Two Creatives On How Music Bookends The Tension, Relief And Stark Reality Of ‘Shots Fired’
Two Wednesdays have passed since Shots Fired, Reggie Rock Bythewood and Gina Prince-Bythewood’s new TV drama, premiered on FOX, pulling viewers into the loss of two young men on opposite sides of a southern town’s racial divide. Anyone who hasn’t seen at least one Hour of the eerily timely series by now—the married creatives don’t consider Shots Fired episodic, but rather a 10-hour film—is past the point of forgiveness.
Fueled by the historic killing of Emmitt Till and law enforcement-caused deaths of Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Freddie Gray, Mike Brown, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and others, the Bythewoods called on Sanaa Lathan, Stephan James, Mack Wilds, Jill Hennessy, Helen Hunt and Richard Dreyfuss to bring to light not only the story of injustice, but the need for humanity.
“One of the things that shocked Reggie and I with the Zimmerman trial was how many people were sending George Zimmerman checks to support him and not talking about this kid that was killed,” Gina said at a screening at New York’s Paley Center for Media. “The lack of humanity and the lack empathy shown to this boy really struck us. We felt that in flipping the narrative, it was a way for people who don’t normally deal with something like this to be able to see someone, empathize with their character and understand what we go through. Dealing with these two different versions allowed us to get into the way that victims of violence are treated based on race, and the fact that when these kids, men and women are being killed, the first thing the media tries to do is dehumanize [them] and make it their fault.”
According to Dreyfuss, also present at the screening, although the show is “as current as tomorrow’s newspaper headline,” Gina and Reggie’s agenda wasn’t to make any particular side of the police brutality debate look like “the bad guy.” “When I first met Reggie, he said that he wanted to do a show that had no heroes and no villains. What happens is that your empathy is aimed for a certain character and then it switches, and you understand or see something you did not expect,” he said before focusing on Mack Wilds’ character, Officer Joshua Beck. Beck, a black man, shot and killed an unarmed young white male for the same reason white police officers have killed countless unarmed black men: because they “feared for their lives.” “There are men,” Dreyfuss continued, “there are black men, and there are black cops, and each of those things has a pull on their devotion and on their values. His problem is just enormous and very, very telling.”
It’s not all stress and grief, though. The heavy moments are broken up by the things we subconsciously look to quality TV for: stimulating and realistic dialogue, unpredictability, vignettes of characters’ personal trials and triumphs, peppered comedic relief, highly relatable awkward social moments and sexual chemistry and frustration. These nuances are carefully woven throughout the various characters that come together in the Charlotte, N.C.-area town, and the fiber that adequately ropes them throughout the narrative is the music.
The soundscapes we hear as we watch Shots Fired were carefully curated by music supervisor Jabari Ali, the man also behind the licensed, new and original music for Training Day, Brooklyn’s Finest, Waist Deep, Biker Boyz and many others. Ali pulled together a team of top-notch writers, producers and artists, some of whom include BJ the Chicago Kid, Antonique Smith, the Hamiltones, Ruff Endz, Sunshine Anderson, Heather Victoria, Katlyn Nichol, Big Bill Morganfield and more. An official Shots Fired soundtrack is set to release via Def Jam Records, featuring original songs as well as unreleased numbers soon to be heard on the show. One of the voices you’ll hear on both the series and the soundtrack is that of singer-songwriter Shiré, who penned and performed on the main title track “Where Do We Go From Here?” alongside BJ the Chicago Kid.
As Shots Fired moves to the center of entertainment conversation, Ali and Shiré open about about their contributions to the music moving the viewers, their anticipated reception of the show, the compromises involved and the real life emotional triggers that kept them going.
VIBE: At a time like this, and with Shots Fired out, we’re at a place where our music has to represent a little more than just our entertainment desires. They actually have to speak to our issues.
Jabari Ali: Yes, indeed. Yes, indeed. I think Nina Simone said it best about artists and entertainment. What we need to do is portray what’s going on in our communities in a positive light. That’s why it was so important for us to have music that inspired people in different types of ways. Our mantra is “music provokes change,” and that’s what we set out to do. Do music that would inspire and provoke change with an incredible narrative that Gina and Reggie Bythewood put together as far as the entire show.
Exactly. Well, before we jump into the film, I just want to clarify some things. For Shots Fired, you’re music supervisor, but you also license songs for films and soundtracks, TV and commercials. You also have soundtrack producer, music consultant and coordinator on your bio. Can you clear up what these terms mean and what are the key differences between them when you’re working on project to project?
JA: Well, [as] music supervisor I’m in charge of the entire musical landscape of the project, whether that’s source music or score, which is the composed music. As a music supervisor, I oversee the budget, the creative and I implement the creative task that the director or executive producers have put out for me to do. But [with that] being said, if there’s original music or music that’s actually on camera, or songs or anything like that, we have to create that before the scene is shot. So it’s very detailed. So far as a music curator, I represent some certain states and what we do is we place those songs, those copyrights in TV shows, feature films, commercials, video games. We market the particular catalogs for those synchronization and licensing.
Music consultant is when… say, for instance, Training Day. I was a music consultant on that. They needed to get some things done and they had to hire me to get them done. For instance, Snoop’s song, like Dre’s single. Snoop kept giving Antoine Fuqua the B-drive, the songs that would never make his album. They hire me as a consultant to go in and make sure that I got into the A-drive and pull out the singles. You got me? There were only eight source cues in Training Day, so I was pretty much involved in at least four or five of them. And they were big music moments. Even in those eight, it was big, significant music moments. So with the Dre song from Training Day, I just kind of consulted them. That’s what it is. You pretty much use your clout and your relationships to bridge the gap or make the connection when they can’t really make the connection.
So can you give an overview of what a day in the life of a Shots Fired music supervisor looks like? Let’s say you wake up and go to set for the day. What does that day look like for you?
JA: Every day is different. First of all, everything was just a vision from Gina and Reggie Bythewood, and the vision happened right after the Trayvon Martin, Zimmerman case. As soon as that verdict came down, that was the start of Shots Fired. That was five years ago. That right there was the seed. And Cassius Bythewood, their own son, actually wrote a poem about Trayvon Martin and Emmett Till meeting in heaven. That conversation, that’s the seed to Shots Fired. So to be called and approached by Reggie and Gina to do something special, that first day was just incredible, just to sit there on that first day and read the pilot. Then have the task to create original music for such an amazing narrative, and something that people really need because there’s a lot of us out there that don’t have a voice. I always felt like music can be a voice. The right narrative with Shots Fired can be the voice of the unheard. So that day was, first of all, putting together a Shots Fired music writing team. That day was spent really vetting who in that collective of writers and producer and mixers and engineers would have the right fit. And to have that be a very diverse music writing team. It was a lot of research. Gina and Reggie also gave a lot of research, meeting with the Mothers of the Movement.
At times, it was overwhelming because it’s never been done like this before, especially for a mystery drama. This is not an entertainment piece [or] narrative. Shots Fired is a real reality, but you’re going to get every scene of the house, period. So it was putting together this music writing team and making sure that was diverse. Like Shiré, she’s from Baltimore. Antonique Smith, she’s from Jersey. [Dwayne] “Tezz” Morgan is from Ohio. And then Ebony Burkes is from Ohio. Jukebox is from Los Angeles. Chris and Jeff are from South Carolina. And the Honorable C-Note is from Michigan, by way of Atlanta. Just a very diverse team and from all walks of life. To get them in one room at one time, to just have some discussions about what the goal was, the type of music that we were trying to, embarking on that we wanted to create and the type of artists that we actually wanted to develop this new music for. This original music for. Those days were spent early crafting that. Seven original songs. Did you hear them?
Yes I did.
JA: Yes. So that day was going in the writers’ room with the writing team and talking about narrative of the different hours that certain writers of the show were working on. It was really a team effort. It was like, ‘Hey Jabari, I’m thinking about writing in a choir scene for The Chosen House and we just want something that… We don’t know what is…’ It’s one of those things that you know it when you hear it. They would go into the studio and spend eight hours in these different cells writing for the target. We most definitely want a super group choir, not the traditional Baptist, big choir. We want this small unit, unique to this community to represent this community in the show. That ended up being the Hamiltones, Sunshine Anderson, Heather Victoria, who’s 9th Wonder’s artist, and Katlyn Nichol. So my days were different. There was not one day the same. That right there is like why I love to music supervise because every day is a new challenge. Every song has a different story. Before [each scene is] shot, I have to have get approval of the song from our executive producers. They have to approve it. It has to be created, cut and approved. I get notes, I got to go back in. It’s a really really micro-managed solution to the end game.
Let’s start at the top, at the first thing that people hear. How did “Where Do We Go From Here,” the main title song, come together with BJ the Chicago Kid and Shiré?
JA: We actually set out do something that would be socially impactful, along the lines of a Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” or any of the greats who have always lent their artistry for social change in our country and abroad. Throughout the narrative of the music of Shots Fired, [the goal] was to bridge the gap between the Civil Rights Movement and Black Lives Matter. That was a bar set really high, but I knew that with the right team, we could actually get it done. I had a hit list of artists that I thought could be that voice that could bridge that gap between the youth and the elders and those certain communities. I just felt like that perfect duet was BJ the Chicago Kid and Shiré. I mean, just the title alone, “Where Do We Go From Here?” We wanted it to be a call to action as well. I know that when you’re describing something and you’re giving all these adjectives, you don’t want to take it off narrative because it’s so many things that you’re throwing into the pot, but it’s like okay, well, where do we go from here? And BJ’s also on the writing team as well.
Yes, I saw. We’re fans of his.
JA: Yes, indeed. It was just bringing this into a place where not only the millennials would be like wow, we need to add this to our vision board, but also, the Civil Rights babies. ‘We need to add this to our vision board. Where do we go from here?’ Let’s open up that dialogue and use music as a vehicle and a platform to be able to do that. [BJ’s] voice represented that. His lifestyle represented that. And this was prior to him singing the national anthem for President Barack Obama. This wasn’t no Johnny come lately, jump on the bandwagon. This was pre-Grammy nods, all of that. So just imagine that. It’s been a year and some change of a process to develop the music and right sound and the right narrative with the music. I got hundreds of thousands of songs. And when I say hundreds of thousands, I mean literally hundreds of thousands.
That’s got to be stressful to narrow that down.
JA: Yeah, I mean, but it’s two types of music. I don’t care what genre it is. It’s two types of music, and that’s good or bad. And that’s all in the ears of the listener. But BJ crushed it. Shiré has this really deep kind of raspy tone in her vocal and it matched perfectly. But I got some exciting news for you, and maybe you could be the first one to break it. Our soundtrack is actually is going to come by way of Def Jam Records. We’re excited about that partnership. I don’t know what the lineup is going to be, but I know it’s going to be the original songs, plus six songs from the show that are already pre-released. Then out of those six, three of them are unreleased songs. There’s going to be four inspired by songs from Def Jams artists, so be on the look out for that.
That already sounds like a promising release.
JA: We’re talking about a group of powerful, dynamic songwriters in a room. By the way, the song was produced by Amon Flanagan. I got to say that. It’s really really incredible, and he came with it. Like I said, when I put it out there to certain producers that I knew could do it, it was a choice of seven producers. Amon’s tracks stood out and it was just instant magic. We pulled it up in the studio and everybody just kind of went in. A really, really incredible project.
You’re talking about the combining of two generations into one important topic, his kind of stuff does that. He’s very young, obviously for this generation, but he bridges that and brings the older generation to the same stage.
JA: Yes, and we wanted some one that wasn’t… Everybody was doing the John Legend. That’s easy, but let’s do something more unique. Let’s give a young artist who I feel… I feel BJ’s the next John Legend for us. I think he has that It. Just so you know, that deal almost did not happen. FOX has never ever had a major recording artist do a main title for them, ever in the history of the network, so there’s a lot of firsts here. We’re actually the first—outside of anything entertainment—music writing team assembled for a FOX network show. Like a real team, not just we’re going to do a deal with this person and this deal with this person. No, like a real ensemble. Now the catch is that they control. That’s just another business hurdle that no one was really ready to tackle and I went to the full stream on tackling that because this is what we want to do and we have to find a way to make it happen.
But it’s still incredible news and good for BJ and the people involved.
JA: Yes, indeed. I mean, we didn’t know he was going to go on his first international tour. We didn’t know he was embarking on three Grammy nods. We didn’t know that he was going to sing the National Anthem for the final address to the people of President Barack Obama. All of those things we did not know. Only thing I knew was, that’s the voice. That’s the voice to represent this culmination of this incredible narrative.
I got the chance to attend the screening and see a couple of the Hours—not “episodes.” Shots Fired is so diverse in terms of moods and storylines. Of course the show is about very racially charged instances in the community, but then you have blanketed, more underlying issues behind Ashe Akino (Sanaa Lathan) and Preston Terry (Stephan James), with their families and the things they’re dealing with that you have to bring out musically. You have the white boys club nature of the town against the grit of the underserved part of town. There are the funerals and Ashe and Preston’s respective sex scenes. Then you have the comedy, like E-40’s “Choices” playing when they’re riding around town. How do you maneuver all of those nuisances? There are many moods that could conflict but they compliment each other.
JA: Well, I’ll tell you, it actually represents who you are as a person. All those emotions that you just described. It represents us as a human race. Those are all the things that are felt through the music. To have all these different storylines and all these different layers, it’s just like you as a person. We’re not just one way, we have so many layers to our emotions. It’s actually finding or creating the right soundtrack that will be very significant in defining your journey in life. People will look back on that “Choices” scene, which is the first kind of montage you see in the show in Hour One, and that will become a part of the soundtrack of your life. That was the mission. When you go into The Chosen House and you hear the perfect harmonies of the Hamiltones and Sunshine Anderson and the Chosen House Super group Choir, that will become a narrative of your life for real. It’s already woven in because folks go to church, folk go to picnics. These are all the things that we do as human beings. We fellowship, we go through all these different emotions. We have families, we have children. We have wives and husbands. [It’s] tying all of that together, so it just flows. The right music has a way to do that.
How important is comic relief in Shots Fired and projects similar to it?
JA: Before we even go to that question, there’s one more thing I have to say. I’ve been to a lot of funerals burying young people in the last 10 or 15 years. You always hear the same kind of songs, generally. You know, “Stairway to Heaven.” I wanted to create something that could become the next “Stairway to Heaven.” In Hour Two, when you hear that song, it’s coming from a real place. I feel like that type of song will cross generations for a long time. There’ll be churches, congregations, student choirs and things like that singing that song. I shared that with the writing team as they were doing it. “Called Home,” that’s a record where even some one who is just strictly secular music is going to listen to. Not just because of the messaging, but it’s just so relevant. It applies to everyday life.
And this is where the light moments come in.
JA: Yes, well, it’s like anything else. I love comedy. I think comedy, when used the right way, like music, could be a weapon. I think art is a weapon when used the right way. That was a big motivational point to activism. The comedic approach with the music was that comedy has a way to deliver serious messaging. It has a way to deliver in a softer type of way, where people are more advantageous to receive it. If it’s always right in your face, like roar, aggressive, then folks will start putting their guards up. So finding these clever ways to actually penetrate the viewer from what they’re hearing and to evolve the narrative even more through just a more comedic approach to the art.
There’s a scene in Hour Three that really touches on the dichotomy of black music in a white space. It was white consumers listening to, I don’t know, maybe 2 Chainz or something. But then you come to find out the way they feel about everyday black people differs from how they enjoy the music so much. The musical selection of that, how it fits with the scene and how it abruptly switches to silence, I think was so effective. Will we get more of that, showing that awkwardness directly? Not just music in the background, but music in the scene, showing what it means as a culture.
JA: Well, I see it all the time, where I have experienced this from a personal insight on this. Where you have other ethnicities and races who are now feeling comfortable, very comfortable using the n-word and certain language that we feel like is most definitely not appropriate for you to just use in your everyday language, which is a very touchy subject matter. I guess I can’t put the spoiler in there, but you’ve seen it.
Yeah, you know the scene I’m talking about. I’ve seen it, but people can’t know yet.
JA: Right, let me back up a bit. So using it in a way where it just kind of shows you through the eyes of white college kids, what they would go through in a setting while they’re at their party or their celebration which can more than likely be a lot different from the way other races in a setting would actually be celebrating or be turnt up in. That music was actually created by the Honorable C-Note, and he’s a multi-platinum producer. He’s done everything from 2 Chainz to Gucci Mane. His task was to do a song that he could not use the n-word, but imply that it’s being used. The way it feels, it feels like that’s what they were saying. The song is called, “Young Black Hittas.” Right, you got me? So we need this really strong aggressive, implied language, but it’s not really that, because we can’t really say that on a major network. And even if we could, Reggie and Gina would never allow us to use it. I said it needs to sounds like this song is on the radio right now. I need that track that Gucci Mane would snatch, that 2 Chainz would snatch, that all of these artists would be begging you to have and fighting in this bidding war over this track. I need that track. This can’t be just anything, just a regular old beat or production. The rest was the ingenuity of knowing how to come in and out of a song into the other one, almost as if the DJ got the chord pulled like, wait a minute, what are ya’ll doing? There will be more of that. That scene was really important and we went back and forth with the FOX execs on that for awhile. It was a tough.
I can imagine, but I’m glad you guys won.
JA: Yeah, we won just because it’s an implied reference. But it’s a way that we have to keep certain layers to the narrative with the music. It was very important to keep that authentic, just 100.
I’m excited for people to see it, so they can know what I’m talking about and I won’t have to talk in code for much longer. I’m also curious to know what Shiré, who appears as a performer and songwriter within the soundtrack, takes away from Shots Fired.
Yeah, Shiré is about to release her single. She just shot the video this week to “Broke Me Down.” She’s also on the writing team. Out of everybody on the writing team, she’s the only one who penned 100% on a song that will probably win an Emmy.
[Shiré hops on the line.]
JA: Shiré, I just want to say thank you. I can’t thank you enough. [You were] the last member on the team to come in. How about that.
Shiré: Exactly. It’s a beautiful thing and how everything has come together. I love how constantly you push me to be great. Not just myself, but the whole team. Shout out to you for always believing.
JA: Thanks, Shiré. I appreciate it. But I can’t wait for them to hear Hour 7 with that Ruff Endz, “Speak to My Heart.” That’s going to shut the whole country down right there. It will be that moment.
S: It’s just one of those powerful moments because the tone of everything that’s going on in our daily lives to what we see on TV, it feels good to have a song like “Speak to My Heart.” It just sends out that love. It makes you want to love and it makes you want to look out. I feel like that embodies the thought process of having that humanity and the empathy for your fellow man.
First of all, Shiré, congratulations in advance. Like you said, this is promising to be a big moment in TV and music. I was a little hesitant about it at first, because you can’t tell anything from the trailer. It can go either way, but it comes together in a way that makes sense. It’s timely and it moves you. Tell me a little bit about you coming into the fold and you first thoughts when you heard about what Shots Fired even encompassed. How did you process that given the year we had last year?
S: Man, right. The year we had last year. I was one of the last writers to be brought on to the team to the music writing team. Reggie Bythewood had reached out and had Jabari have me come. They have this writers’ room, which is actually their office for the Shots Fired team, and it’s the writers for different episodes. I met about three writers that were actually in at that time when they took me on a tour. The first thing you see when I got off the elevator was a picture of Emmett Till. Just right off, as soon as I walked in, and I’m like whoa, okay. It’s about being woke. They created these binders to describe each character in the show. They laid down, sent out the outlines, and just the whole premise behind, just the storyline in general, the twists and turns of it. I was just blown away that we’re actually doing something that can impact in real time what’s going on in the world, especially here in the United States. So just that alone, and me being from Baltimore, Md. where Freddie Gray[was killed]. He’s only one of many unfortunately that we’ve lost due to this type of violence. I was just overwhelmed and very gracious to even be able to be a part of it, voice my thoughts and emotions, and to collaborate with such great other writers. It takes a lot of guts, drive and passion, and I’m thankful that they wanted to go there because it’s amazing.
Timely. Very timely.
S: Even when I think of the title track which is BJ the Chicago Kid featuring myself singing on it. Just to be able to be a part of a theme song, a main title to a show, is heavy in itself. Then to be able have co-written it and having those lyrics just constantly be driven into the viewers’ minds, like where do we go from here? How can we fix this? The first step is to get people to start thinking about it. The first of it is thinking, and then hopefully that will start the thought process on how to figure out the solution.
I could imagine. Then there’s immediately seeing Emmett Till in the office; that’s one blow. Then you have what’s happening in Baltimore with Freddie Gray. At the screening, Mack Wilds talked about the day on set he had to film the scene of him shooting the young man, that was right after Philando Castile. So the energy was very heavy. Everyone has their trigger. How do you as a creative, whether it’s as an actor or singer, put yourself into that mindset to perform that song, perform that scene, and put the viewers into the mindset, too?
S: It was challenging because you have to take yourself outside. You have to think beyond your personal feelings. One thing I did like that Mack Wilds has done is that he said that the empathy that you have, you have to be on both sides of it. You have to think from the perspective of the victim and then also think from the perspective of the person who was, for whatever reason, in that position to feel like they needed to pull that trigger. It’s weird because it’s still a universal approach. It just takes a lot of open-mindedness, I would say, and compassion. I just took from a really deep place. All day long, you go on your social media feed and you’re reading this, reading that, so that stuff was constantly happening during the writing process. I was getting information and getting lyrics just throughout life, just doing what I normally do. Those words, those topics, just being a voice for our community and not just being a black woman, but just in general, just being human and seeing how could we write this in a way that we could touch everyone. That was key.
That’s the biggest part—the diversity of not only the sounds and voice and cast, but of the reach. What can you say about the audience and how they’ll take the show and the music, depending on where they fall in terms of background, region and occupation. What do you think the police takeaway would be from it? The church takeaway? What the underserved community will take from it?
S: I think that for each one of those, everyone will see a part of themselves in the storyline. You can find it through whichever character you relate to. I think that you can find yourself and the music just enhances what you’re visually seeing and, like I said, being the voice and expressing what it’s like to be that person. What it’s like to be that cop, what it’s like to be the mother of your killed son, or what’s it like to be the church. You’re representing the pastor, you’re representing the community and you have to try to come up with solutions and help support people. I think that when they engage it, I think they will find a piece of themselves, and that’s what makes a show so bomb to me because you’re like wow, this is real life. Either it’s you or you know some one that could be going through that or who have been faced with that.
You guys mentioned “Speak to My Heart.” The mood of the title track is very call to action. What about “Speak to My Heart?” How did that come about? What was the discussion about that in the writers’ room?
S: I’m going to give a shout out to the producer Willie Bailey. Ruff Endz actually performed it, featuring Marqus Clae, who’s on the show. This is Hour Seven, so at that point, we’re almost to the end stretch of the 10-hour event series. At that point you’re asking, it’s like this just happened, we see where we are, but how can… It’s almost like a cry to God, like please give me the strength, please help me understand, please help me know what my next step should be in my life. I think that’s the cry out. That’s the call out for the message. Where do we go from this point? Please speak to my heart. The funny thing, it’s not funny, but when I did write the song, it was shortly after Prince had died and I went to see Purple Rain because they had it out here in the theater in Woodland Hills. Then Jabari had sent the outline for the scene. I heard the track—I don’t want to get to much of the storyline for that hour—but we’re right at the point where everything is just climaxed. Everyone at that moment is trying to figure out what is my next step. What do I do? How can I move forward? Just from the energy, from being distraught over Prince, I was just like wow, what can I write, what can I say that’s going to impact and touch many people? And the lyrics just came, love. I mean, really. I couldn’t believe it. I came home and I was just like how could I write this song and it touch people and I wrote, referenced it, they came back and sent it back to me. I was blown away because I’m good friends with Ruff Endz and they really did my song the justice for real.
JA: Okay so, let me just say this Shiré, really quick. Shiré was really jaded at me for the fact that I told her, ‘I think we got to go male vocal. You killed this. This song is really going to penetrate everybody. This song will be nominated for an Emmy, but Shiré, you won’t be able to sing it.’ She just looked at me and I just seen it in her eyes, her whole emotions just switched. But I said, this is what I want you to do. If you could reach out and find out who the artist that could bring this to the light, that would share the same passion that we all have about Shots Fired, who will sing it with so much compassion. It’s the only song in seven, so you’re going to know it. It’s a huge montage scene and it’s about two and a half minutes.
S: It’s amazing.
JA: And the kid who’s rapping on it, the youngster, Marqus Clae, he just turned 17. And I tell you, I’ve been around a lot of rappers, a lot. This is Kendrick Lamar meets Nas with a work ethic of Tupac Shakur. He is that good. Remember, I said it first. He is that good.
S: He is exceptional. He just posted something, a little video and he’s laying in the bed and his flows on there are incredible… He’s that dude.
I guess I have to look into him.
JA: Yes, indeed. He just did The Wake Up Show and Sway in the Morning. He just did The Breakfast Club. He just recently signed with Master P to No Limit Forever. Trust me, this kid is phenomenal.
S: But that’s why it makes me feel so good because look at that. God blessed me with a gift to be able to sing and write, so even though I wanted to sing it, but it was the perfect thing to put the male vocals on it. I’m grateful that I’m even able to be a part of this young man’s success. Marqus Clay, he’s doing his thing. I’m gladly taking the backseat on the being the front person on that because it’s like, look what they did with the song. It sends a message.
You get to see your own message come to life.
S: Yeah, it’s bigger than me. And for what we’re doing, especially because of Stephan’s character, it also sets the tone for the voice of what he… I would say it needed that male aspect to it.
That’s true. I heard the song, but I obviously haven’t seen that far.
S: Yeah, got to watch it. My song “Broke Down” is in Hour Three, so I got my little vocals on there as well. I co-wrote that with Midi Mafia. It’s a single. Just did the video.
JA: Video is awesome by the way. Oh my goodness.
S: Shout out to Corey Grant the director. He is amazing. He did Sister Code and the new film Illicit that I worked with him on. And it’s just bomb.
Can’t wait to see it. Speaking of something that isn’t your own, do you have a favorite or most moving song that wasn’t yours? So you can’t use any of the ones that you were on.
S: I loved the gospel song that’s in [Hour] Two.
JA: “Called Home.”
S: That’s right, “Called Home. When you see that, it really impacted. I loved the fact that [the other writers and I] all co-wrote that song. Then the Hamiltones were a part of the project and Sunshine Anderson, Katlyn Nichol and Heather Victoria. Shout out to Ebony Burks, Tezz Morgan, Chris Hanebutt. Jeffrey Friedland, Antonique Smith, Juke[box] as well.
Jabari and I were talking about how many different kinds of moods and tones are involved. It’s all reflective of the black experience, the white experience, the human experience. Do you think that will immediately come across?
S: Absolutely. I really do. Like at the screening in LA, I love when E-40’s song comes on, and everybody was like “Nope!” You never really realize how much it sets the tone for how the show feels. And with all the music that we did, I mean, the actors came back telling Jabari like, wow we were really motivated. This music is incredible because it was helping with them getting more into character.
JA: Yeah, like Jill Hennessy could not stop crying in the funeral scene. She was just so blown. Even Helen Hunt. I mean, they were blown. We were all there so we saw it come to life on the set. We shooting a scene, but it hit everybody just on a whole other level.
S: That is the other part that helps us, though, is that the writers came down to Charlotte twice, and we were there to see them actually doing it. It’s one thing to read something, but to actually start seeing it, and then we were able to create the soundtrack to what we saw. That helped tremendously.
JA: Just so you know the impact, we wrapped Shots Fired on Emmett Till’s birthday. So if that isn’t telling you that the variables are lining up here for something greater than us, then I don’t know what that is.
JA: Then three weeks later or something like that, it was a full blown riot in Charlotte. That was after. We were done.
“Entertainment” is fusing into the timeline of life right now.
S: Yes. Art imitates life.
JA: Yes, indeed. Also, I have to make reference to this because you watched Hour Two, and something we did that nobody else has done [was] we bridged a gap between blues and hip- hop. That song is a song created for Shots Fired by Big Bill Morgan, who is Muddy Water’s son. He’s a well known, world renowned blues artist. His father is the legend Muddy Waters. So not only did I get them together to bridge this gap between blues and hip-hop… Because my dad, listen, he was a blues connoisseur, and that’s how I came into a likeness with blues. Rest in peace my dad. I was a hip hop baby. While he was driving, he would listen to his blues, and when I would drive, the rule was I could listen to hip-hop. But I found myself listening to more blues than hip-hop as those drives continued and as I got older. So to be able to fuse the gap between these generations of blues listeners and the generation of hip-hop, was something that I really wanted to do and just to pay homage and tribute to my dad and to also bridge the gap, like it helped me and my father bridge the gap with music.
Last question. When hour ten is done, Bythewood’s already said it’s not a cliffhanger, but it’s not neat and tidy. Once it’s all said and done for the viewer, what do you want to happen next in terms of what do we do with that? What do we do with our feelings? What do we do with the way it was and move forward?
S: I feel like because of how great they directed and filmed the different perspectives of each character, it just starts that thought process to create empathy. Because it starts in people’s households, and I’m hoping that people can start to instill better morals into their children as well as people in the family that have these stuck, old ways and patterns. I hope it begins to make them think beyond themselves. Just start to think beyond yourself and then hopefully in turn, the actions will follow. Again, the music will be out there and we’ll keep pushing that message through what we wrote. I’m hoping that does begin the change. And of course, we want another season.