put in work, and watch my status escalate

“Mass Appeal” – This could be the moment in the series when the public becomes aware of that is happening Harlem. As the lyrics suggest, it’s possible that Luke begins to hit his stride here, and is becoming  more confident as he goes along.

Oh yes I’m greater than all MC’s when I breeeze give me room please
I be like fascinatin when I be updatin
Cuttin off wack kids, pullin their trump cards
I thump hard, and mak eem say that I’m God
Niggaz be pretendin they hardcore
Never know the meaning of

“She Knowz What She Wantz” – We’ve got to have a Jessica Jones appearence in this show. Listing this song might be a bit of a personal cheat, as it’s one of my favorite Gang Starr tracks, but Jessica Jones is 100% not the type of woman described in the song. Even though she isn’t exactly the kind of woman you’d wanna take home to mom, Luke might want to stick to Guru’s number one rule.

Never fall victim to a chicken you was stickin
Even if you think the punanny might be finger-lickin
Never fall victim to a wicked woman’s ways

“Tonz ‘O’ Gunz” – You’ve seen the trailers, right? This is pretty self explanatory. It’s important to note that “Tons ‘O’ Gunz’ doesn’t glorify violence, but sheds light on it in a visceral way, and this series probably won’t hold anything back when it comes to consequences of violent actions.

Tons o’ guns everybody’s getting strapped
ons o’ guns got to watch the way you act
ons o’ guns real easy to get
ons o’ guns bringing nothing but death
ons o’ guns but i don’t glorify
‘Cos more guns will come and much more will die

“Royalty” – This could be another Jessica Jones episode, but it’s doubtful. “Royal” is on the list because it’s a great song and essential for Gang Starr. Jessica may harbor some kind of love for Luke, but I doubt she’d do anything like the following lyrics, though she’s definitely not a gold-digger either.

My honey anoints me with oils, G
After work she greets me, and treats me like royalty
Works with me, giving herself, by my side
She don’t sweat me for loot, my fame, or my ride

“Check the Technique” – This could be seminal moment where Luke’s confidence has reached it’s zenith. Well, hopefully.

I’m rushin you like a defensive end as I recommend
That you comprehend, I could stomp you in
A battle, contest, or war, what will occur
Will be the forfeiture, of your immature
Insecure for sure, meek, weak visions of grandeur
To rudely awaken you, and then’ll be breakin you

“Execution of a Chump” – Every villain must meet his end. Personally, I don’t know Luke’s stance on killing his enemies, but with the tone of the show that’s been established in trailers, and what we’ve seen in Daredevil and Jessica Jones, this bad guy is probably going to die, and die badly.

Known to be a wise one, known to be a seeker
Following my calling in life, so I can keep the
Minds in line to find devine designs of rhyme
Rewind this on your box one time
But if you step up like the kid who did front
You will bear witness, the execution of a chump

So as of this writing, the first six titles have been announced, and hopefully I’ve nailed at least a couple of the unannounced episode names that are left. At the very least, you’ve spent a few minutes listening to some of the very best hip-hop of the ‘90s that maybe you didn’t fully expose yourself to.

You can also follow Cheo Hodari Coker on Twitter @cheo_coker where he will be announcing all of the titles once a week until the September 30 premiere of Luke Cage on Netflix.

Find tickets and showtimes on Fandango.

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