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Succession Composer Nicholas Britell Explains the Origins of Kendall's Cringeworthy Rap

Plus, expect a Season 2 soundtrack sooner rather than later

Christopher Rosen

Succession Twitter had a time on Sept. 29 as the clock neared 10 p.m. on the East Coast. That's when Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) performed a tribute rap to his father, Logan (Brian Cox). "A1 ratings, $80K wine, never gonna stop, baby, f--- Father Time," Kendall rapped while wearing a custom jersey emblazoned with "L to the OG," the song's chorus and unofficial title. "Don't get it twisted, I've been through hell, but since I stan dad, I'm alive and well." The sequence -- part nightmare, part "is this actually good?" -- stood as a shining example of what Succession has done best during its ascendant Season 2. As one party guest muttered in stunned disbelief: "It is burning my eyes but I cannot look away."

"The thing I've found throughout the show is that serious stuff feels serious, musically, but the more absurd something gets onscreen, the more serious I play the music," composer Nicholas Britell told TV Guide about writing the rap's music. (Despite Kendall's statements to the contrary, the beat was not cooked up by his boy Squiggle.) "When it came time for this sequence, the assignment, in a way, was a reflection of that same duality. On the one hand, it had to be incredibly cringeworthy -- Kendall deciding he was going to perform a rap to his father. But at the same time, it wouldn't work unless it felt like it was actually really well done. It has to feel well-executed for the humor to also be there."

For a certain set on social media, Britell owns a level of fame usually regarded for contemporary pop musicians. His scores are legend: Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk, Vice, The Big Short. The New York-born composer has been making hip-hop beats since college and is known for infusing traditional classical music with a modern bend. His theme for Succession is the platonic ideal of that workflow and seemingly blew up before the show was afforded the same cultural consideration. It is arguable Succession wouldn't have been embraced by the zeitgeist without Britell's creative, catchy, and Emmy Award-winning musical accompaniment.

"The show is constantly embracing the different modes, different tones, and different emotions it's exploring," Britell said. For Kendall's rap, he went back to his stash of beats from college to find a "reinterpretation" of Johann Sebastian Bach's "Prelude in C Minor." "The reason I chose the beat was that it actually resonated with some of the courtly classical sound I've been writing for the score. I used to make so many beats, but that one felt like a spiritual cousin to some of the things I'm working on right now."

From there, it was a matter of mixing the song to Kendall's aesthetic. "From the beginning of Season 1, we see right from the moment the show basically starts that Kendall is a huge hip-hop fan, he's rapping Beastie Boys," Britell said, adding that the era he, creator Jesse Armstrong, and star Jeremy Strong focused on was the late '90s and early '00s, when Kendall would have been in college. "Then we talked about how Jeremy was going to execute it: how he was going to rap. I was very focused on how we'd do it live; just the technical aspect of his stage performance and how the sound should be recorded and how we mix that. A lot of work went into making the Kendall rap a reality."

All the Lyrics to Kendall's Amazing, Embarrassing Succession Rap

Whether "L to the OG" lands on the forthcoming Succession Season 2 soundtrack album remains to be seen, but Britell said a record will be released in the near-term. "In Season 2, my goal was that I wanted it to still feel that we were in the same universe -- I didn't want to change the feeling -- but at the same time Season 2 is such a development of what's happened in Season 1," Britell explained of his Season 2 score, which he recently finished ahead of the finale this Sunday. "I remember saying to Jesse that it would be great if it felt like the second movement of a symphony. It's the same symphony but now we're starting to feel different things than we've felt before. We're seeing things in different ways."

Fans of the show and Britell have likely noticed some variations on the memorable Season 1 tracks, like "Adagio in C Minor" and "Clarinet and Strings." "Some of the pieces I wrote start in a slightly similar way to Season 1 and then go and take a left turn," he said, adding that both Kendall and Shiv (Sarah Snook) received new themes this year. "But, at the same time, any piece of music that starts to feel like it's connected to one character ends up actually becoming about the show. All the parts of the show are connected. Just because one piece of music is following one character doesn't mean it won't also start following a different character. They're all very intertwined."

But before the Season 2 album is released, HBO is set to drop a new Britell joint on Friday, a remix of the Succession theme with Pusha T. It's the first official hip-hop song released by Britell and one he hopes isn't the last. "I'm at the early stage of exploring some stuff like that right now," he said when asked about releasing a hip-hop album in the future. "Getting the chance to write music in any context, but specifically exploring instrumental and orchestral arrangements and pieces -- I think there are some really cool musical possibilities in playing with that universe and finding some really cool partners in that."

Britell is currently working with Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk writer and director Barry Jenkins again on Jenkins' Underground Railroad series for Amazon as well as filmmaker Benjamin Millepied on a reinterpretation of the musical Carmen featuring all-new music. He also wrote the score for the upcoming film The King, with Timothée Chalamet. All this, and he's still lord of the memes.

"I am deeply humbled by it," Britell said of his burgeoning online fanbase. "I honestly feel that since I was so young I always dreamed of being able to be a musician and share the music I was doing. Every composer, I think -- certainly speaking for me, there's a real joy in sharing the music you connect to. Feeling other people connect to that is a very beautiful experience. The fact other people are digging the music and into me and the way I'm trying to explore a lot of different musical ideas in these projects is incredibly gratifying. I hope to be able to keep doing it. There's nothing that I'm happier doing than when I get to sit in my studio and make music."

Succession airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO. Need HBO? Add it through Hulu or through Amazon.