How Queen and Slim‘s Filmmakers Captured the Previous, Current and Way forward for Black Music
This text accommodates delicate spoilers for the film Queen & Slim.
Melina Matsoukas has directed among the most influential music movies of the previous decade. She positioned Beyoncé atop a flooded automobile in “Formation” and constructed heaven and dystopia in Rihanna’s “We Found Love.” She launched Girl Gaga’s zany theatricality to the world in “Just Dance.” By her many conceptually formidable and uniquely stylized works, Matsoukas shifted the trendy ambition and aesthetic of the music video, bringing it nearer to these of a function movie.
So it’s no shock that her directorial function debut, Queen & Slim, is deeply indebted to music. The movie has been known as a modern-day Bonnie & Clyde: it follows the 2 eponymous characters (performed by Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya) who flee south after Slim kills a police officer in self-defense. The pair spends a lot of their time alone on the highway—however in accordance with Matsoukas, music “becomes another character on their journey.” It seeps out of automobile radios, New Orleans properties and Mississippi juke joints, serving as a romantic spark, a chaotic agent and a soothing balm.
Matsoukas’ musical ambitions for the movie, nonetheless, went past merely offering aural backdrops. She hoped to attach Queen & Slim with a historical past of black protest music; to pay homage to her favourite soundtracks whereas additionally giving a platform to rising black musicians. The result’s an astounding collage of sound: the film is filled with young and old expertise, from Lauryn Hill to Roy Ayers to Lil Child, and likewise propelled ahead by a haunting rating written and carried out by Devonté Hynes.
Placing all of those items collectively was a disorderly and multilayered course of, stuffed with frantic artistic bursts, missed deadlines, numerous revisions and contributions from among the largest names within the music world. Right here’s how Matsoukas and her group created an ode to the previous, current and way forward for black music.
‘I wanted to show our roots’
Black music was a key part of Queen & Slim from the beginning. When Matsoukas learn Lena Waithe’s script—based mostly off an unique thought by James Frey—it already contained a scene through which Queen and Slim argue over Luther Vandross, as effectively one through which Slim listens to gospel music as a way to settle down. Music was going to tell the variations between their characters—and finally present a bridge for them to fall in love.
However lots of the musical cues have been unspecified, and Matsoukas hoped to fill them in with pinpoint zeal as a way to create a traditional soundtrack like those that she and Waithe grew up with—from films like Love Jones, Love & Basketball and The Nutty Professor, which have been stuffed with elite artists of their eras. “We wanted to bring the soundtrack back,” Matsoukas stated. “I wanted to introduce the new generation to a lot of older black artists; to honor the legacy of black music and the diversity within it, and to show our roots and the blues and soul music up to now.”
It was additionally essential that the songs replicate the geographical journey of Queen and Slim as they journey south. So in a second through which the pair settles into their southern environment and regains a few of their swagger, she inserted Mike Jones’ Texas anthem “Still Tippin’.” Once they cease at a Mississippi juke joint for his or her second date, the famend bluesman Little Freddie King is there to carry out, representing a a lot older black custom.
Matsoukas adopted her personal instincts for some decisions, however she additionally turned to high-profile pals for steerage—together with her shut buddy and collaborator, Solange. (Matsoukas directed the music movies for Solange’s “Losing You” and “I Decided.”) “I trust her musical taste immensely,” Matsoukas stated. A number of of Solange’s options ended up within the movie: Herbie Hancock’s “Come Running To Me” units the tone for the black-owned diner the place Queen and Slim first meet, whereas Roy Ayers’ “Searching” lulls Queen to sleep within the automobile.
‘We’re attempting to proceed the legacy’
As Matsoukas regarded into the previous, she additionally was intent on reflecting a brand new, politically-active black vanguard. “We talk about this film as a commentary on the black experience in which we live today,” Matsoukas says. “We’re trying to continue the legacy of those that have used their art as activism in the past: people like Nina Simone, Fela Kuti, James Brown, Public Enemy.”
To search out the brand new wave of artists, Matsoukas lower a take care of Ethiopia Habtemariam, the president of Motown Data. The partnership was pure: the pair have been pals for years, and Motown has a storied historical past of championing black protest music for the reason that 1960s. Motown’s present relationship with the dominant Atlanta label High quality Management Music would additionally permit Matsoukas to entry among the largest names in hip-hop at present.
Matsoukas and Habtemariam assembled a scouting group that included Fam Udeorji, Childish Gambino’s supervisor, and Kier Lehman, the music supervisor of Issa Rae’s HBO sequence Insecure. Collectively, they labored to determine artists that they felt can be acceptable for varied scenes within the movie, and requested them to write down new songs in response to clips. To place much more stress on the artists, they have been solely given two weeks to look at, write and file. “Oh my god, it was a quick turnaround, Habtemariam tells TIME, laughing. “I don’t think that’s normal.”
Regardless of the challenges, the contributions rolled in: “As people learned about the film, there was no artist that didn’t want to be a part of it,” Habtemariam says. Megan Thee Stallion collaborated with New Orleans bounce artist VickeeLo on the authoritative “Ride Or Die.” The rappers Vince Staples and Earthgang and the singers Syd and Moses Sumney, all of whom have grappled with injustice of their music, all despatched in songs. Even Lil Child, the favored Atlanta rapper who has to date principally dealt in machismo, was impressed to ship an introspective tune about injustice: “I’ll let you decide or come up with some repeated lies/ I’m just tired of my kind gotta be the one to die,” he sings dejectedly on “Catch the Sun.”
One of many final songs to reach was maybe essentially the most pivotal. Matsoukas had been in contact with Lauryn Hill, who expressed curiosity in writing for the movie and even shared a demo of a tune she had been enjoying stay for years, “Guarding the Gates.” However Hill is infamous for taking her time—she hadn’t launched new music since 2014—and the filmmakers weren’t holding their collective breath.
“Melina was in editing and finalizing the film—and probably three days after her deadline, Ms. Hill sent in this beautiful record,” Habtemariam says. “I think it’s a testament to her respect for Melina and Lena to allow to allow this soundtrack to be the vessel for the first new music from her in over five years.”
‘Who would be our current Quincy Jones?’
As Matsoukas crammed out the movie’s soundtrack, she additionally looked for the proper match for a rating composer. “I wanted a black composer that could live between classical, hip-hop, and pop that’s current,” Matsoukas says. “I was like, ‘Who would be our current Quincy Jones?’”
When Matsoukas turned to Solange for recommendation on this practically not possible activity, Solange recommended her frequent collaborator Dev Hynes, the prolific British musician who data as Blood Orange. Matsoukas despatched him an early lower of the film, which he watched twice after which instantly agreed to attain. “It was intense—it was a lot to take in,” Hynes says of his viewing expertise. “I thought it was a really important movie.”
Hynes started composing to “seconds and moments” of the movie, working to include parts from a disparate set of influences that included Debussy, Alice and John Coltrane, and Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson. (He additionally had a number of conversations with Daniel Lopatin, often known as Oneohtrix Level By no means, who composed the soundtracks to the Safdie brothers’ Good Time and Uncut Gems.) Hynes hoped to weave Blood Orange’s R&B-oriented synth and drum sounds with extra conventional scoring tropes like tense string preparations and disconcerting harmonies. “I don’t want to say I treated it like a horror film, but there’s horror in the film. That was something I kept thinking about,” Hynes says.
Hynes was additionally conscious of the diegetic music contained in the movie, and labored to combine his rating with the songs Queen and Slim listened to on the radio: “There are certain times where I intentionally shift into the same key as the next piece of music,” he says.
All of those parts coalesced in his piece “Runnin’ Away,” which performs throughout a climactic cut up scene through which a violent anti-police protest breaks out whereas Queen and Slim have intercourse for the primary time. It’s a jarring and tonally-fragmented second of the movie, and Hynes says that he went via many drafts earlier than Matsoukas was glad with the consequence. Ultimately, Matsoukas gave Hynes the thought to pattern The Pharcyde’s 1995 tune “Runnin’,” which she had been attempting to put within the film however couldn’t discover a spot for. Hynes combined the tune’s refrain into his personal piano enjoying, cyclical bursts from saxophonist Jason Arce and anguished vocalizing from Ian Isiah; the components construct in a tense stream-of-consciousness of waves and shards. “It’s one of the hardest, most intense pieces of music I’ve ever worked on,” Hynes says.
“Runnin’ Away” sounds nothing like “Still Tippin’” blasting out of automobile audio system; “Still Tippin’” sounds nothing like Little Freddie King’s bluesy guitar licks. However for Matsoukas, all these parts characterize the range and depth of black musical creativity; they’re all songs that Queen and Slim might need encountered over time, and clung to for motivation or solace. And she or he hopes that the Queen & Slim soundtrack will be a part of these touchstones to change into part of the black expertise for years to come back. “I hope people will appreciate it for generations,” she says, “Just like the soundtracks that I grew up on, that really influenced my musical and cinematic taste.”