When Katori Hall was putting “P-Valley” together, music was at the top of her agenda. More specifically, female voices. Her goal was to find as many female emcees as she could using social media and asking for recommendations. She wanted 50-50 gender parity for the music-heavy show set in the world of Pynk, a strip club in the Mississippi Delta, and while she didn’t achieve that, she learned a hard truth about music today: “There are so many barriers to women in the hip-hop world,” Hall says.
The showrunner talked to Variety about the sonic landscape of the series ahead of her musical debut in episode 2, airing tonight on Starz.
The opening credits of any show are never easy to put together, so what was the idea of having a female voice behind P-Valley’s title?
Katori Hall: I was super clear from the beginning that I wanted a female voice and a Southern female emcee to bring us into the world. Initially, we had a list and Jucee Froot ended up doing the main title, but my husband, Alan Scoop was the one who introduced me to her. He’s a singer and songwriter and he was looking on Instagram and he said, “Do you know this girl?” She’d just released “Shake Dat A$$” by Zed Zilla. She was perfect in terms of her style, her content and flow. She had the DNA of the Memphis sound in her voice. We reached out to her and she ended up doing two other songs in the first episode. She felt so perfect for this unique main title that we were aiming for. Most main titles don’t have lyrics. If you think of the “Mad Men” theme, it’s sophisticated and I wanted our main title to have that quality.
I always wanted this nursery rhyme called “Down in the Valley” as part of the main title because I grew up playing that game. Even Brandee Evans who plays Mercedes grew up knowing that game. I know songs that children know are like earworms.
What I wanted to do was take something so innocent and juxtapose it over this grimy, deep rumble, 808, crunk-esque production sound and fuse them in a way that is memorable, stays with you and the Memphis sound is still represented and then blending all of that with the lyrical content.
I had a lot of ideas, but I wanted that main title to feel like a celebration of the strip club space and not have any shame attached to that. I wanted to recognize the resilience of that community.
There’s a lot of music featured in that first episode, and what stands out are the female voices. How did that sound all come together?
I wanted more. But there are so many barriers to women in the hip-hop world so it was a huge challenge to strive for parity when it came to how the sound was represented.
It’s such an ongoing conversation and it’s 2020 and very much a male-dominated industry still.
It’s frustrating. Our focus was on the Dirty South sound. There was specific music that felt like it could be played in an actual strip club. When you go into that space, they’re not playing music by women. They’re playing these local artists.
Sonically, the strip club space is very much male-dominated. I wanted to stay in that space, and finding women who had cracked that glass ceiling was far and few in between.
Over time, I had been curating lists of female emcees for years. Luckily in 2020, it has grown. If you want that deep 808 and the ‘I couldn’t give two f***s’ attitude, that’s hard to find.
There are a lot of female emcees coming up. Jucee didn’t have a deal when we started talking to her, and now, she’s with Atlantic Records. And that’s just so amazing.
Who else did you look for when it came to finding female emcees?
We use Queen Key, Tokyo Vanity, Dollface Toni and Mulatto. I think S3nsi Molly is from Texas. But I love her style. I love her flow. She’s very aggressive. She was at this place where not everybody knew her. It’s just about looking at these young women who are on the precipice of breaking through an industry where the barriers are concrete.
It’s because of the quality that’s in hip hop and trap music. It’s hardcore and it’s about struggling. It’s about having all this braggadocio, and for a woman to be in that space and to be taken seriously, she has to embrace all of those qualities.
Did you write some of the music for the show?
I have a few bars here and there. But in episode 2, Lil’ Bad Cuzzin aka me is represented in terms of that female voice. The reason I had to step into the booth was because of the dearth of female voices that are out there.
I knew exactly what I wanted that particular song to be about. I wanted it to be an ode to the community.
I had turned a song that I had started working on previously and just shifted it to something (an anthem) because there are not a lot of anthems out there when it comes to hometown pride. I wanted to turn it back to that past and being proud of where you come from. That’s why I decided I was going to use my voice and represent it for the women.
Once people hear Lil’ Bad Cuzzin, audiences are going to want an album. Is that in the cards?
I’m going to drop an EP right after the show, y’all better get ready for Lil’ Bad Cuzzin she’s coming through. I will try because why not?