Kendall (Jeremy Strong) credited his boy, Squiggle, with cooking up the beat that underscored his inscrutable, infectious rap in Succession’s “Dundee,” but, surprise surprise, it was actually composer Nicholas Britell, the man behind the show’s springy, flexible theme song. In a new interview with TV Guide, Britell reveals it’s a “reinterpretation” of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Prelude In C Minor” that he first made back in college.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Britell goes on to remind fans that the series opens with Kendall rapping the Beastie Boys’ “An Open Letter to NYC,” and says that he and creator Jesse Armstrong decided the character’s favorite era to be the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, when Kendall would’ve 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.”
The thing is, it wouldn’t have worked if it also wasn’t, you know, actually kinda good. It’s the same thing that makes the church services work in another HBO show, The Righteous Gemstones. The spectacle wouldn’t work nearly as well if the worship band didn’t make really good, if decidedly cheesy, music. Kendall’s rap is embarrassing because, well, he’s Kendall, and he’s rapping; but it’s also got a chorus—“L to the O-G”—that’s undeniably catchy. The lyrics, too, are filled with dumb shit about “handmade suits” and expensive wine, but it’s also tailored to the characters, with Kendall specifically referencing his own troubles: “Don’t get it twisted, I’ve been through hell, but since I stan dad, I’m alive and well.” Alive, yes. Well? We all saw your little strolls to the roof, buddy.
“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,” Britell continued. “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.”
And the humor is most certainly there, not just in the rap but in the reactions to it as well. Logan (Brian Cox) sits stone-faced, Roman (Kieran Culkin) sinks in his chair, and Greg (Nicholas Braun) couldn’t possibly be more excited. Braun even commented on the rap in a recent Vulture interview. “I think Greg supported Kendall’s expression of himself. Greg was just cheering him on,” he said. “They’re like roommates. They live in the same building, and I think Kendall was going over his rap with Greg ahead of the ceremony. So it wasn’t a surprise to Greg. He might’ve even known some of the lyrics, and he was pretty psyched about how it was received.”
This Friday, the show’s theme will receive its most high-profile reinterpretation yet when Pusha T throws some bars over it. Listen to a preview of that here, and bide the time until its release by revisiting the rap below.