This Producer Quietly Soundtracked 2018
Few, besides music and film nerds, knew the name Ludwig Göransson until last Sunday, when the Swedish producer began trending after the Grammys.
Göransson took home three awards, his first. He won both Record of the Year and Song of the Year for producing Childish Gambino’s disruptive hit “This Is America” (the first rap Song of the Year) and Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media for creating the Black Panther soundtrack along with Kendrick Lamar. With Donald Glover and Lamar absent from the ceremony, along with most of hip-hop’s upper echelon, Göransson spent more time on-stage than most A-listers. With his long, Woodstock-esque brown hair and huge smile, he cut a memorable and endearing figure.
Göransson came looking for inspiration, and (Ryan) Coogler and (Donald) Glover were who he found. He met Coogler at the University of Southern California shortly after he arrived in America, and got his first break scoring Glover’s Community shortly after.
In addition to our collective realization on Sunday that this unlikely figure was integral to two of the cultural moments that defined 2018, Göransson was knighted as a kind of hip-hop folk hero after he was the only person to speak on-stage about 21 Savage’s absence at the ceremony due to his detention by ICE. While accepting Record of the Year for “This Is America,” which 21 Savage contributed a freestyle to, Göransson thanked him: “We want to thank all the rappers who were featured on this track: 21 Savage, who should be here tonight.”
The producer had no intention of stepping into the role of activist or hero with his simple comment, but he was quickly recognized for highlighting the Grammys’ silence about 21 Savage, seen by many as evidence of the gap between the Academy’s progressive rhetoric, and the reality of who is truly included and valued by the music establishment. Göransson — particularly moved by the rapper’s plight because of his own experiences with the U.S. Immigration system — simply felt wanted to give credit to his collaborator.
He didn’t immigrate from Sweden in his early twenties with the goal of infiltrating the hip-hop world. “My dream was to move over here and collaborate with brilliant artists,” he says, when asked how a white, Swedish immigrant ended up with a resumé full of luminary projects which explicitly explore Black experiences, and to of America’s most renowned Black creatives — Donald Glover and Black Panther director Ryan Coogler — as his closest collaborators.
Göransson came looking for inspiration, and Coogler and Glover were who he found. He met Coogler at the University of Southern California shortly after he arrived in America, and got his first break scoring Glover’s Community shortly after. He’d go on to score Coogler’s Fruitvale Station (a biographical account of Oscar Grant’s murder at the hands of two police officers at an Oakland BART station), Creed I and Creed II, before working on Black Panther score with Kendrick Lamar. Göransson produced all three Childish Gambino albums, receiving a Grammy nomination for 2016’s Awaken My Love!.
He traveled extensively in West Africa, studying and touring with African musicians like Senagal’s Baaba Maal, to help answer the question of what the uncolonized, Afro-futurist techno-paradise of Wakanda would sound like. Fruitvale Station‘s score is laced with sounds of Oakland’s public transit system that Göransson gathered from BART stations and trains.
For Creed, Göransson harvested his beats from fighters pounding speedbags at a local boxing gym. Before he glued together gospel and trap to bring to life “This Is America’s” chilling scenes, his and Glover’s jam sessions inspired Awaken My Love!‘s funky, majestic universe. Next, he’ll live every movie music creator’s dream and give his take on Star Wars for Jon Favreau’s forthcoming space opera TV series The Mandalorian.
Leading up to the Oscars where he’s nominated for Best Original Music Score, PAPER sat down with Göransson to talk industry politics, bridging gaps of experience, and how creating the Black Panthersoundtrack changed his life.
By Jael Goldfinee