Let The Music Speak: Wyclef Jean And Big Tank Talk Scoring 'The Chi'

Learn how The Chi's composer and music supervisor score the show not only beloved for its storytelling but its musical selection.

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Split image of a man in a white shirt and a man in a black shirt, both seated and looking serious

Fans of the Showtime® Original Series The Chi have seen it all. Love, loss, betrayal, new beginnings, the list goes on. The Lena Waithe scripted series highlights the complexities and nuances of life in the Windy City and it does so by using a diverse musical catalog to accent scenes and moments. 

Whether it be from a beloved musician, a new artist or a song from an album many haven’t heard, The Chi understands that their fans have fallen as equally in love with the characters as they do the music.

To continue the rich history of the show, The Chi enlisted the expertise of Wyclef Jean and Derryck “Big Tank” Thornton as its composer and music supervisor. Complex spoke with the men about how they choose the right music to accentuate a moment, how long it takes to find the perfect song, and why jazz is so vital to the fabric of the show.

With such vast musical knowledge, how do you know where to start looking for the perfect songs for this season?

Big Tank: The Chi is first and foremost about Chicago and the sound of Chicago. Chicago is known for its amazing House music, Stepping Music and Drill. I look for the best in each genre and always have the characters in mind.

Collage of scenes from a TV show or movie featuring different characters in various settings

How do you know when a scene requires the music to complement it versus when the music should say things the character may not have?

Big Tank: The music should tell a story, not just with words but key and tonality are also important. Sometimes, I’ll use Jazz Cue and it may not have any words, yet the sound of the song adds to the emotion of the scene.

Wyclef Jean: The way that I score is, I look at it like life and life is spontaneous. At times, it could be adventurous or sad, anything can happen. So, when I look at a scene, what I usually think about is, what is the music that's in the individual's head in that particular scene? 

Sometimes I feel it’s bland or I feel the scene might need something more. The way that I do it is by going inside of that character’s mind and I try to decipher what that music would sound like in their mind. Sometimes it's the violin, or it's the horns. So, I try to give each character their own instrument and their own tonality.

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There’s a lot of jazz in the “The Aftermath” episode. As a genre, what does jazz communicate that no other genre can?

Big Tank: Jazz can mean mature, elegant, classy, chaotic, calm, relaxing, yet thought-provoking. You can do so many things.

Wyclef Jean: Jazz to me is self-expression. In high school, I was in the jazz band as a jazz major. It was a jazz music teacher who discovered my talents in jazz music. I always identified jazz with self expression.

When choosing music for these scenes, do you also hope to introduce audiences to musicians that may not be on their radar?

Big Tank: One-thousand percent! Show creator Lena [Waithe] and I focus on bringing new talent to the forefront and giving opportunities to as many talented artists as possible.

Two characters from a TV show or film sitting and having a conversation in a visually stylized setting

How long do you have to sit with a scene or episode to understand what musical tone you should take?

Big Tank: Sometimes it may take three or four hours looking for the right song and other times I know exactly where to go. It definitely varies.

Wyclef Jean: You have to make people feel the expression. Sometimes, I spend about half an hour sitting with the scene, listening to just the dialogue, and other times, I watch it silently, focusing on the expressions. This approach helps me with the tonality as well.

In ‘The Aftermath’ episode, Douda and his men are gathered in an empty lounge discussing the shootout. Then music gently enters the scene. What were you musically trying to convey?

Big Tank: It sounds like struggle and pain to me. 

Two people sit on a sofa amidst clothing and food containers, having a conversation

Movies and TV shows have also underscored the power of silence in a scene. Have you ever been asked to add music to a moment and (respectfully) opted out because the scene or moment stood strong enough on its own?

Big Tank: Yes, I definitely have.

Wyclef Jean: I’ve definitely opted out of adding music to a scene because sometimes it’s powerful as it is. I feel that sometimes the expression is a musical tone within itself. 

Woman in conversation, sitting indoors, expressive, facing another person with her back to the camera

Fans of ‘The Chi’ love the show's musical selection is. How did you still give fans what they love while introducing them to new musicians/sounds?

Big Tank: I feel like the characters are so diverse that it allows me the flexibility to use different genres, different styles and different textures to paint the whole canvas of Chicago.

Wyclef Jean: I’m a student of “jazz fusion.” The most interesting part about the word “fusion” is that the innovators and the creators of jazz bring their own culture inside of jazz. That makes jazz music amazing.

The Chi gives fans everything they need in a scripted-series. Drama, suspense, twists and turns and great music. New Episodes of The Chi are now streaming on Paramount+, only with the Paramount+ with Showtime Plan.

Visit paramountplus.com/thechi to get 50% OFF the Paramount+ with SHOWTIME annual plan & watch The Chi for just $5/mo. for 12 mos. Offer ends 7/14. Sub. auto-renew. T&Cs apply.

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