Artists: G-Unit, Olivia, Nate Dogg
Standouts: "Window Shopper," "Best Friend," "Hustler's Ambition"
There are very few soundtracks that actually compile a snapshot or summarization of a movie and of the city it’s set in on one tap. The soundtrack for Get Rich or Die Tryin’, however, did just that.
50 Cent’s lead single, “Hustler’s Ambition,” is a sonic illustration of the movie’s message about the harsh reality of growing up in the streets and hustling to essentially stay alive. The next single, “Window Shopper,” is also a memorable track from the album.
While it captured that rags to riches idea of yearning for the finer things in life, it also commemorated a slice of hip-hop history. In the track, 50 dubbed Ja Rule, Jadakiss, Nas, and Fat Joe “window shoppers,” due to the fact that he was beefing with all of them at that time.
- Jessica McKinney
'Black Caesar' (1973)
Artists: James Brown, Jan Hammer, Fred WesleyStandouts: "Down and Out In New York City," "Mama's Dead" "The Boss"
The blaxploitation take on Little Caesar had its shaky points, but its underrated soundtrack has certainly stood the test of time. At the time of its release, James Brown’s dive into scoring films wasn’t met with much praise (with the exception of “The Boss”). But as time goes by, the horns blow harder, songs like “Mama Feelgood” hit different and Brown’s work with jazz legend Fred Wesley is appreciated just a bit more.
Its opener, “Down and Out In New York City,” is a fitting ode to the gritty streets of ‘70s Harlem while “Mama’s Dead” touches the heartstrings as James belts out sweet memories on behalf of Fred Williamson’s Tommy Gibbs character.
With Brown’s music being some of the most sampled chords in hip-hop, a relistening of “The Boss” feels fresh and worthy of a big playback...if you know what we mean. The track has been sampled by the likes of Kendrick Lamar (“Hol’ Up”), Nas (“Get Down”) and Ice T (You Played Yourself).
If you’re ever feeling the need to study blaxploitation films from a music perspective, start with this album first.
'Russell Simmons Presents The Show: The Soundtrack' (1995)
Artists: Onyx, Slick Rick, 2Pac, The Notorious B.I.G., Method Man & Redman, Snoop DoggStandouts: “My Block,” “Everyday It Rains” “How High”
Brian Robbins, the producer behind Coach Carter and Good Burger, documented hip-hop’s impact told by some of its most revered artists through live show footage and backstage interviews in The Show. The soundtrack is a compilation of Def Jam’s hardest hitting artists and it slaps just as much as it did in 1995.
Distributed by Def Jam Aug. 15, The Show Soundtrack is cohesive to the documentary, sprinkling short audio clips of interviews from Method Man, Slick Rick, Dr. Dre, Treach, Snoop Dogg, Ecstasy and Kid Creole throughout the 27-track album. It was No. 1 on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums for basically the whole month of September 1995 and went platinum the next month with 1 million units sold.
The movie itself did numbers too, grossing $1,482,892 opening weekend and a modest $2,702,578 during its theatrical run. The Show is a must-listen for lovers of hip-hop and the culture that comes with it.
- Sierra Brown
Artist: Issac HayesStandouts: "Theme From Shaft," "Shaft Strikes Again"
Name another soundtrack that’s primarily made up of instrumentals but still managed to score three Grammy Awards and an Academy Award for “Best Song.” Head’s up: You can’t. Isaac Hayes was the sole composer behind the music for the 1971 film, Shaft, and it’s safe to say he bodied it.
As soon as the first track, “Theme From Shaft,” plays it’s easy to picture the main character of the film, John Shaft on the prowl with his signature afro picked to a tee, hunting down those who were stupid enough to cross him. With the double album, Hayes told the story of Shaft from beginning to end and he certainly set the standard for future soundtracks ahead.
-Beatriz da Costa
'Boomerang: Original Soundtrack' (1992)
Artists: Babyface, Toni Braxton, Aaron Hall, Boyz II MenStandouts: "Give U My Heart," "End of The Road," 7 Day Weekend," “I’d Die Without You”
There’s a certain rich irony to Eddie Murphy’s most criminally underrated (and blackest) film unleashing a then record-breaking pop ballad for the ages.
It’s a testament to production duo L.A. Reid and Babyface that Boyz II Men’s monstrous 13 week chart-topper “End of the Road” wasn’t even their best work on a soundtrack that featured everything from Toni Braxton’s alluring introduction (“Love Shoulda Brought You Home”) and a gritty soul man showdown between New Jack Swing’s Nasty Man Aaron Hall and Uncle Charlie Wilson (“It’s Gonna Be Alright”) to A Tribe Called Quest’s sneaky club burner “Hot Sex.”
But it’s safe to say that with the overabundance of star power here the last thing anyone would expect is for psychedelic rap duo P.M. Dawn to boast perhaps the strongest cut with their heartbreaking slow jam “I’d Die Without You.” “Is it my turn to be the one to cry?/Isn't it amazing how some things completely turn around?” weeps the late Prince B., who before this startling turn was destined to be remembered getting thrown off the stage by Boogie Down Productions’ Blastmaster KRS-One. Stunning stuff.
'He Got Game' (1998)
Artists: Public Enemy, KRS OneStandouts: "He Got Game," "Unstoppable"
By 1998, Spike Lee had proven himself as a veteran director. For his Ray Allen-starred film, He Got Game, it only seemed right Spike tapped the tenured tandem, Public Enemy, to curate the movie’s soundtrack.
Led by the movie’s title track, this album was the exact anatomy of what the current of hip-hop visualize when they think of the late-90s. The He Got Game soundtrack embodied the concept of “hoodie rap” with songs like “Is Your God A Dog” contrasting the bling-bling era it was a part of.
This was a refreshing concept that correlated with the ruggedness of street-hoops. The project also solidified the sustainability of PE, giving the Strong Island staples a sure seat on rap's Mt. Olympus. Despite a lack of commercial success, like everything associated with the movie (Jordan 13s included), the project is considered a cult classic.
Paired with its devoted following, it also gained critical acclaim which was backed with how well the 21-year-old soundtrack has aged.
- Xavier Hamilton
'Hustle & Flow: Music From and Inspired by the Motion Picture' (2008)
Artists: Three 6 Mafia, T.I., 8Ball & MJG, E-40Standouts: "It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp," "I'm A King," "Bad Bi**h (Remix)"
It’s 2005, and Dem Franchize Boyz’s “I Think They Like Me” is probably blasting from a local radio station, or on 106 & Park. The era of southern dance rap has emerged, and a new movie about a pimp rap star (Terrence Howard) named Hustle & Flow has debuted. Just like what’s on the air, its soundtrack does this movement major justice.
Young City’s “Lil Daddy” reigns supreme, even Diddy gets a business venture out of his Bad Boy South imprint. And Juvenile probably got you to back that thang up on the edge of your movie seat with “Booty Language.” Amid the rear end anthems, Miami rap princess Trina makes a cameo and lets her presence be known on “Bad Bi**h.” All of this is befitting for DJay’s schemes and Memphis background as he hustles and flows his way to the top of the food chain. Candied yams and collard greens included.
To top it off, there's the Oscar-winning "It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp," by Three Six Mafia that brings it all together. The soundtrack is probably the most southern-fried collection of music for a film, but over a decade later, it tastes better than ever.
- Richy Rosario
'Shark Tale' (2004)
Artists: Justin Timberlake, Timbaland, Christina Aguilera, Will Smith, India.Arie,Standouts: “Got to Be Real,” “Can’t Wait,” “Get It Together”Shark Tale isn’t your average animated children's movie, so it couldn’t have an average soundtrack to accompany it. Justin Timberlake, Missy Elliot and Will Smith, who also stars in the film, are just a few of the artists that gave the soundtrack that “pizz-zazz,” that “wow factor,” that perfectly matched with the film itself (even if it got shoddy reviews).
When Mary J. Blige’s “Got to Be Real” plays in the film while Oscar lies his way to the top, it’s easy to forget that he lied because the song is just that bomb and it’ll have you moving and grooving just like he is.
'Above the Rim – The Soundtrack' (1994)
Artists: SWV, Nate Dogg, Aaron HallStandouts: "Anything," "Regulate," "Dogg Pound For Life"
During the seemingly unstoppable run of Death Row Records from 1992 to 1996, the controversial label’s most eyebrow-raising triumph was its sucker punch of a soundtrack for the 1994 street basketball film Above The Rim.
More of a genre-jumping compilation album than a streamlined scene-inspired work, the Dr. Dre orchestrated project shocked the music industry when it shipped two million copies and topped the Billboard R&B charts for an astounding 10 weeks. A huge part of its success was due to a savvy injection of rhythm and blues lead by the SWV workout “Anything,” featuring the Wu-Tang Clan’s Method Man, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and U-God.
Even the “gangsta rap” on Above The Rim stays soulfully in the pocket on the compilation’s biggest hit–Warren G and Nate Dogg’s ubiquitous “Regulate.” Seriously, who knew that an epic ‘hood tale about escaping a violent carjacking would become one of the biggest pop hits of that summer with its easy-listening sample from Michael McDonald’s perfect 1982 hit “I Keep Forgettin’”?
Somehow it works as does the Lady of Rage’s supreme lyrical beat down “Afro Puffs” and 2Pac’s surprisingly upbeat, mournful dead homie tribute “Pour Out a Little Liquor.” The dizzyingly diverse palette continues with Al B. Sure!’s confident Al Green remake “Still In Love With You.” But when Death Row’s The Dogg Pound and label superstar Snoop Dogg set it off with “Dogg Pound 4 Life,” it’s as if the infamous boss himself, Suge Knight, wanted to remind listeners that there’s nothing soft about the G’d-up West Coast crew.
'American Gangster' Jay-Z (2007)
Artists: Nas, Beanie Sigel, Pharrell WilliamsStandouts: "I Know," "Blue Magic"
There was a lot riding on Jay-Z’s tenth studio release American Gangster, a thematic concept album directly inspired by Denzel Washington’s two-fisted biographical film on Harlem dope king Frank Lucas.
For starters, Marcy Project’s native son was experiencing the worst reviews of his career following his tepid, uninspired 2006 set Kingdom Come. So American Gangster was deemed a “comeback” of sorts for Jay, who tapped into his own well-documented past as a Brooklyn street hustler.
From the outset, a revitalized Hov goes straight for the jugular on the Neptunes scored “Blue Magic,” a potent nod to the dangerous drug featured in the film. On the celebratory “Roc Boys (And the Winner Is)…” Jay coyly announces, “First of all I want to thank my connect/The most important person with all due respect,” over horn-blaring production from Sean “Diddy” Combs’ Hitmen collective, who turn in some of their most urgent work since the late ‘90s. In fact, Jay-Z’s and the Hitmen’s chemistry is undeniable.
“Pray” paints a glorious cinematic backdrop; “American Dreamin’” channels the trouble man greatness of Marvin Gaye; and “No Hook” mashes with unbridled swagger. Then there’s steady beat man Just Blaze, who pulls his own weight with the emcee-friendly “Ignorant Sh*t” (featuring a hungry Beanie Sigel), an Isley Brothers’ propelled heater that became the go-to rhyme instrumental of that winter.
'The Nutty Professor: Soundtrack' (1996)
Artists: Jay-Z, LL Cool J, Foxy Brown, MonicaStandouts: "Ain't No Ni**a," "Touch Me, Tease Me"
Who can forget Eddie Murphy’s Jekyll and Hyde adventures, and the Klump family on 1996’s The Nutty Professor? Murphy’s malleable ability to transform from Sherman, an awkward gentle giant, to the vicious Buddy Love is stellar.
The dichotomy of both characters: soft and hard, rough and gentle—also translates into the film’s soundtrack. It’s R&B and hip-hop infused catalog created within a beacon of some of the 90’s new and burgeoning artists, (see: Jay-Z and Foxy Brown’s “Ain’t No Ni**a” from Reasonable Doubt) placed a spotlight on what was hot in the streets at the time, and the combination of the coveted nostalgic duets of the '90s.
Like Case’s hit single featuring Mary J. Blige and Foxy Brown, “Touch Me Tease Me,” and Monica’s “Ain’t Nobody” with Naughty By Nature. There’s also the befitting “I Like” by Montell Jordan and Slick Rick. Because, really, we all know all along, Sherman was dying to tell Carla Purty (Jada Pinkett Smith): “Baby, let me say what's on my mind/Take a little time to express myself, honey, I think you're fly/Now I don't have no problem sayin what I like/I'd like to spend some time with you startin with tonight a-na-la.”
'Suicide Squad: The Album' (2016)
Artists: Kehlani, G-Eazy, Kevin Gates Standouts: "Gangsta," "You Don't Own Me"
The soundtrack for the critical fiasco Suicide Squad could certainly have been seen as a musical hodgepodge itself, as there are a plethora of different genres, song covers and eras heard throughout the album’s 50 minutes. However, the compilation was pleasant and a welcome surprise that helped us sit through the cringe-worthy cinematic effort.
Don’t tell us you weren’t toe-tapping to the revamped version of the '60s classic “You Don’t Own Me” by G-Eazy and Lil Yachty collaborator Grace. Or how about when Eminem’s “Without Me” began blaring through the speakers as the crew of anti-heroes received their new threads and weapons? Thanks to additional appearances from Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, Wiz Khalifa, Logic, Kehlani, Action Bronson and Kevin Gates, it’s safe to say that there were a decent amount of bops to offset the DC Entertainment flop.
- J'na Jefferson
'Belly Soundtrack' (1998)
Artists: D'Angelo, Sparkle, Nas, DMXStandouts: "Devil's Pie," "Story to Tell"
In a nutshell, a few slices of D’Angelo’s “Devil’s Pie” perfectly encapsulates Hype Williams’ 1998 film, Belly. The soul legend sings, “Drugs and thugs women wine/Three or four at a time/Watch them all stand in line/For a slice of the devil's pie.”
The song which is part of the film’s soundtrack describes the drug trade and fast life that encircles the film’s two main characters Tommy Brown (DMX) and Sincere (Nas). It glorifies the deliciousness appeal and deceit of street life. This soundtrack illustrates that precarious story line effortlessly.
“I Wanna Live” by Nas and Bravehearts attempts to dispel fear, and restore faith inside their infamous lifestyle. “I wanna live, the way my brother lives/I shall not die (never), why must we be so high?/I pray to God, (please God) take me to your path/And show me how to live with all this cash.” The rest of the film’s sonic backdrop obediently follows suit. There’s a “Story to Tell” by Ja Rule and a final “Grand Finale” by DMX, ft. Nas and Method Man.
'Claudine Soundtrack' (1974)
Artists: Gladys Knight & the Pips, Curtis MayfieldStandouts: "The Makings of You" "On & On"
Curtis Mayfield’s cinematic offerings are rightfully lauded (Super Fly, Sparkle), but the Claudine soundtrack often falls under the radar. Completely composed by Mayfield, the musician helped tell the love story between Claudine (Diahann Carroll) and Roop (James Earl Jones) with the help of Gladys Knight and the Pips.
From “Mr. Welfare Man” to “Hold On,” the soundtrack is short and sweet but full of love and tenderness. “On and On” proved to be a standalone hit for all parties involved with its platinum status while “Make Yours A Happy Home” became a favorable single two years later. Claudine went gold and while it might be an underrated Mayfield creation, it deserves all the flowers.
'The Bodyguard: Original Soundtrack Album' - Whitney Houston (1992)
Artists: Whitney Houston, Lisa Stansfield, Kenny GStandouts: "I Will Always Love You," "I Have Nothing" "It's Gonna Be a Lovely Day"
1992 was the year we were introduced to the everlastingly stunning soundtrack for The Bodyguard. The LP still remains one of the best-selling motion picture soundtracks in history, with almost 30 million albums sold, and features production efforts from Babyface, BeBe Winans, L.A. Reid and David Foster.
The album, which later went on to win an Album Of The Year Grammy Award in 1994, features the film’s star, Whitney Houston, performing some of her most timeless classics.
We still get chills when we hear the Oscar-nominated “I Have Nothing,” and lest we forget her hauntingly beautiful rendition of the Dolly Parton classic, “I Will Always Love You,” which is sung at the film’s duration.
Thanks to a voice that will forever steal the show, the latter, more or less, became Houston’s magnum opus. We will always love you, Whitney.
Artists: Eric B. & Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Teddy RileyStandouts: "Juice (Know the Ledge)," "Is It Good To You"
Like Bishop’s snub-nose, this soundtrack has rounds full of bangers. Despite featuring no verses from the film’s lead actor and arguably the most impactful artist of the late 20th century, Tupac, the Juice soundtrack is a gritty score that coincides with the nature of the film. By enlisting the talents of acts like Naughty By Nature, MC Pooh, EPMD, and Too Short, this project blends both east and west coast street rap in a way that makes for a collection of beautifully bloody ballads.
Spearheaded by the singles “Uptown Anthem” and “Juice (Know The Ledge),” the success of this soundtrack and movie makes it one of the more popular movie-based projects in recent history. Yet amidst this hype, fans will be hard-pressed trying to stream this soundtrack (meaning, yes, you’ll have to buy music once again).
But for the mere price of $9.99, one will be able to experience Golden Era juggernauts, Rakim and Big Daddy Kane, in all their glory, while realizing why this album peaked in the Billboard Top 20. And as a fan of music, it’s difficult to find a better way to spend 10 dollars.
'DJ Clue? Presents: Backstage Mixtape' (2000)
Artists: Jay-Z, Mya, Outkast, Hot Boys, EveStandouts: "Best Of Me, Pt. 2," "My Mind Right," "Keep It Thoro"
Hailed as one of the most influential hip-hop tours of all time, the Hard Knock Life tour featured the cream of the rap crop. From the Roc-A-Fella squad to the Ruff Ryders, there were plenty of shenanigans and music caught in the Backstage documentary.
Its soundtrack or mixtape did the same. Led with production from DJ Clue, Swizz Beatz, Trackmasters and Timbaland, we’re gifted with the smoothest remix ever (“Best of Me Part 2") and some of the music from the key players of the time.
Reaching commercial success with ease, Backstage: A Hard Knock Life went gold and hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, later peaking at No. 6 on the Billboard 200.
'Brown Sugar' (2002)
Artists: Erykah Badu, Yasiin Bey, Jill Scott, The RootsStandouts: "Love of My Life (Ode To Hip Hop)," "Brown Sugar (Extra Sweet)"
This entire movie is centered on all of hip-hop’s faculties so you have to be a fan. Syd and Dre both use music to describe some of the best moments in their lives.
The magnetism of their relationship is symbolic and in the grander scheme, the true object of their love is hip-hop itself. The film treats the music genre as the new and naive offspring of an entire people so it’s only right that its soundtrack is a list of songs that have essentially come to define black love as we know it.
Because love is the purest thing we have. Naturally, the first track is “Act Too” by The Roots and Common. On the love front, the soundtrack also features the polysemic “Love of My Life” by Erykah Badu. It’s the perfect soundtrack for its love and hip-hop driven plot.
- Lola Jacobs
Artists: Kendrick Lamar, SOB X RBE, Jay Rock, The Weeknd, SZAStandouts: "King's Dead," "Paramedic!" "All The Stars"
Let’s be honest, when was the last time a soundtrack hit this hard? Partial thanks goes to Ryan Coogler, who brought on Ludwig Goöransson to complete the score; the two previously worked together on Creed II (and that’s another good soundtrack).
Kendrick Lamar swooped in to help soundtrack the film. There’s hit after hit on this album, from the catchy single “All the Stars” to the more subdued banger “Pray For Me.” Each song is a reminder of a pivotal moment in the movie scenes. Whether it’s T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) ascending the throne in Wakanda, or the fight scene between him and his cousin Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). This is a soundtrack full of records that will continue to be played years from today, I mean, who still isn’t banging the Grammy-winning “King’s Dead” through their headphones?
'8 Mile: Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture' (2002)
Artists: Eminem, 50 Cent, Gang StarrStandouts: "Battle," "Wangsta," "Lose Yourself"
Everything you wanted to know about Marshall Mathers, you know, the white boy from Detroit who named himself Eminem and went from white trash to hip-hop royalty, is on 8 Mile.
Opposite of that narrative is an insanely catchy soundtrack to match. There’s the ubiquitous “Lose Yourself,” serving as the face of the film. Amid his own rap story, some of hip-hop’s founding fathers get prime real estate on there. Like Gang Starr with “Battle” and Rakim with “R.A.K.I.M.” In the midst of all of this, 50 Cent, a newcomer at the time, reigned supreme with “Places to Go,” “Wanksta,” “Rap Game” (ft. D12) and “’Till I Collapse.” In 2002-03, you couldn’t walk down half a block in New York City without hearing “Wanksta,” Lose Yourself” and spot someone sporting some G-Unit sneakers or a Shady LTD t-shirt. Lose yourself in the nostalgia.
'New Jack City' (1991)
Artists: Ice T, Christopher Williams, Teddy RileyStandouts: "I'm Dreamin'," "I Wanna Sex You Up," "New Jack Hustler (Nino's Theme)"
As the movie title suggests, the New Jack City soundtrack embodies the swing of that time. With tracks from Guy, Johnny Gill, and Al B. Sure!, this project is the bassline for the based-out party scene that fueled Nino’s drug empire. Yet even though the New Jack genre and movie – with
Nino’s trap being the second meaning behind Lil Wayne’s album series – are closely aligned with hip-hop, there is little rap on this project. But since one of the two rap songs is Ice-T’s “New Jack Hustler (Nino’s Theme)” where the film’s star delivers a track that is like Schoolly D’s “PSK” on roids, hip-hop fans will be as satisfied as they are grooved.
With the album being a Top 5 hit on the Billboard Hot 200 charts, it only makes sense why to this day no cookout is complete until “I Wanna Sex You Up” is played at least once.
'Music From and Inspired by the Motion Picture The Wood' (1999)
Artists: Luther Vandross, Joe, Teddy Riley, DMXStandouts: "Think About You" "I Wanna Know"
If ever there was a soundtrack that made you want to cruise through Los Angeles in your homie's drop top with a Nike suit and a crisp pair of Cortez, it’s likely this one. But after a long day of cruising, you might go home and think about that one girl. Those are the themes of this album summed up.
It all sounds like nostalgia if the concept could be given a list of songs. Of course, for that real L.A. feeling, Ahmad is on this soundtrack with “Back in The Day,” sampled from the G.O.A.T. Teddy Pendergrass' "TKO.” And if you need to be in your feelings, you can listen to Luther Vandross on “If The World Were Mine” and Joe’s “I Wanna Know.” These tracks are flexible and can probably be listened to on a day-to-day basis. The bottom line is that if Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps are in any movie together, you can probably expect some heat.
'The Wiz' (1978)
Artists: Michael Jackson, Lena Horne, Nipsey Russell, Diana Ross Standouts: "Ease On Down The Road," "Believe In Yourself (Reprise)" "You Can't Win"
A funkdafied take on the story of Oz, the 1978 film The Wiz (adapted from the Broadway musical of the same name), holds a special place in the hearts of Motown music enthusiasts. The film follows the plucky Dorothy (Diana Ross) easin’ on down the road to make it back home, all while meeting a colorful cast of characters along the way, like the Scarecrow (Michael Jackson), the Tin-Man (Nipsey Russell) and the Cowardly Lion (Ted Ross). Songs include the stunning “Home,” the effortlessly soulful “Don’t You Bring Me No Bad News,” and the effervescent “A Brand New Day.”
The album was primarily produced by Quincy Jones and featured additional songwriting efforts from Ashford & Simpson, Luther Vandross, and Charlie Smalls, who contributed songs to the original stage production.
Let’s face it, while we can’t take away the legacy of the OG film, The Wiz’s soundtrack was just the right amount of black excellence needed to spice things up.
'Space Jam' (1996)
Artists: Monica, All-4-One, LL Cool J, Busta RhymesStandouts: “For You I Will,” "Angel of Mine"
Name a children’s film with more infectious ditties than Space Jam, we’ll wait. From Monica's "For You I Will" to “Buggin’” by Bugs Bunny himself (written by Jay-Z), the six-times platinum soundtrack encapsulates everything the film is about.
It evokes emotion, which is felt in joints like All-4-One’s soaring track “I Turn To You” (which was later popularized by Christina Aguilera). It also yields references from both basketball and cartoons (we’re looking directly at the titular track by the Quad City DJ’s). Lastly, it screams “The 90s” by implementing hip-hop and R&B, two hugely important genres to the time period (Listen to the unforgettable “Hit ‘Em High (The Monstars’ Anthem)” by B-Real, Busta Rhymes, Coolio, LL Cool J and Method Man). There’s no denying it here, folks- the 1996 album was a slam-dunk.
'Def Jam's Rush Hour Soundtrack' (1998)
Artists: Dru Hill, Case and Joe, Jay-Z, Montell Jordan, Cam’ronStandout: “How Deep Is Your Love,” “Can I Get A…,” “Faded Pictures”
Def Jam continued to run the soundtrack game in the '90s with Rush Hour’s star-studded soundtrack. From Wu-Tang Clan to Jay-Z to Cam’ron, there was no way that the album could be a disappointment. Watching Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan’s witty back-and-forth, which resulted in two sequel films, had to be accompanied by songs like “And You Don’t Stop” by Wu-Tang Clan and “Bi**h Betta Have My Money” by a young newcomer by the name of Ja Rule.
But the soundtrack’s biggest standouts would stem from Jay-Z with the Amil-assisted “Can I Get A…” (also featuring Ja Rule) and the number one single, “How Deep Is Your Love” by Dru Hill and Redman.
'Wild Style Original Soundtrack' (1983)
Artists: Busy Bee Starski, Cold Crush Brothers, Grandmaster Caz, the Fantastic Five, Double TroubleStandout: “South Bronx Subway Rap”Wild Style takes hip-hop to its key elements; rap, the DJ, breakdancing and graffiti and also the leaders of the game. Led with production from Blondie's Charlie Ahearn, the album helped pull together the sounds that make Wild Style come to life.
Starring famed graffiti artist Lee Quinones, the film also featured Fab 5 Freddy, The Cold Crush Brothers, and Busy Bee Starski. Those same guys show up on the soundtrack along with DJ Grand Wizard Theodore, Double Trouble and the Fantastic Freaks and Freddy as the musical director. Nas, MF Doom, Big K.R.I.T., Cypress Hill, Beastie Boys, and Common have sampled the movie into their albums showing Wild Style’s impact. If you want to take a trip back into time, Wild Style is the perfect place to start.
Artists: Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Roger Troutman, Rick JamesStandouts: "Mary Jane," "I Wanna Get Next To You," "Friday"
If it’s Friday, you don’t have a job and don’t have sh*t to do, the Friday soundtrack is the album to listen to. Actually, it doesn’t even have to be Friday for this album to bump.
Ice Cube’s “Friday” is the weekend anthem we need, while Dr. Dre’s “Keep Their Heads Ringin’” brings that West Coast bounce. the certified double-platinum album is the harmonious blend of feel-good tunes that will have you vibing in your car or on the porch and grittier rap tracks, that illustrate the thugged out lifestyle of the South Central.
'Love Jones The Music' (1997)
Artists: Ms. Lauryn Hill, Maxwell, Me'shell NdegeocelloStandouts: "Sumthin' Sumthin': Mellosmoothe (Cut)," The Sweetest Thing,” Inside My Love”
We love Larenz Tate already but no one knew he was a poet until Love Jones. “Brother To The Night” is still iconic and it was a tough act to follow but the soundtrack, like the poem, says the most difficult things that need to be said about love. And it’s not complicated at all.
This soundtrack is like a honeymoon stage or like fresh air on a mountain. Nina and Darius are stuck in a long “what if” situation and Nina leaves for certainty. But they don’t quit there. While the two are searching for one another, we get “The Sweetest Thing” by Ms. Lauryn Hill and “In A Sentimental Mood” by Duke Ellington and John Coltrane straight out of the Harlem Renaissance archives. Outside of the fact that Nina was dreaming of working at VIBE, the soundtrack is a favorite because it does its best work capturing a relationship that never runs out of beginnings.
'Trouble Man' (1972)
Artist: Marvin GayeStandouts: “Trouble Man,” “Life Is A Gamble”
Marvin Gaye did what he had to do to make Trouble Man a solid piece of work. The film didn’t stand up to blaxploitation classics of its time, but the late musician gave his all in making the soundtrack one of the best for the genre.
The direction was a sonic shift from his previous project What’s Going On, with Gaye lending more of a classic sound to blaxploitation films, which were normally comprised of funk arrangements. This is heard on tracks like the soothing "T Stands For Trouble” and “Main Theme from Trouble Man (1).”
There’s also the sax and horn cocktail on “Life is a Gamble” that could fit any Dynamic Meditation playlist. His voice, which isn’t heard too much on the project, comes in ever so slightly to remind of life’s thrills.
The synths used also show how Gaye was truly ahead of his time. “Deep-in-it” showcases how magical Gaye’s musical arrangements were. While Gaye never composed another film (his music has been placed in plenty of films over the years), Trouble Man remains a Gaye favorite and proves his genius knows no bounds.
'Love & Basketball Soundtrack'
Artists: Lucy Pearl, Maxwell, Bilal, Angie StoneStandouts: "Soul Sista," "Dance Tonight" "Fool of Me"
Classics only! Talk about flava in ya ear. On one soundtrack, Love & Basketball had 30 years of soul-inspired hits from Chaka Khan and Rufus’ “Sweet Thing” to Lucy Pearl’s “Dance Tonight.” All moods are accounted for and every emotion is captured. At the turn of the new century, the genre of the love ballad was changing and evolving, leaning more towards R&B’s popular 808s and Roland pad synths but the soundtrack managed to include everything from funk to hip-hop.
In a way, it was a timeline and paralleled itself with the couple’s slow progress from simple love to something layered and more complex. You don’t have to see a minute of the movie to understand the torture, sorrow, happiness, and heat that Monica and Q felt.
If you’re an R&B fan through and through with a bit of occasional hip-hop, you can probably bang out an assignment or two while these songs play in your headphones. Or you can throw them into the slow jam portion of the playlist at your next function.
Artists: Nicolas Britell, Goodie Mobb, Jidenna, Barbra LewisStandouts: “Cell Therapy” “Little’s Theme” “Chiron’s Theme”
Part of what makes the Moonlight soundtrack so appealing is its minimalistic qualities.
Composer/pianist Nicolas Britell (12 Years A Slave, The Big Short) married piano and violin for “Little’s Theme” which was slightly revamped to fit the progression of the character in “Chiron’s Theme” and “Black’s Theme.” The film and soundtrack opener “Every Ni**er Is A Star” by Boris Gardiner is the perfect track to lead the project. The rest of the soundtrack doesn’t hold on to the pattern of soulful R&B. Instead, it toys with classical chords from Mozart's Vesperae Solennes de Confessore before it jumps into chopped and screwed versions of “Chiron’s Theme” and Jidenna’s “Classic Man.” Much like the Oscar-winning film (never forget) the album is rich in story and heavy on the heart.
Artist: PrinceStandouts: “Scandalous,” “The Future” “Electric Chair”
In any other multi-platform scenario, Batman had every right to suck, and on the surface, it looked like Warner Bros.’ marquee artist was simply looking for a commercial jumpstart by attaching himself to the film studio’s can’t-miss superhero blockbuster.
But when Prince was asked to write and perform the entire Batman soundtrack by director Tim Burton, he delivered a brilliant curve pitch with the opening salvo “Batdance,” a quirky six minutes and 13-second amalgamation of shameless movie sampling bliss, bananas guitar rock theatrics, and sexy uncut funk.
According to Prince folklore, the first song he ever learned on the piano was the cheesy yet mesmerizing theme song for the ‘60s era Batman television series. And so what you are hearing on the multi-platinum Batman soundtrack (which became Prince’s biggest hit sales wise since Purple Rain, spending six consecutive weeks atop the Billboard albums charts) is a boundless pop chameleon tapping into his childhood while at the same time taking the immortal battle between the Dark Knight and the Joker very seriously.
Go to tracks: The ominous “The Future;” “Partyman,” an uproarious jam that revels in its eye-winking joy; and the scorching “Electric Chair,” which is the best Stevie Wonder-esque rocker he never recorded. But it’s “Vicki Waiting” that steals the show with perhaps Prince’s most hilarious lyric: “I told the joke about the woman who asked her lover…’Why is your organ so small?’/He replied ‘I didn't know I was playing in a cathedral.’” This guy.
'Super Fly' - Curtis Mayfield (1972)
Artist: Curtis MayfieldStandouts: “Pushaman,” “Superfly,” “No Thing On Me”
Quincy Jones might’ve set the standard with composing films, but Curtis Mayfield helped perfect it. His contribution to the blaxploitation culture helped define the brevity of black music. Even if you haven’t seen the classic film, everyone is aware of the machismo felt throughout "Superfly." From it’s riveting funk-induced intro to Mayfield's signature vocals, the track will not only boost your confidence but give you clear skin (scouts honor).
“Pusherman” has been used in other visuals and sampled throughout hip-hop’s coldest (Ice-T’s “I’m Your Pusher), lyrical (Eminem’s “I’m Shady) and iconic (Clipse’s “Grindin’). Like Mr. Brown, Mayfield's lineage to hip-hop is a gift to the extension of black music and its very layered history.
Aside from its touching jams like “Eddie You Should Know Better,” the instrumentals are the creme of the soulful crop of greens. “Junkie Chase” is slick with hi-hats and “Think” slows it all down for the sake of reflection. With an icon like Mayfield behind the boards, it’s only right that the Super Fly soundtrack still stirs the soul to this day.
'The Best Man' (1999)
Artists: Beyonce, Tyrese, Faith Evans, Maxwell, Ms. Lauryn Hill Standouts: "The Best Man I Can Be," "After All Is Said And Done"
You probably need to check yourself if you haven’t mimicked The Best Man’s final wedding scene at your family gathering. Cameo’s 1986 hit, “Candy” was one of the most memorable music moments of this movie's genetic makeup, but it’s also just one of many great songs compiled on the album’s soundtrack.
The 14-track album, comprised of some of our favorite R&B and hip-hop artists, perfectly captured the high-energy tension, seductiveness, and unconditional love that’s also reflected on camera. Faith Evan’s track, “Best Man” vividly illustrated the complicated relationship between Harper Stewart (Taye Diggs) and Lance Sullivan (Morris Chestnut). Ms. Lauryn Hill and Bob Marley’s spiritual tinged single, “Turn Your Lights Down Low,” mirror the forbidden lust between Harper and Jordan (Nia Long). And “After All Is Said And Done” by Beyonce and Marc Nelson, pinpointed that feeling of the unwavering and relentless love between Mia (Monica Calhoun) and Lance.
The soundtrack is a smooth, passionate and rhythmic compilation that can withstand multiple replays.
'Waiting to Exhale: Original Soundtrack Album' (1995)
Artists: Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Toni Braxton, Faith Evans Standouts: "Sittin' Up in My Room," "Not Gon' Cry," "Let it Flow"
This soundtrack is the musical equivalent to John’s car and a Virginia Slim, as Keith “Babyface” Edmonds assembled a coalition of iconic divas that mirrored the movie’s star-studded cast.
With Babyface and Whitney Houston at the helm, everyone from Patti LaBelle to TLC added a song to this project. And by pairing Brandy’s gleeful “Sitting Up In My Room” with Mary J’s “Not Gon’ Cry” the tracks on the Waiting To Exhale soundtrack touched on almost every emotion associated with love.
Like its film and written counterparts, the Waiting To Exhale soundtrack was a major success, charting at number three on the Billboard 200 list and selling more than 12 million copies worldwide. It also received 11 nominations at that year’s Grammy Awards, earning Babyface a Best R&B Song Grammy for “Exhale (Shoop)” which was performed by Whitney Houston. On this project, listeners will experience a blend of generational icons singing about very universal feelings. The caliber of these artist combined with the nature of the records makes the Waiting To Exhale soundtrack one everyone should and will love.
'Purple Rain' - Prince and the Revolution (1984)
Artists: Prince and the RevolutionStandouts: “Let’s Go Crazy,” “The Beautiful Ones,” “When Doves Cry,” “I Would Die 4 U”
The legacy of Prince’s Oscar-winning landmark Purple Rain is so towering that it’s easy to forget just how much of an absurd gamble the entire project truly was. Before its’ June 25, 1984 unveiling, the late Prince Rogers Nelson was a rising talent just hitting his commercial stride. His quadruple platinum 1982 breakthrough 1999 helped propel the singer-songwriter-producer and all around one-man-band badass to MTV-darling status.
But firing off three hit crossover singles (“1999,” “Little Red Corvette,” and “Delirious”) is one thing. Truth is, few thought the at times X-rated, leg warmers and high heel wearing African-American outsider born in all places Minneapolis, Minnesota could carry a Hollywood film. But that’s just what His Royal Badness achieved.
Indeed, even before Purple Rain the movie lit up the box office with $70 million in ticket sales, its immaculate movie soundtrack, which went on to move 20 million copies, had already propelled Prince (and his driving backing band The Revolution) to pop icon status. Purple Rain produced the decade’s most unlikely no. 1 hit in “When Doves Cry,” a song literally without a bass line, detailing a relationship drowned in alienation and dysfunctional turmoil (“Maybe I’m just like my mother/She’s never satisfied…”). From there Prince checks all the boxes.
You want an anthem befitting a chest-beating rock star? “Let’s Go Crazy” obliterates the bill. You want to lose yourself in quite possibly the most intense ballad of that decade? Push play on “The Beautiful Ones.” And the sweat-inducing “Computer Blue” is the album’s secret weapon, complete with a devastating twin-guitar attack.
Hell, even after a fully-clothed Prince had evolved from his early ‘80s Dirty Mind days as a bikini drawers and flasher’s coat rocking, new-wave funk menace, the man had the nerve to ignite the Parental Advisory Sticker after his delightfully explicit “Darling Nikki” sparked Senate hearings. But some of Mr. Nelson’s critics were missing the point. The gifted genius was merely presenting himself as the most complete musical act of his era, capable of catching the foot-stomping Holy Ghost on “Baby I’m A Star” and then a few minutes later setting new standards for guitar God heroics on his signature stadium sing-along “Purple Rain.”
Nearly 30 years later, Prince again reminded the world of his greatness when he closed his legendary 2007 Super Bowl Halftime show with what else…“Purple Rain.” There he was, making his guitar weep literally in the pouring rain backed by Florida A&M’s mighty Marching 100 band.