Community is important. It's our job as forward thinking business owners, entrepreneurs, artists, and community members to accept that. It's important to acknowledge the imprint of our surroundings because it leads to how we present our art: whether it's the storefront we open that introduces a new cuisine to new palettes, the underground music we share within cliques which becomes a local sensation, or the authentic representation of our homes in film or television. Respecting our community through authenticity is sometimes the most difficult thing to do, especially in communities that may be scarred by no so lustrous moments in their local history, but it's absolutely the most right thing to do. It shows compassion for the people you want to market to. It recognizes an appreciation for the place your potential clients or crowd calls home. It demonstrates you're trying to understand the cultural language of the landscape and not only engages with the local trust, but also brings a fresh perspective to newcomers or visitors to the area: a slice of your town in your own words.
In Netflix's new original series, Luke Cage, we are presented with a perspective of Harlem. It's vibrant, urban, beautiful. It contextualizes a piece of New York in a way that's authentic and grounded right down to the way people talk, the way people live, and the portrait of the community. It also doesn't sugar coat the violence: this is a show that's brutal and refuses to shy away from the grit still present in the community to this day (much like how its sister show, Daredevil, portrays modern day Hell's Kitchen). Luke Cage as a show in this regard, however, is still respectful.
While the show paints a fictitious portrait of its location, it does so in a way which is loving of its community without feeling trite. Much of this is present within the soundtrack of the show. This is how.
To understand Harlem, one has to understand the arts and to understand the art community in Harlem is to recognize its roots in the African-American community, and the love its residents have for its culture, in spite of whatever violence or injustices they face daily. Luke Cage embraces this love from the fact each episode is named after a classic by New York rap group Gang Starr, the villain's club has a portrait of Biggie Smalls on the wall, or that the significance of Shaft is questioned within the confines of the local barbershop. It's lovingly urban while being expertly stylized serving viewers an idea of Harlem that has grit, but has even more heart.
The soundtrack expands on this notion in spades and one could argue that Luke Cage would fail without it; Ali Shaheed-Muhammed is to thank. Known as one of the members of the classic hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest, Muhammed brings a musical gravitas to the show that drips in authenticity. It captures the soundscape of Harlem in a manner that's authentic and bleeds familiarity for the community Luke Cage is supposed to represent. Add that to sequences scored to the trappings of Wu-Tang Clan, Ghostface Killah, and the aforementioned Gang Starr along with live performances by respected musicians such as Raphael Saadiq and Faith Evans and you feel the diversity represented in a historically relevant borough like Harlem. There's a mutual understanding the show has - and it adds more weight to the community at stake which Luke Cage is tasked with saving.
Take away the attention to the artistic landscape of a community like Harlem from Luke Cage and the show is weakened. It simply becomes run of the mill blaxploitation: an urban crime fighter whose blackness is the key to righting the wrongs of evil doers in his community. But with the soundtrack, with the focus on the lushness of his surroundings, the things worth fighting for, Luke Cage takes advantage of being a show about a community for the community. Luke Cage becomes a matter of life imitating art imitating life as it dives headfirst into what makes a place like Harlem so great.
And this level of understanding the setting, embracing the tone, and shaping our perception of the world around us is how we exceed at our art. It's how we exceed in our businesses. And frankly, it's how we succeed at being human.