Behind the Sounds: KCRW’s Aaron Byrd on ‘When They See Us’

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A scene from "When They See Us." Photo credit: Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix.

About 30 years ago, several boys ran through New York’s Central Park around 9:00 PM. Police had been on high alert after several attacks in the area. That same night, a woman was raped and beaten in the park. Five boys were apprehended by cops after she was found.  Detectives forced confessions from them, and they all ended up in jail. They became known as the Central Park Five. Years later, they were exonerated after the real attacker confessed. 

Ava Duvernay directed a series for Netflix about the boys titled “When They See Us,” and KCRW DJ Aaron Byrd made his debut as a music supervisor with the project. 

Byrd says that picking the music for the movie was an exciting process. 

“There's certain times where it's obvious that it should be this way. And then other things, it's more a matter of subtlety,” he says. “In the closing scene of episode one, a relatively unknown singer named Claire McGuire with a haunting song called ‘Falling Leaves.’ And her vocal performance is just stunning and so attractive.” Byrd says that even though the singer is speaking directly about injustice with the criminal justice system, the song shares the scene’s emotion. 

The series closes with a song from the late Los Angeles rapper Nipsey Hussle. Byrd says that including his music in the project was important to the director -- a decision made shortly after Hussle was fatally shot outside of his clothing store in South LA. 

“That particular song Nipsey owned. … So in order to get permission to use it, we would literally have to contact the family. And there was no way I felt comfortable doing that,” Byrd says. “I remember going to Ava’s office. And literally, when we were sitting right across from one another, she called her brother, who looped in Nipsey's brother. And I discovered in the process of having this conversation or listening in, rather, that there were some preliminary discussions for Ava and Nipsey to do some sort of collaborative work together.” 

Netflix has since announced that they will be releasing a documentary on Nipsey Hussle, directed by Ava Duvernay. 



Larry Perel


Cerise Castle