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Rhythm + Flow introduces a new formula for Netflix in the realm of music competitions. The series places Cardi B, Chance the Rapper, and T.I. in judges’ chairs, acting as both mentors and critics while deciding the fates of hopeful rappers looking for a shot at stardom.

When viewers watch the reality show, they follow the journeys of dozens of young people pursuing their dreams in music. Every scene counts. Peel back the layers in Rhythm + Flow, and you’ll notice that these scenes are scored with all the right notes so you feel the tension, gravity, and overall mood of what you see.

Who’s responsible for that? Adam Malka, Russell Howard, and David Lasman are co-founders of Signature Tracks, the company behind the soundscapes you hear on Rhythm + Flow and a bevy of America’s reigning reality TV shows.

They recently chatted with The Cheat Sheet to discuss how they used their talents to craft the show’s score.

Signature Tracks founders from L to R: Russell Howard, Adam Malka and David Lasman
Signature Tracks founders from L to R: Russell Howard, Adam Malka and David Lasman | Credit: Adam Amengual

How the mission of Signature Tracks helps set the tone for ‘Rhythm + Flow

Malka explains that the team had to match the executive producers’ creative vision for the series by infusing the score with an authentic urban/pop sound. To do that, they had to tap into what’s current not only for the times, but for different regions.

With the exception of the beats used for individual artists’ songs, Signature Tracks composed the music for the entire show. They cooked everything up from scratch, and these sounds help form the backdrop for what you see, hear, and feel.

To get the flavor right, they also called in reinforcements. Mark Kragen, whose credits include Chris Brown’s “Loyal” and Sean Kingston’s “Ayo,” was brought on board. Also in the mix was Grammy-winning producer Dirty Rice, who worked on music for rap artist Lecrae.

Each of the first few episodes of Rhythm + Flow introduces contestants who came to audition in four major cities: Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, and Chicago. To help tell their backstories, Signature Tracks paid special attention to capture the musical vibe and swag of each locale.

If viewers listen closely, they’ll hear it. The carefully composed West Coast style hip-hop beats in L.A., the unmistakable boom-bap of New York drums (with a modern twist), and the synth and drums that are unique to Southern trap music pepper the background while these aspiring rappers—and the judges—move through each episode.

The musical score is about feelings too

One thing that’s echoed by Rhythm + Flow’s showrunners, judges, contestants, and Signature Tracks is the term “authenticity.” That can’t be faked, but it can certainly be felt, and that’s in the all the music. 

When asked about which styles were selected for the series’ musical palette, Malka stated they had to “utilize sounds that embody emotions” and also “add a fresh element to the production.” What’s key is that the sounds have an emotional aspect that underscore the scenes.  

Think about the chords heard in Jaws that trigger your sense of doom, or a few notes played from the Knight Rider theme song that let you know Michael and K.I.T.T. were about to get into something. It’s the same principle.

Malka shared that they wanted to give the show “a cinematic feel with hip-hop beats and grittiness, and an emotional feel because everything is tied to these contestants’ dreams.”

You’ll see examples of that when Nipsey Hussle talks about how music helps fans buy into the story. You’ll hear it when Signature Tracks’ compositions play during moments such as when Inglewood IV speaks on how winning this competition will change his life, when Old Man Saxon introduces himself, and as each competitor feels the victory of being granted the chance to move to the next round.

It’s the reflective moods, the triumphs, the anxieties, and the stakes that you hear in the sounds that accompany each person’s story.

Creating the right sound isn’t always easy

To the untrained listener, you might take sound nuances for granted, but Signature Tracks worked hard to make sure it hits the audience.

Both Lasman and Malka expressed that there were several challenges when it came to adding music to scenes where each rapper was either freestyling or a group was in a cypher. They had to catch and match the beat with each person, and since each one has their own flow and cadence, their composers were tasked with figuring out the best way to do that without distorting the end product.

Howard, the company’s head composer, broke down some of the technical aspects of working on a project like this. Showrunners wanted a modern sound, and Signature Tracks found the music to have a slower pace—something that’s not typical for this setting. But it works.

He added that the team had to find a way to use a mix of “heavy 808s, hi hats, drums, and filtered synths” to get the perfect blend for Rhythm + Flow’s essence.

But along with the challenge comes the reward. Lasman shared that doing this work, “You can easily find a pattern where everything sounds the same, and it’s tempting to go the easy route but it never goes well. The ‘wow’ factor comes from work ethic and it comes on its own.”

Signature Tracks sets the tempo for some of your favorite reality shows

While Rhythm + Flow is just starting to gain its fan base, there are other reality shows that have already been touched by Signature Tracks’ musical know-how. They’ve been doing this for years, folks.

They have a number of TV and film projects on the burner, but are also the ones behind the scores and themes for famous series that include: Keeping Up With the Kardashians, The Bachelor, Married to Medicine (Atlanta, and L.A.), Love & Hip Hop (all cities), The Real Housewives (Atlanta and New York), Below Deck: Mediterranean, and T.I. & Tiny: The Family Hustle.

Keep up with the musical score by watching Rhythm + Flow each Wednesday on Netflix.