Dear White People is already one of the year’s biggest hits.
The Netflix series dropped in April and since its release it has been generating tons of buzz.
Created by Justin Simien and adapted from his 2014 film of the same name, Dear White People is a look at how Black students navigate day-to-day microagressions at a predominantly White university.
Helping to amplify some of the show’s poignant moments is a soundtrack full of big names artists like A Tribe Called Quest to up-and-coming artists like Noname. And the brains behind the show’s soundtrack is music supervisor Morgan Rhodes.
ESSENCE spoke to Rhodes about curating the show’s soundtrack, which involved creating playlists for each character, putting on underground talent, and Lionel and Troy’s friendship.
“I have a great love for indie and underground artists,” Rhodes says, when asked about the show’s eclectic soundtrack. “I sort of float around with a running list of artists that I’m interested in placing, specifically as it relates to underground black music and underground music in general.”
“I love to open doors for people that don’t have the same amount or a visibility or are working toward greater visibility. Nothing gives me more joy than to work with underground and indie musicians of all genres .”
Rhodes’ love for a variety of genres is evident as the show’s soundtrack bounces from UK indie band Wild Beasts to late producer and rapper J Dilla, whose song “F—k the Police” get spun on Sam’s (Logan Browning) radio show after Reggie has a gun pulled on him at a party.
“I’ve always wanted to play J Dilla in something that I’m working on. I’m a huge J Dilla fan. So that was a real great opportunity for me.”
Rhodes feels a little envious of Sam, who has the freedom to play a song like “F—k the Police.” A radio DJ herself, Rhodes says the “FCC would come in and just shut me all the way down” if she played a song like that on the air.
“Most scenes were really fun to me because I played stuff that I would never be allowed to play on the air.”
And, while it may seem that Sam would be her favorite character based on their similarities — she’s a close second — Troy, played by Brandon P. Bell, was the most enjoyable character to create a playlist for.
“A lot of the music in the scene involving him is old school soul music and I like that about him. I like that you wouldn’t assume that about him.”
A scene that sticks out for Rhodes is Troy and Lionel’s bathroom haircut moment, which features 70s R&B group The Softones’ “My Dream,” Lee Fields’ “I’m the Man,” and Leon Haywood’s “I Want to Do Something Freaky to You.”
It’s a moment to look a little deeper at Troy’s character and the kind of scene rarely seen on television, two black men relaxing in each other’s presence and just enjoying each other’s company.
“When you look at him [Troy] he’s very polished, you know, you wouldn’t expect this guy to listen to Lee Fields, ‘I’m the Man’ or Softones’ ‘My Dream.’ So, you know, him cutting Lionel’s hair, then he says, ‘You want to listen to some music?’ That was one of my favorite moments. It gave me the opportunity to again, you know, to dig deep in the crates. And that’s the real joy I think of my job is being able to dig and dig deeply, and pull out archival material.”
Adding, “It was amazing to work on Troy’s character because it gave me that opportunity to push the envelope a little bit, he was a lot of fun.”
Discussing the scene further, Rhodes adds, “There’s a lot of things that I think, you know, brothers have to keep to themselves in terms of their emotions across the spectrum, whatever their emotion is.”
“Sometimes they’re not allowed to be vulnerable and these are two brothers in a typical, you know, black environment getting their hair cut. But with Lionel with all these feelings and being able to be present with that. It was beautiful.”