Jonah Hill explains how he got music from legends like Morrissey and A Tribe Called Quest in his directorial debut, 'Mid90s'

Tobin Yelland/A24Jonah Hill on the set of ‘Mid90s.’
  • “Mid90s” is seeped in all things from the 1990s, from the way it’s shot to the way the kids talk and the clothes they wear.
  • But the soundtrack is the standout, as Hill got songs from the biggest names of the decade.
  • Hill told Business Insider the process to get the memorable songs – and it wasn’t from writing a big check.

Jonah Hill doesn’t just bring you back into the 1990s with the way he shot and wrote “Mid90s.” He also brings you back with the music he hand-picked.

Hill’s directorial debut, which expands across the country on Friday, explores the life of 13-year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) as he finds acceptance in the world by befriending a group of skateboarders. And through that journey Hill sprinkles needle drops from some of the best musicians of the decade – Nirvana, A Tribe Called Quest, and Wu-Tang Clan, to name a few.

But it wasn’t as easy as Hill writing a big check to get the songs he wanted. He basically cold called or wrote letters to the artists and convinced them to be involved.

“We didn’t have a big music budget,” Hill told Business Insider. “I music supervised the movie, so every song in the movie, that song was written in specifically for that scene. And we got every song.”

Whether it’s Stevie sneaking into his older brother’s room and staring in awe at the posters of musicians on the wall, or a song playing in the background in a scene at a restaurant, Hill crafts a world through the music that is a mixture of nostalgia and authenticity (matched by the movie’s score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross). And to get what he wanted, Hill would even go beyond letters and phone calls.

“I just showed people the film and really told them emotionally what it means to have that song at that moment in the movie,” Hill said.

And that included going to the most elusive in the business, like Morrissey and Herbie Hancock.

“Morrissey was the first to say yes – I figured he would be the hardest, and he was lovely,” Hill said. “Once I got Morrissey and Q-Tip, then I got Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to score it, people were aware that it was something of quality because I was lucky enough to get those cosigns. Then we went from there.”

So which, out of these legends, was the hardest to get an ok from?

“The hardest, by far, was Herbie Hancock,” Hill said. “He doesn’t licence his music for films, and I wrote him a letter about what that meant to me. He was so cool to give us that.”

“Mid90s” is currently playing in theatres.

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