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‘P-Valley’ Is A Southern Story Made Even Better By Southern Music

‘P-Valley’ Is A Southern Story Made Even Better By Southern Music

'P-Valley' Is A Southern Story Made Even Better By Southern Music
Photo courtesy of STARZ Entertainment

From Southern rap to blues, P-Valley wouldn’t be what it is without its well-crafted soundtrack.

It’s often understated just how important music is to a television series. Music brings life to a scene and helps create a fictional world that viewers want to connect with and live in. Who will ever forget when The O.C. used Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek” to background Marissa shooting Ryan’s brother? Or when Insecure highlighted the perils of rekindling a relationship with an ex through Mya’s “Case of the Ex“? Or when Atlanta used Stevie Wonder’s “Evil” to soundtrack the end of one of its most memorable   — and terrifying — episodes, “Teddy Perkins“?

The Starz series P-Valley is the latest example of a well-curated soundtrack bringing a TV show to life. Set in the fictional city of Chucalissa in the Mississippi Delta, P-Valley, which wrapped up its first season on Sunday (September 6th), revolves around women working at local strip club The Pynk. Throughout the first season’s eight episodes, the show has had many memorable moments where scenes were made even better by an accompanying song. The end result is a series that celebrates strip club culture and primarily relies on music from the South to help tell its story.

The theme song, “Down in the Valley,” is a testament to that. Co-written by showrunner Katori Hall and rising Memphis rapper Jucee Froot — Memphis rapper Jucee Froot — her song “Eat Itself” has also appeared on Issa Rae’s Insecure — the track adds to the authenticity of the show, the made-for-TV trap beat powering Froot’s Memphis drawl as she boastfully raps: “Down in the valley where the girls get naked / If you throwin’ bands, then you know she gon’ shake it.” That producers chose an up-and-coming rapper like Froot for the show’s theme song highlights how the series has become a platform for introducing lesser-known rappers, particularly female rappers like Froot, Tokyo Vanity, Mulatto, and Doll Face Toni.

Though the series is set in Mississippi, it does an impeccable job at featuring artists from all over the Southern region. The series has featured everyone from Atlanta’s Gorilla Zoe, Lil Scrappy, Ludacris, and Shawty Lo to Memphis’ Three 6 Mafia and Key Glock. However, considering Hall is from Memphis, it’s unsurprising that the show has a soft side for Memphis rap. A notable instance occurs in the show’s first episode, “Perpetratin,” when Playa Fly’s 1998 song “Nobody” serves as the backdrop to a montage of desolate scenery. The moment is meant to emphasize the working-class struggle that many in the city fight daily, the track’s sinister synths and hard drums accompanying the soulful and somber back and forth between Fly and his father, Bill Young, as they declare, “Nobody needs nobody.”

“That’s one of my favorite songs. Even though it’s a rap song, it feels like the blues to me,” Hall said in an interview with the Daily Memphian. “What it’s talking about, the deep loneliness, I really felt like it was a great way to articulate the economic disparity that exists within our community.”

At the center of P-Valley‘s community is The Pynk, the strip club where the series unfolds, and where viewers truly see how the show is what it is through its well-done music selection. The relationship between strip clubs and rap music is everlasting, especially in the South. For years, strip clubs have served as a stomping ground for rappers striving to be hometown — and ultimately, mainstream — stars. Rap music has long proclaimed its love for the ladies that can skillfully climb the pole, and it’s those same ladies who dictate whose songs do and don’t become a hit, the strippers becoming tastemakers for the songs we love. 

The struggle to turn a song into a massive hit by way of the strip club is detailed in local rapper Lil Murda’s storyline. The rapper desperately seeks top stripper Mercedes’ approval to get his song played during her infamous Mercedes Sundays sets. Eventually, Lil Murda’s song “Fallin” finds a home with Miss Mississippi. 

The show delivers on bringing The Pynk to life with its music. When it’s time for the girls to work the floor and get their stacks, the music selection is a relection of that. Q Money’s “Neat,” Tay Money’s “High School,” Jucee Froot’s “Make that Money” — it’s all about getting to the money, and the women of The Pynk have the music necessary to do so. One of the more notable examples of this comes in the series’ third episode, “Higher Ground.” As Mercedes leads Miss Mississippi and another dancer named Gidget  in a gravity-defying routine where they’re balanced on top of each other, Tokyo Vanity’s “Trinity Dance” accurately depicts the scene as she raps: “Three bad bitches doing tricks up on that pole / Better have that money right when we make it to the floor.” 

“I think song choices are a reflection of the culture, they’re a reflection of the time, or a period of time, that the club is trying to celebrate,” Hall said in an interview with Vulture about getting Vanity to create a song for the scene. “For the trinity dance, we wanted to make sure that we were harkening back to a time that a woman’s voice really rocked the club. The style Tokyo Vanity has was a fusion of old-school female MC, peppered with the present and her Southern flow and braggadocio lyrics.”

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Although not as prominent as the trap and crunk music that defines the sound of P-Valley, blues music from contemporary blues artists is also incorporated in the show, highlighting the genre’s significance to the South, specifically the Mississippi Delta. In “Higher Ground,” there is another memorable scene that features stripper Autumn Night as she dances to Valerie June’s “Workin’ Woman Blues.” That June is a Memphis-based musician heavily influenced by the Delta blues — one of the earliest-known styles of blues that originated in the Mississippi Delta — makes the moment that much more notable, highlighting the lineage of Black American music showcased throughout the series. But it’s a track that also highlights the laborious work of being a stripper, serving as a reminder that no matter how rap music videos often glamorize the stripper life, it’s an arduous and demanding job.

June also soundtracks another standout scene that happens in the show’s seventh episode, “Last Call for alcohol.” The scene shows Lil Murda and Uncle Clifford — The Pynk’s owner — on a romantic date as June’s “If And” plays in the background. A slow, blues-folk waltz, the track compliments their romantic date in the woods, resulting in one of the most important and heartfelt moments of the first season. To see two Black queer people reveling in each other and, if only for a moment, not have to conceal their love, makes for a touching scene made even better by June’s soulful croon.

The heart and soul of P-Valley is community but the music is a close second. It makes the show feel authentic to Black people (Southerners in particular), lovers of strip clubs and beautiful women, and fans of rap. The music helps create a city we wish we could visit and experience for ourselves, and brings P-Valley to life in a way that wouldn’t be the same without its well-crafted soundtrack.

Precious Fondren is a Minneapolis raised gemini obsessed with writing about music, race, sex, pop culture, and politics. 

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