This morning, a new Black Panther trailer dropped, lighting up Twitter immediately. The star of the trailer—setting aside Michael B. Jordan for just a second—was its musical choice. Vince Staples’ “BagBak,” the driving piece of snarling dance music from the young California rapper’s Big Fish Theory is an unlikely fit for selling a blockbuster made and distributed by The Walt Disney Company. It’s icy and aggressive, and ends with the refrain “Tell the one percent to suck a dick, because we on now.” The trailer's reworked version of the song, though, featuring excerpts from Gil-Scott Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” and set to Chadwick Boseman ripping the wheels off an SUV, sounds, in a word, awesome.
It’s the second time in about a week that Staples’ acerbic brand of hip-hop has soundtracked an ad for mass-market entertainment. Pacific Rim: Uprising—the sequel to the movie about giant robots fighting interdimensional-traveling aliens that promises to feature more giant robots fighting more interdimensional-traveling aliens and other giant robots—features “War Ready,” a standout from Staples’ recent Prima Donna EP. Again, it feels like an odd choice for commercial song; “War Ready” is sparely produced by British electronic impresario James Blake, and heavily features a processed Andre 3000 sample from a 19-year-old Outkast song. Again, though, in a trailer-ready reinterpretation—this time fusing Staples with Tupac’s legendary “am I wrong cause I wanna get it on 'til I die?” proclamation and a heavy dose of atmospheric synths—it sounds cool as shit.
That’s a hell of a week for a young rapper, and the realization that Staples can be something of a commercial force is, at a glance, surprising. His music, while popular, seems decidedly anti-commercial. He raps about gang life in disconcertingly clear-eyed terms, openly agitates for racial revolution, and selects beats that function as dares: they sound like something no rapper can rap over, until he does it. It’s music that will never make its way to a McDonald’s campaign, and Staples—who spent his weekend flexing his prodigious skill on Twitter by continually taking aim at internet racists—will never be a spokesperson for Target. An action movie, though? He’s perfect for that.
Vince described Big Fish Theory as Afrofuturism. Using it then to soundtrack Black Panther—whose setting of Wakanda is about as pure a distillation of the concept as anything that’s ever made its way into mainstream popular culture—is fitting. Moreover, he’s being used to sell two—maybe the two— blockbusters of next year that feature a black lead. Pacific Rim 2 trades in Charlie Hunnan for John Boyega, and Staples’ music functions as a credibility-builder for the post-racial future the first film depicted.
It’s fun to notice that the exact things things that make Staples an unconventional capitalist, the dead-eyed hostility and scathing social observations, are what help him sell aggressive, futuristic movies. It lends the films some thematic weight, even if the trailers contain none. And (trailer editors: take note) it’s a formula that will keep working; pretty much anything in his catalogue will sound great when paired with giant explosions.