If you have been bingeing Luke Cage (what else would you be doing?) like we have, you are currently obsessed with every aspect of Marvel‘s new Netflix show. But aside from the adrenaline-churning action sequences that highlight Luke’s otherworldly abilities, our favorite moments of the show are those that highlight the music that surrounds the series, from the episode titles (which reference Gang Starr songs) to hip-hop soundtracked brawl scenes. However, the best musical moments are unequivocally those that feature live performers in Cottonmouth’s club, Harlem’s Paradise.
Capturing the tone of each episode, these live performances add a layer of depth to already charged scenes. Think of the sexual tension that rises during Raphael Saadiq’s performance in that first episode, all the roiling anger that bubbles up during Charles Bradley’s James Brown-esque performance in the third episode after an especially fraught second episode. They are special moments in the show that remove the protective guards each of our characters constantly don, revealing the abraded, emotional cores beneath.
So, if you also enjoyed these sequences and found yourself asking who the performers were; we’ve got you covered. Below is a playlist and brief histories of all the live musicians that graced the stage at Harlem’s Paradise. For the playlist, I have included the song they played and one that I think is great. Let’s dive in shall we?
1. Rapheal Saadiq
Raphael Saadiq got his start in the R&B trio Tony! Toni! Toné! back in the late ’80s when New Jack Swing was a prominent genre that began to heavily mix all the urban sounds of R&B, hip-hop, and pop music. After the group disbanded in 1993, Saadiq went solo, finding time to collaborate with A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammed (one of Luke Cage’s music supervisors) and co-write D’Angelo’s famous “Untitled (How Does It Feel).” You know, this song. Over the last ten years, Saadiq has experimented with sultry R&B and Motown vibes. The album that Misty Knight references, Stone Rollin‘, qualifies as the latter; although, for my money, The Way I See It is the better OG soul record. But with Saadiq, it is hard to go wrong at all.
2. Faith Evans
Although originally a protege of ’80s R&B singer Al B. Sure! Faith Evans really got her start with Bad Boy Records in the mid ’90s while the label’s profile skyrocketed under the stewardship of Sean “Puffy/Puff Daddy/P. Diddy/Diddy” Combs. Working closely with artists like Mary J. Blige and Usher, Evans grew closest to Notorious B.I.G. (sup, Cottonmouth’s office?) whom she eventually married in 1994 in what would become one of the most fraught hip-hop marriages during the East Coast-West Coat rap rivalry. You might know her best as the female vocalist on “I’ll Be Missing You,” a tribute to her late husband that borrows its melody from the Police’s “Every Breath You Take.” Aside from this song though, her first two records Faith and Keep the Faith are classic R&B records of the ’90s that showcase her incredible soprano range. After years away from music, she is finally going to release a new album in 2017.
3. Charles Bradley
Charles Bradley is a living legend. The 67-year-old soul singer has been carrying the torch of James Brown since long before the late great passed–Bradley caught the Godfather of Soul at the Apollo Theater in New York in1962 and was forever transformed. From here, however, Bradley’s life was one of consistent hardship as he faced homelessness, near death experiences (unfortunately he just announced some unfortunate health news this week), and the loss of many friends and family. Presumably the thing that kept him going was music–he moonlighted as a James Brown impersonator with the pseudonym “Black Velvet” until he was discovered by Daptone Records co-founder Gabriel Roth in the 2000s. Most recently he released his excellent Changes, which finds him tackling vintage, funky soul with his signature rasp.
You probably don’t realize that you already know who Jidenna is. He is the singer/rapper behind that ubiquitous radio song “Classic Man,” but he is also a super talented producer who has attracted major label attention since high school when he turned down a record deal to go to Stanford. Currently signed to Janelle Monae’s Wondaland Records, Jidenna will be releasing his debut record Long Live The Chief this fall. Check out his song “Yoga” with Janelle Monae below.
r5. The Delfonics
It is incredible that the Delfonics are still around and that they sound as good as they do. They are soul icons that have been around since the ’60s and have not only released a ton of hits themselves, but they have been sampled almost infinitely in hip-hop (perhaps most notably by Wu-Tang Clan members and Nas) and covered by a ton of superstars (look no further than Prince’s cover of “La-La Means I Love You.” The Philly soul superstars’ most recent album is our biggest clue as to how the new Marvel show was able to get these guys on the stage at Harlem’s Paradise. Their 2013 record, Adrian Young Presents: The Delfonics was released by–you guessed it–the same Adrian Younge who serves as composer and music supervisor of Luke Cage. Pretty cool, right!? Very glad we get to see the Delfonics all dappered up on a high profile show in 2016.
6. Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings
Sharon Jones is a superhero too. If you have heard her name in the news recently it is probably in regards to her longstanding journey to overcome a cancer diagnosis while still recording and performing incredibly moving vintage soul music with her band, the Dap-Kings (who helped Amy Winehouse tour and record Back To Black). Since Jones signed to Daptone Records in the early 2000s she has released numerous great records (check out Naturally and 1oo Days, 100 Nights for some of my favorite tunes), and even in the face of her recurring cancer has toured while dealing with the side affects of chemotherapy. It was such a great call to send a series about a fictional hero with a real one. Hats off to you, Ms. Jones.
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