Private Playlist: Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad on finding solace in Gil Scott-Heron

Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad. Credit: artform.

Private Playlist is a listening session with Southern California’s most notable musical figures in their private creative environments. Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad were already superstar producers and musicians in their own right before teaming up as The Midnight Hour. Now they're in demand as film and TV composers after their breakout score for Netflix's Luke Cage in 2016. Younge and Muhammad also moonlight as part of the creative team behind the local performance series, Jazz is Dead

In this special edition of Private Playlist, Younge and Muhammad reflect on the music that’s currently giving them communion, inspiration, and release amidst the uprisings.

ADRIAN: What up, world. This is Adrian Younge. 

ALI: What up, y'all. This is Ali Shaheed Muhammad. 

ADRIAN: And we are The Midnight Hour. And man, I haven't said that in so long. We can't even be on the stage, brother. How you been, man? 

ALI: I've been pretty good. Adrian. I'm blessed, man. How about you? How you been?

ADRIAN: I've been good, man, I've been good. What have you been listening to during these crazy times? 


ALI: I've been listening to quite a bit. There's an artist named Rosie Lowe, and she gives me this Prince vibe. She has two songs that I can't stop playing. One is called "White Rabbit," and it's a collaboration with Simon Jefferis. These chords on there, man. It's all about the chords and her voice. What about you? What have you been listening to?


ADRIAN: Well, it's crazy, man, because I'm always with you. And during these quarantine times, we haven't really been hanging out, and you had to do your Ramadan. So everything's been closed, you know? And I've been thinking about you a lot. Because with everything that's going on right now - not just the COVID, but the riots and the disparity - has me listening to music that delivers a message that never really changes. And I've been really stuck on Gil Scott-Heron and our boy Brian Jackson's music: "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised."

It's interesting, because during these times of disparity, you see the nefarious vestige of racism being ever so apparent. Asians facing discrimination; a disproportionate number of people of color dying for a myriad of reasons. And you see things start bubbling up, and you see people starting to respond. And when I listened to "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," he's talking about the same things that are going on right now. 

And whenever there are these bad times, there's always a silver lining. And in these dark times, I'm emboldened by the light. And the light to me is love. And just seeing the kinds of people that are loving each other, seeing the kinds of people that are caring for each other ... and being happy that we're alive. We know people that have family members that have died from the virus and are going through it all. But even though it's dark, there's a smile on my face that we're alive, and we have the opportunity to make things better for the future. So Gil Scott-Heron's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" has been in heavy rotation, man.

What else you been listening to? 


ALI: It's crazy, you speaking about the times and where we are. I've been shredding Jay Electronica's A Written Testimony album. It's a heavy album, Adrian. Really unapologetic. It's coming from a place of greatness, and being so lost, and losing your greatness, and being distracted. He went into a zone. I think it's very spiritual. It's about love: the love of yourself, love of the Creator, love of your people. I've been floating on that.


ADRIAN: My joint is a sleeper joint: "What's Happening Brother" by Marvin Gaye from the What's Going On album. I mean, listen to this:

Can't find no work, can't find no job, my friend
Money is tighter than it's ever been
Say, man, I just don't understand what's going on across this land.
What's happening, brother?

When I listened to Marvin singing that, knowing that he isn't even here, but thinking about the fact that that song was written and influenced by his brother coming back from Vietnam and dealing with stuff. And then thinking about what we're seeing on TV, and we're all dealing with stuff. And right now is the time where it's cool for us to kick back and look at the world and say, "What's happening, brother?"

ALI: It's funny, because when we're out on stage, you sometimes say something like that. And I completely understand your sentiment and what you mean. And you're right, because you dig in deeper and you discover more about yourself and what you're capable of. So I think that is one good thing that comes from that. But I hope that we're coming upon a time where there will be change: being able to really spend time with your family, to reflect on why this is happening. And obviously, yeah, there are things that are out of our control. But I feel like this is a sit-down moment to help us rise to that level where we can make improvements. And I see that as being change. And knowing that we were going to have this conversation today, I was a little bit hesitant when I woke up, only because of what has been happening. And I feel that we need some change, man. 


ALI: Black Pumas “Colors” is right up our alley in terms of the sonics. But it's such a beautiful song in celebrating our people. And we have so much adversity in America and in the world. And I know lately, within the past week, people were wanting to get past that conversation that we trip over - over and over and over again - about racism. And I'm looking forward to the day when we don't have to have that kind of conversation.

ADRIAN: Absolutely, man. I'm totally with you. And it's funny because, like I said, I haven't seen you face-to-face, knowing that we used to hang out almost every day. But we're always connected, and we're always into the same things. And going along with the concept of race, I've been reading a lot. I have that African-American encyclopedia that was made in the 1970s. It's a range of books breaking down all this different Black history. And one of the things I've been focused on is the notion that race is a social construct, with no real biological truth. It's a fallacy; it was something that was made up by one gang to protect his people. So when I think about what you were saying about color, I've been listening to Syl Johnson’s "Is It Because I'm Black?"


The dark brown shades of my skin only add color to my tears
That splash against my hollow bones, that rocks my soul
Looking back over my false dreams that I once knew
Wondering why my dreams never came true

ADRIAN: I'm thinking about all this stuff, and how it applies to having a certain shade, and how that affects all of us. Why is it that this race is dying off more than that race?

Music during these times teaches us a lot. It teaches us that some things don't really change. It teaches us about love. It heals us. You know, we always talk about the notion that music means way more to us than it even should, but it just does mean that much to us. And I'm glad that we have music to continually reflect on, and that we have the job of creating music for people to hear us now, and to hear us when we're gone.

ALI: True indeed.

Check out KCRW’s other Private Playlists:

Inara George shares tips for raising music-literate kids during quarantine
Chris Cohen shares Algerian synth funk, avant jazz, and more far-out sounds
Hand Habits’ Meg Duffy offers an earthy soundtrack for the homebound
Mia Doi Todd recommends space-age sounds and Brazilian tunes
Neon Indian shares music for your inner monologue
Thundercat on the importance of albums as a journey
Dorian Wood is walking a tightrope and trying not to look down
Jeff Parker is busy studying music in hibernation mode
TOKiMONSTA is rediscovering her love for the guitar