Ali Shaheed Muhammad Credit: Lam Thuy Vo

Over the past five years, Adrian Younge has become an in-demand producer within veteran hip-hop circles; he’s knocked out tracks with the likes of Ghostface Killah (2013’s Twelve Reasons to Die) and Souls of Mischief (2014’s There Is Only Now), and he’s knocked out tracks with Common, Jay-Z, and Kendrick Lamar. His most important collaborator, though, has been Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest, and this year the pair released a self-titled album as the Midnight Hour (via Younge’s label, Linear Labs). They started the project in 2013 but had to table it after being hired to create the score for the short-lived Netflix series Luke Cage, a program based on the Marvel comic of the same name in which music plays a central role—a fictional nightclub called Harlem’s Paradise provides a key backdrop. Younge and Muhammad’s involvement in the show wound up having a significant effect on The Midnight Hour, beyond just delaying its release. “It pushed us and made us better musicians,” Younge said of Luke Cage in a June Billboard interview. That experience also helped make The Midnight Hour feel detached from any specific time period. The sprawling, 20-track album is an orchestral trip through pop music, splicing together soul, hip-hop, jazz, and funk, but the producers have erased the lines between the styles while highlighting their roots—it’s evident that the drum grove that opens “Dans un Moment D’errance” (played by Questlove) comes from the world of hip-hop while the flamboyant trumpet lines by Keyon Harrold come from jazz. The end result comes out smooth, as if this distinctive bricolage couldn’t have turned out any other way. Younge and Muhammad assembled a small army of collaborators for the project, including CeeLo Green, Raphael Saadiq, and Digable Planets’ Ladybug Mecca—and they got the OK from Luther Vandross’s estate to reimagine his 1986 song “So Amazing” with his original vocals intact. One contributor whose appearance piqued my interest is standout young Chicago soul singer Eryn Allen Kane, whose gravelly vocals on “Love Is Free” bring some much-needed grit to a thoroughly polished project   v