Having helmed music videos for the likes Drake, Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, Usher and a laundry list other stars, one could argue that few directors understand the combined power music and visuals better than Director X. Prior to building that impressive resume, X credits a crucial cue from some animated action heroes for showing him the artistic relationship at an early age.
“I know this is going to be a crazy reference, but as a kid, I remember the Transformers music,” X tells Exclaim! in an interview. “It was 1986’s The Transformers: The Movie] and there was this song ‘The Touch.’ It was this great glam rock record that was so perfect for the film — I can still sing it!”
X is primed to further explore that connection in his first feature Superfly, a reimagining Gordon Parks Jr.’s 1972 blaxploitation crime drama that featured a soundtrack written and produced by Curtis Mayfield. As part modernizing the film with reverence for the original, Mayfield’s role has been updated accordingly with the star power Atlanta rapper Future, who executive produced the accompanying soundtrack.
“I remember having discussions with him about blaxploitation films like the original Super Fly] and The Mack, talking about the style these guys had and how that played into the larger production,” X recalls the rapper. “The music in the original film was such a major element. I didn’t want to remake the soundtrack so much as have the singular artistic vision, where the music really speaks to the characters and what they’re going through.”
Future’s instantly recognizable croons and cadences soundtrack the fast life Youngblood Priest (Trevor Jackson), a cocaine dealer looking to leave the business behind after one last major deal. While the 1972 film was set in Harlem, X’s reimagining is set in Atlanta as a nod to the city’s status as a hotbed for today’s African-American culture. Fittingly, Future’s soundtrack is dotted with appearances from ATL luminaries all stripes, from Organized Noize’s Sleepy Brown and Zaytoven to Young Thug and 21 Savage.
Not unlike Kendrick Lamar and company’s full-length effort behind Marvel’s Black Panther earlier this year, Superfly‘s soundtrack was released in advance the film for the songs to be heard away from the big screen. Despite his demonstrated success in combining the two mediums, X revels in having sound and screen make an impact independent one another.
“There are films like Jaws or the Star Wars series, where John Williams’ score] was so big and powerful, and full musical themes that resonate outside the films themselves,” he explains. “When you start getting into the ’90s, you get the ‘soundtrack movie’ — Above the Rim, for example — films like that where the soundtrack was an event all its own. These movies came with an opportunity to make great music that could live on its own, but still always apply back to the film itself. With Superfly and Black Panther, I think it’s a throwback to those moments.”
Superfly opens across Canada on June 13.