Even in its off-season, Succession has a surprise under its cashmere statement sleeve: HBO and WaterTower Music today released an official version of Kendall Roy’s rap opus “L to the OG.” No more rapping along to the grainy YouTube videos of the track, no more logging on to HBO Go to experience a little bit of ultrawealthy Schadenfreude.
Kendall’s rap was Succession at its best: utterly embarrassing, but totally hilarious. The show’s central conflict is about how bad this family is at caring for (or about) one another, and here comes Kendall, No. 1 boy, to rap an ode to his father. “Yo, bitches be catty, but the king’s my daddy,” he rapped. “Rock all the haters while we go roll a ’rati / Squiggle on the decks, Kenny on the rhyme / And Logan big ballin’ on Hamptons time.”
Jeremy Strong and Nicholas Britell (a.k.a. DJ Squiggle) spoke with Vulture about shooting the song and releasing the single, which runs longer than it did in the episode. “It’s actually the official studio version,” Britell says. “For the audience, we wanted to make sure that it’s the best listening experience.”
Strong first learned about the rap during a table read in Glasgow, and was hesitant to take it on. Succession’s pilot opened with his character in the back seat of a town car listening to the Beastie Boys, but a rap for Logan about Logan was a different order. “We got to this tribute to my father. Kendall says something like, ‘Kick it MC!’ And then Kendall does a rap. I think there was one lyric that Jesse [Armstrong, Succession’s creator and showrunner] had written that felt like a bad rap attempt,” he says.
Armstrong promised to have Britell make a beat, and asked Strong to watch a video of an actual billionaire’s spawn try his hand at rapping. “We watched this Instagram video of Mikey Hess, a billionaire oil heir, who celebrated his 40th birthday by rapping onstage with Nelly. It’s quite committed and good. He’s doing it with conviction,” Strong says. “It clicked for me when I saw that. And then later that night, I was at the hotel in Glasgow and I got a text from Nick saying, like, ‘Hey, man, talk to me,’ and he had these beats.”
The beats were Britell’s from college. “When I first learned about [the rap], they told me about the scene and I was trying to figure it out: Okay, if Kendall is going to be making this performance presentation, to his father, what would he make? My first thought was, What was the music that Kendall would’ve been listening to in college?” Britell decided Kendall would prefer old-school hip-hop, and went through his own archives to find something that sounded appropriate. He landed on a remix of a Bach prelude, and he played it for Strong over the phone. “Nick said, ‘I’m going to do [the rap] for you if you promise never to share this recording with anyone.’ He did the rap for me! It was, I would say, a small turning point in my life,” Strong says, laughing. “No, I mean it was immediately clear that he had composed something so great that I had to go walk the plank for it, no matter what.” (Strong promises that he still has the recording; Britell adds that no one will ever hear it.)
Strong didn’t want his TV family to hear the rap before they shot it for real. He practiced in private, and came up with a melody for the chorus. I ask him how many times he rehearsed and how many times he imagines Kendall would have. “I don’t know if it was apocryphal or not, but I heard once that Bob Dylan would sing a song like 10,000 times before he sang it in a way that seemed completely fresh. I’m definitely in that almost obsessive preparation school of needing to completely break something in,” he says. “I actually think Kendall maybe would have done the same. I think he would have taken it really seriously. I guess in some way that’s something I share with the character: Things don’t just come easily. You have to really work at them.”
The rap was Kendall’s gift to his father after all, the man who’s his biggest supporter but also his greatest foe. “Logan acts as this sort of kryptonite for me where I am just scrambled by being close to him. In my autonomous moments, whatever power I might have or self-sufficiency gets really undermined and eroded by him,” Strong says of his character. “Times where I can feel sure of myself and confident and like I am my own man and have something to offer are really important. This felt like one of those moments.”
This is the Roy family, though, so to sell the rap it needed the appropriate accessories. “I asked for these hats to get made, and then I was like, Well, surely I need a jersey of some kind … I had some ideas about ‘L OG’ on a baseball or a basketball jersey,” Strong says. Succession’s costume designer had options made in New York and sent overseas. The result — the scene, the song, the outfit — is chaotic bliss.
“There’s a duality at the heart of the show, which is something that I think about all the time with regards to the music,” Britell says. “The show doesn’t just live in one emotional or conceptual universe. It has a seriousness and a gravitas, but also it completely leans into its absurdity at times. The first thing Jesse said to me about this idea for a rap track was that it has to be both cringeworthy and really well executed.”
Is this the last we’re hearing from Kendall Roy on the mic or DJ Squiggle on the decks, I wonder? “Speaking for Kendall,” Strong begins, “he’s fully ready to go back into the studio and record a solo album with Nick, if the viewers demand it.”