The six-minute training montage in “Creed II” was a chance for composer Ludwig Göransson to make a “big statement” with his music. Göransson needed to work within the constraints and themes on both the original “Creed,” which he also composed, and the iconic “Rocky” theme music, while giving the audience something new and epic.
“I’m always trying to experiment and come up with new palettes of sound and new combinations of music that you haven’t really seen or heard in film before,” Göransson told TheWrap. “I’m just constantly figuring out new ways to reinvent myself. And if it’s combining ’70s jazz with Puccini and 808 drums, I’ll try that.”
And the result? Göransson put together a grandiose composition that marries modern hip-hop production with a traditional string orchestra and even a hint of ’70s jazz instrumentation as a nod to the original film. Hearing it as Michael B. Jordan furiously digs into a barren desert is a clear indicator of how Göransson’s willingness to take risks and blend genres separates him from some of his less sonically ambitious contemporaries.
Born in Sweden, Göransson’s background is in classical music, with early influences touching on everything from Metallica to Pat Metheny to Wes Montgomery. Since moving to the U.S. 10 years ago, he has also worked with Vince Staples, Chance the Rapper, HAIM and most notably, Childish Gambino. Within months of meeting Donald Glover as the composer on “Community,” the two collaborated on Childish Gambino’s 2010 mixtape, “Culdesac.”
Though Göransson originally had little background within hip-hop, working closely with Glover has, in turn, shaped his sound as a composer.
“It opened up my mind for that genre, made me interested in that, and it made me interested in getting better. That was extremely helpful in terms of crafting my sound and how my sound is today,” Göransson said. “It’s about really studying and doing research and learning as much as you can from each genre.”
Having moved to the U.S. to attend the University of Southern California, one of Göransson’s first American friends in his program was Ryan Coogler. The two shot pool together and had a mutual love of movies and music.
“He was telling me about all these Swedish artists that he loved like Little Dragon and The Knife,” Göransson’s said. “And I was like, ‘How do you know about Lykke Li?'”
Since then, Göransson has composed the score on each of Coogler’s films, including Coogler’s early shorts at USC and this year’s “Black Panther.”
Göransson’s challenge on “Black Panther” was to capture traditional African music and combine it with a modern, grand cinematic sound. He spent time studying African influences and musicians, and mashed-up Senegalese talking drums and other instruments not commonly heard in the Western world with 808 beats and percussive motifs.
As Göransson was researching the film’s African influences, he was working with Glover on Childish Gambino’s “This is America.” The two had been working on the track for as long as three years, and if you listen closely, you can hear echoes of the themes for T’Challa in its Afro-funk rhythms and beats, and vice-versa.
However, it was the music video directed by Hiro Murai that for Göransson, not unlike everyone else when they first saw the video, made the track come alive.
“Now I really understand what this song is about,” Göransson said of seeing the clip. “I had never worked on something like that before, a song and a video and message connected like that. I had no idea it was going to get so popular. I’ve been telling people about Childish Gambino for 10 years, and the people that I thought would least listen to it were calling me up, ‘Oh man I love Childish Gambino. I love this new song.’ OK, I told you about this 10 years ago.”
Göransson is a potential Oscar contender for his score on “Black Panther,” and he hopes to score the blockbuster’s sequel, which is also directed by his pal Coogler. But until then, he’s thankful that the movie’s reach exposed the world to a wider array of musical styles and influences.
“I would be very honored,” Göransson said of a potential nomination. “What’s most gratifying to me is the musicians I worked with in Africa calling me afterward telling me they’ve seen the movie and are so happy to see the Senegalese music represented. That’s been the most gratifying part for me.”
“Creed II” is in theaters now.