Inside Metro Boomin’s Big Move Into Film and the ‘Spider-Verse’ (EXCLUSIVE)

If an endless array of variations, alternatives and opportunities is a foundational concept of the animated superhero series “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” it also seems like one for the career of Metro Boomin. St. Louis native Leland Tyler Wayne’s musical alter ego is not only the producer of the soundtrack for its sequel, “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” but also plays a small role in the film as one of its Spider-people, Metro Spider, and collaborated with Nike on an elaborate, patchwork “Spider-Verse”-themed Air Jordan that sold out almost immediately after he and his siblings modeled for its advertising campaign.

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In just the past few months, he also partnered with Major League Baseball to be the opening-day voice of its 2023 season, starred in a Budweiser Super Bowl commercial, and celebrated the release of “Heroes & Villains (Villains Version),” a remix edition of his second studio album, with a digital comic book and a debut performance at Coachella 2023 assisted by The Weeknd, Young Thug, 21 Savage, Diddy and more performers. This web (excuse the pun) of projects exemplifies the scale of his creative ambition, but even a cursory scan of their results highlights how much effort he puts into each one. After shepherding the sprawling “Across the Spider-Verse” soundtrack to completion, he spent a week on Instagram premiering Spider-person iterations of his collaborators, including Coi Leray, Future, Offset, James Blake and A$AP Rocky; it’s clear he’s not content to sit behind the boards and simply let his indefatigable collection of beats speak for him.

What resonated with you in “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” that made you want to produce the soundtrack to its sequel?

Metro Boomin: Respect to its dedication to the art. It’s widely acclaimed from all walks of life — people really respected it. And that’s how I approach music: I focus on making great stuff rather than just trying to make a commercial success. So it was easy for me to recognize the same thing with this franchise, that, wow, whoever’s behind that really put their heart in the details and just everything into it.

What made Metro the right producer?

Phil Lord: He just got the movie.

Chris Miller: He’s a thoughtful and emotional person and you can tell he thinks about things really deeply. Also, a lot of his music is about superheroes.

Phil Lord: You want the record to reflect what Miles would listen to. Those songs, they give you the opportunity to experience the internality of the characters. It would get you inside these people’s heads, especially a kid.

How did your collaboration begin? Did they specify for which scenes they wanted songs?

Metro Boomin: They would send me packs of scenes. Most of them were halfway finished, but I’d get an idea and just really draw inspiration from those. Then there were early cuts of the full film. I’d watch those, go back to the studio, work on some stuff. Maybe in a couple more months there’d be another cut and then I’d watch that and go back to the studio. But I mean really just everything they did with the film, from the plot to the animation to the comedy, to everything, just really made it easy for me to see what I needed to do. Because they had already set the bar with the film, so I just wanted to see how sonically I could support that as much as I could. I was just inspired by so many colors and all the different animations in the film, so I took a more melodic approach to the whole soundtrack from the beats to the songwriting and singing and everything.

“Sunflower” was such a massive hit on the first album. Was there any personal challenge or intimidation factor about trying to chase that with the James Blake song “Hummingbird”?

Metro Boomin: “Sunflower” was a great record — was it 17 times platinum or something like that, something insane. And things like that don’t happen often, so I didn’t even want to go into it with the mind of how am I going to top “Sunflower”? So more than trying to make a song that’s 20 times platinum, I just wanted to focus on making a great album and a listening experience from top to bottom that you’re just going to want to keep playing. So there might not be a “Sunflower” or a song that’s like 15 or even 10 times platinum or anything like that, but there might be a bunch of songs that people really love and make and integrate as a part of their everyday lives.

Phil Lord: The idea was to replicate the integrity of that track, which is how pretty it is and how musically beautiful it is.

Chris Miller: What’s funny is that I knew that Phil was thinking the exact same thing as I did because [“Hummingbird”] starts with a sample of the song, “Tonight You Belong To Me,” which is an old song from the thirties that was played on the ukulele by Steve Martin in “The Jerk,” a movie that Phil I bonded over in college.

Phil Lord: It’s him and Bernadette Peters on the beach, and it’s so pretty, and it’s about the two of them and they’re singing in beautiful harmony. And this track, it’s a duet and the person he wishes he was singing with isn’t in the room — until she is. It really blooms, which is what we needed for that scene. And it’s the reason we love working with Metro, he’s taking hip-hop to really high levels of musicality and richness that I think is a nice compliment to visually what we’re trying to do with “Spider-Verse” in general — to take it to a level to where it’s art.

Did the studio or the filmmakers gave you any particular direction?

Metro Boomin: They really just let me loose and let me do just what I felt. A lot of times with soundtracks now, the studio just gets a bunch of songs and they might be like, “X, Y, Z, keep this in here,” and give parameters. But they handed it over to me and I was just that filter on what I felt had fit best with the film. They were really supportive, put a lot of my ideas, they had a lot of ideas, and it was really a fun experience and a learning experience.

Phil Lord: He was responding to the movie in this vibey way. Believe it or not, as tightly rigorously written and edited this movie is, it is felt out and so is his music. He’s so open to things dropping into the track and altering how the final song turns out. One of the things he did late in the game which freaked everybody out on the production side, was he asked, “could I just have the whole movie? Because I want the dialogue stem so I could drop it in and it’ll help with the album sequencing. He was really preoccupied with the sequencing of the record and how to make it feel like its own piece. Everybody was like, we can’t possibly, and I was like, if he wants something, send it. A lot of this movie was made by text message, and the soundtrack album is no different. In order to just cut through all the red tape, we would send him clips, like “here’s how we dropped that song in. What do you think?” And he would send us a weird string quartet and be like, what do you think? And we’d be like, “it’s beautiful — can’t wait to see what you do with it.”

How much, if at all, did you work with Daniel Pemberton, who composed the film’s score?

Metro Boomin: Dan is great. I had really locked in on the soundtrack, he was locked in on the score. We would speak at times, and paying attention to the score of the first film, I took in the amazing job he did so the songs and stuff that I’m doing, and especially the ones in the film, complement that style rather than everything feeling all over the place. Because even when you watch the movie, everything’s so cohesive to where the score and the songs blend in a way to where you would not know is this a song or is this just part of the score?

Phil Lord: It dovetailed nicely, it was a good fit from the jump. What he’s interested in is elevating the feelings of one person driving in a car, listening to a song and making how you feel that day into an epic odyssey. He’s always saying, that thing that you feel by yourself in your room, I’m looking for someone to share this with. It’s not unlike Bruce Springsteen will take the feelings of an everyday person and in the way that the track is built and arranged, it’s saying, “this is important.” I think Metro does the same thing, and that’s what Daniel’s trying to do. He’s trying to say, this kid and his family, this is epic — this love is epic.

How much did playing a Spider-person further challenge you on this project?

Metro Boomin: That was fun too. It was another door to open, to peek through. Whether there is some more opportunities to do things like this in the future, it just makes a light bulb go. But it wasn’t difficult to integrate. I was coming by for a screening and Phil and Chris were just like, “come by to the screening an hour early, and we could just run some lines downstairs.”  But they ended up writing these lines for a Metro Spider character, which really blew my mind. And at this point, I’m still not thinking it’s going to land in the movie. So we just read the lines before the screening one morning, and everybody just bust out laughing. But then for them to animate the character and put him in the movie with my dreads and the bandana, it was just so surreal. Especially coming as I’m a lifelong Marvel and Spider-Man fan.

How much this is your work on this soundtrack, and everything around it, indicative of a different or new direction that you want to go in your career in terms of authorship or creativity?

Metro Boomin: I love new challenges. I love new levels. As an artist, you’re always going to want to add stuff on your game. Like Kobe or something, you’re never going to be satisfied with just plateauing or becoming stagnant doing the same thing — okay, you got a nice mid-range game. Next season, I’m going to work on my three point game. Now I’m going to be more of a play maker, get my assists up. Just adding things to your game and just watching the growth along the way. So I loved it. It was something different. I’ve never really had to make an album with, I’m not going to say restraints, but where I couldn’t just do absolutely whatever I wanted. And not to say I didn’t have the freedom creatively to do what I wanted on here, I definitely did. But it did have to live within certain parameters and everything. And on top of that, even just the time thing. Normally I do my albums, and I’ll just go in perfectionist mode. Even with “Heroes & Villains,” I was working on that two and a half years, and I pushed it back six times, because I always knew there was no hard date with the film. From the beginning of this, they knew this movie’s going to be out June 2nd, no matter what. So having to approach an album in the same way was interesting because not having a luxury of just knowing I could just work on this at my own leisure, forced a different type of discipline and focus. And I’m going to approach a lot of my projects in the future that way.

Grooming: Chris Miller: Thea Istenes for Exclusive Artists using MAC Cosmetics; Phil Lord: Blondie for Exclusive Artists using Baxter of CA

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