As the executive music producer providing the soundtrack curation for each episode of EPIX’s gangster drama Godfather of Harlem, Swizz Beatz has found another home to showcase his expert knowledge of beats, rhymes and life.
Now that the show’s second season is underway, recently airing episode five, Swizz linked up with XXL via Zoom to give details about the ins and outs of his role as the executive music producer, and what it takes to become the voice in actor Forest Whitaker's head.
For those who haven’t tapped in yet, Godfather of Harlem episodes are available in the EPIX app. Godfather of Harlem returns Sun., Aug. 8 at 9p/8p ET/CT only on EPIX. The show is a puzzle piece in the riveting story of Harlem kingpin Bumpy Johnson, portrayed by Forest Whitaker. The series peels back the layers of the civil rights movement and its intersection with the criminal underworld in the 1960s. Other stars of Godfather of Harlem include Vincent D'Onofrio as Chin, Nigel Thatch as Malcolm X, Ilfenesh Hadera as Mayme Johnson, plus more.
To capture that rattling time period, Swizz Beatz called upon a legion of artists from introspective poets like Nas for “Fallen Stars Flying” to soul bearers like Sam Cooke for the soothing track “Good Times.”
“We’ve been picking artists that have the character and the feel for the show. And making it more about them playing a musical character in the show from a sonic level rather than picking everybody that got No. 1 hits on the radio just to be cool,” Swizz notes of his music selection process to soundtrack each episode. “I think the cool thing is making the music from now connect to the visuals from then.”
Though the show lives and breathes through a throwback perspective, the “Touch It” producer hasn’t shied away from using songs released in 2021 and showcasing talent like that of new school rappers Melvoni and Badda TD, both Brooklyn natives. They can both be heard alongside Brillo on the song "Forgot About the Streets," featured in the second episode of season two.
“I just like the melodies and the hunger,” Swizz reflects about his choice to use that record. Connecting fresh artists with an aged narrative can be challenging, but Swizz says that he innately knew how to make it work. “If you’re curating right, whoever you put on there is gonna fit the space and it’s gonna feel right. And I just love that song.”
His goal to complement the New York City-driven cinematography with the perfect soundscape came to fruition with “Been to War” featuring Swizz, French Montana and the recently fallen hip-hop legend DMX, which helped fire off episode one with a bang.
“That energy was a DMX energy,” Swizz says when asked about how the track came together. “[I] just wanted to keep him involved in Godfather of Harlem because he loved movies. He’s an actor himself. He’s a big fan of Forest… And, those are actually the last vocals that I’ve done with him personally.”
Hip-hop is still mourning the death of DMX. As a collaborator, friend and brother of the platinum-selling artist, Swizz continues to keep his legacy going steady.
“As far as I’m concerned, we’re trying to keep his creativity on schedule and keep it coming because that’s what he wanted," Swizz conveys.
After more than two decades of working with one another, DMX and Swizz have blessed the game with timeless hits like "Ruff Ryders' Anthem,” "Party Up (Up in Here)" and countless others. Sustaining that hot streak, Swizz will play a major role in X’s first posthumous album, Exodus, set for release on May 28.
“It’s my job and our job to keep that alive although the physical isn’t here anymore,” he declares. “He wanted people to hear his music so, we’re going to continue doing that by any means.”
Before Swizz hopped off the Zoom, he also teased the next evolution in his quarantine-cooked battle succession Verzuz series, created in collaboration with Timbaland.
“We have such a long lineup of people to still celebrate. And it looks like outside is coming back so, when people can go outside, we’re gonna go outside too. And that’ll be cool because imagine being able to physically go to those Verzuz’s you loved before… We didn’t even start yet.”
Watch Swizz Beatz talk with XXL about his role as the executive music producer of Godfather of Harlem, keeping DMX’s legacy alive, the next steps in Verzuz series and more below.
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