The Samsung E250 and its 10 MB internal storage was the home of a collection of my favorite songs growing up. I took MTV’s Top 20 and Versus programming so seriously that I treated the dedicated microSD card slot like an armored safe tasked to protect the best in alternative pop, soul, and R&B that the 2000s had to offer.
Before the astronomical rise of streaming platforms and music on-demand, one had to press their ear firmly onto the ground and be at the right place at the right time to connect to the right music. I am so proud to say that I was at the right place at the right time when I discovered HBO’s Insecure and witnessed the masterclass in music supervision that they put on for the five seasons of the series.
The show’s emotional ebb and flow were carried on the shoulders of hard-hitting, IDGAF rap and trap but also cushioned by the comfort of smooth, tonal do-you-still-love-me R&B. The range of the music is Grand Canyon wide yet stayed true to the show’s ethnicity, allowing it to connect with the struggles and successes that the show’s creator believed would resonate with the audience. And boy, did it resonate.
My religious allegiance to the show has introduced me to a wealth of artists that I wouldn’t otherwise know. If it weren’t for the show’s devotion to beautiful storytelling with a sensational soundtrack to complement it, there would be very little to rave about, and I would be stuck in the loop of mainstream music programming I have come to dislike.
As the seasons rolled by, the show’s success grew, and so did the platform for artists who possess double the talent but only half the exposure. Issa Rae and her music department’s sharp eye and ear for musical talent have helped me reconnect with my younger self.
Thus, I have been inspired to collect some of my favorite pitch-corrected vocals, catchy rhythms that get my body moving, and double-time hi-hats from the following eight artists featured throughout Insecure.
“Palm Trees”, produced by electronic music maestro Galimatias, is a turn in the tide of GoldLink’s disruptive yet rhythmic flow. Singing about his obsession with an enchanting love interest is on par with the theme of the first season of Insecure.
The characters were plagued by a sense of longing they weren’t finding in their relationships, prompting them to conduct a search party for lost love in the streets.
Moses Sumney’s Mid-City Island version of “Plastic” vibrates into one’s ears with a minimalist sound and cluttered gospel of self-acceptance. His falsetto is mesmerizing and haunting, with the harmonies blowing like a soft, reassuring wind in the midst of the emotional chaos the show’s characters are subjected to.
Nick Hakim’s ability to huff and puff clouds off intimacy into his music through soulful piano riffs is the most incredible feature of his song “Needy Bees”. His lyrics portray him as a student of sensuality, selflessness, and satisfaction, allowing himself to drift to wherever the waves of love throw him.
There was a vortex of right-love-wrong-person that the characters were caught in halfway through the series, and Needy Bees gave a sneak peek into the mindset of the characters in a way all five senses could understand.
The funk-disco guitar riff on Ravyn Lenae’s “Sticky” is groovy and fun, a reminder that the characters are too young and too old for the situations in which they find themselves. “Sticky” celebrates the freedom of casual relationships and condemns the foolishness they are handled. We all know at least one person will catch feelings. Make sure that it’s not you because things can get sticky.
The energy and bravery with which Little Simz delivers Boss are inspiring and uplifting. The obnoxious bass and sharp rimshot mimic the characters’ turbulent professional lives, and “Boss” adds a taking-matters-into-my-own-hands swag into the show’s pace.
Besides fighting with the world, the characters are at war with themselves, and Mereba’s “Sandstorm” highlights that part of the story. Mereba’s repetitive beat in the chorus and relatable lyrics are profoundly introspective and appear when the characters need to see themselves as the possible author of their problems.
The endearing sentiments and tasteful tambourine in Kirby’s “Koolaid” are an ode to Insecure’s bottom line. The characters in the show all bring a magical touch into the situations they are in, and it is their responsibility to keep things sweet. The best relationships are hard work, and the people involved need to keep stirring so that the juice can keep flowing.
Ego Ella May’s words have always been redemptive and honest, and it’s no different in “Give A Little”. Throughout the seasons, the characters had caused tensions to last longer than they should have when all they needed was to show a little vulnerability to get some in return.
May does the song justice with her tender voice and soulful yet funky beat that has you nodding to her suggestion that you give a little wherever you are and with whoever you are with.
The double-time hi-hats and sampling in Monte Booker’s “Interstellar” is pleasantly otherworldly and fresh, a great way to wrap up the show as the characters move on into the next phase of their lives. The refrain is spacey, an accurate representation of the character’s state of mind as they embark on their new journeys as evolved people.
The attention to detail is the most magnificent aspect of the music supervision of this show. The story was not just seen, but it was also heard and is a masterful achievement all on its own.
Words by Nonjabulo ‘Ntombi-Yensimbi’ Malinga // Follow her on Instagram