Succession fans have begged for a rap remix of the show’s opening theme basically since it premiered last summer. Today, HBO released the full, official remix by Pusha T and composer Nicholas Britell, ahead of the second season finale. Hallelujah!
The bombastic classical–hip-hop hybrid gets a remix from a maestro: On “Puppets (Succession Remix),” Push raps about the demons chasing the blithely backbiting Roy family. The song has already been remixed by fans, memed, and even turned into a ringtone, but Britell knew exactly who he wanted to make the remix for the show itself: “There was only one person on the list of people to reach out to. Of course it had to be Pusha. There was no backup, there was no plan B,” Britell says one morning in his Upper West Side studio, before pressing play on the remix and grinning. “Pusha’s voice is like a missile!”
Pusha T first heard about Succession from his manager, who said the rapper reminded him of Logan Roy. (When I ask him about this comparison, he demurs: “I mean, I’m a little bit [like him].”) He happened to meet Britell in Los Angeles, at a Pharrell recording session. Pusha says he caught up on Succession’s first season and then Britell pitched him the remix. “We talked about the connection to power and its dynamic, issues writ large: struggle, pain, all of the things we could deal with,” Britell says. Then Pusha went into the studio: “[Nick] gave me this track, and I said all right. I said, ‘So I’mma go back, and I’m gonna listen to it, and I’mma just come up with some things.’”
Britell was happy with his first pass, Pusha says, but someone else at HBO felt the lyrics gave away too many plot details from season two, which hadn’t aired yet. “I was like, ‘How, I didn’t even see it?!’” he laughs. “So I tweaked some things because the lines were a bit too detailed. I think [Nick] didn’t want to ask me to redo anything. Ordinarily, I probably wouldn’t have. But, I mean, the show is dope.”
The result is exactly what you’d want from Pusha T rapping over a track as good as the Succession theme. For the remix, Britell made the sound bigger and bolder with more bass and hi-hat — “The bass probably shouldn’t be that big, it’s too big for itself,” Britell says — and adding a choral arrangement and a drop divine enough to bring a tear to mine eye. Pusha doesn’t rap about the Roy family specifically, but about the show’s themes: family and money, but also avarice, betrayal, and loving someone as you’re sabotaging them. The title is “Puppets,” but it’s as much about the person pulling the strings. “It’s a free fall when I leave y’all,” Pusha snaps on the remix, perhaps showing his affinity for Logan. (For the record, Push says he thinks Roman is the one to take over the company.)
“The greed, the resentment, the idea anybody is basically disposable — that’s a gangsta movie type of quality. On Succession, it’s involving family, it’s like, Whoa! It’s a bit more shocking,” Pusha says. “And so that’s what made the writing process fun, because I could use all of the street, gangster rap nuances and qualities and energy and incorporate it into the theme of the music. It was really just a dope exercise, honestly.”
It also helped that Britell, who previously composed Moonlight’s chopped and screwed score, is a big hip-hop head. For Kendall’s “L to the O G” rap at Logan’s plaque dedication in “Dundee,” the show used a beat Britell produced years ago, with a melodic motif that itself is a variation on a Bach C-minor prelude. “My love of hip-hop, that’s woven into the whole show. To be more overt with it is great. The fun of hip-hop is breaking shit apart and seeing what you can do with it. The remix felt like an opportunity to do that, especially for fans of the show who’ve been wanting — and even making — this.”