The art of film is not just the script, costumes, and actors but also the music that accompanies it. The music can give the scenes a different feeling and flavor. Some of the best movies have had a song or a few songs that automatically make you think of a film and the feeling you got watching it. Black films in the past were not considered classic films unless they had a great soundtrack and musical score to go along with it. The question is what happened to the Black Soundtrack?
Black soundtracks have always been able to take a film to another level and even push the film to iconic status. Black soundtracks many times would be a collection of artists with songs that presented the true themes of the movie. Then there were times where a soundtrack was able to give one artist the opportunity to tell the movies story through music. When you hear “Shaft” by Isaac Hayes’ beginning interlude you automatically are taken to Shaft kicking ass and taking names later. Think about when you here Willie Hutch “I Choose You” besides thinking of the Outkast and UGK song you think about Goldie in The Mack coming up in the game. The soundtrack was a place where many new artists could be exposed to the masses and established artists could put out new and creative music. I truly miss the soundtrack and just like I wrote about the black love story being lost (see here) the black soundtrack has gotten lost in this new homogenized culture we have. The soundtrack of our past has basically become the mixtape of today.
What are some of best soundtracks of all time?
Above the Rim (1993)
This classic film from the early 90s went into the story of a blue chip basketball player trudging through the perils of being a ghetto youth. The soundtrack was superbly laces with songs that flowed not only with the movie but as standalone songs themselves. The soundtrack includes classic songs such as Warren G and Nate Dog’s “Regulaters”, 2 Pac’s “Pour Out a Little Liquor”, and Rage “Afro Puffs”. It also included great R&B tracks from SWV (Anything) and the classic baby making song by H-Town (Part Time Lover). This album also included the bonus track “Pain” by 2 Pac which was a treat for us broke folks because it was only on the cassette version of the LP. The funniest part about this soundtrack was that movie was told from the East Coast perspective but produced exclusively by West Coast artists (Death Row)
There is no secret for my infatuation with this movie (see the Marcus Graham Chronicles) but the soundtrack maybe remembered by many more than the movie itself. The soundtrack really displays the rise and fall of Marcus Graham’s love life. The album sold the most records of any soundtrack until another album on this list took it out. Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds wrote and produced the majority of the album and it was a banger. The album has one of the best ballads of all time with Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road”(One of the longest songs to be No.1 on the Billboard charts) and the retrospective PM Dawn track “Die Without You”. The album also introduced us to great Toni Braxton on tracks such as “Love Shoulda Brought You Home” and “Give You My Heart” a duet with Babyface.
*side note*- Both Toni Braxton’s songs were originally written for Anita Baker but she was going through depression at the time and declined to do the tracks.
Some folks may raise their antenna up on this choice but those that really know music cannot deny the effect this soundtrack and film had on culture. This soundtrack was entirely done by Curtis Mayfield from the production to the writing he did it all. Curtis is able to weave the and tell the story of the character Priest of he tries to make his way out of the dope game through tracks such as “Pusherman”, “Freddie’s Dead”, “Little Child Runnin Wild”, and even a track for the playas out there with a special lady in “Give Me Your Love”. Then you cannot forget the title track “Superfly” where Curtis Mayfield displays the hardships of the black man doing anything to get out of the ghetto.
Love Jones (1997)
The black yuppie’s favorite love story makes this list. The love roller coaster that Darius Lovehall and Nina go on is displayed in an ultimate sultry fashion on this soundtrack. The album from top to bottom gives you the same emotional roller coaster that the couple goes through. Song such as Dionne Farris’ “Hopeless” and Groove Theory’s “Never Enough” show the pain and loss of love while tracks such as Lauryn Hill’s “Sweetest Thing” and Maxwell’s “Sumthin’ Sumthin': Mellosmoothe (Cut)” make you feel so great being with the one you love. This soundtrack gives you a journey through love not no other just as Darius and Nina try to find theirs.
Hav Plenty (1998)
You may be scratching your head that this choice but I will have you hold your horses before jumping to conclusions. The movie is definitely a cult classic. Many people including myself love the movie but many people pan the movie as well. The soundtrack maybe one of the most slept soundtracks produced. This soundtrack was mostly written and produced by Babyface and if you don’t know if Babyface produces and writes most of your soundtrack then it is golden. There are great ballads from Faith Evans “Tears Away”, Chico Debarge “Any Other Night”, and Erykah Badu “Ye Yo”. The song even features the classic hip hop posse track “What’cha Gonna Do?” that features DMX and Method Man. The songs flow with the film as it tells the tale of a writer trying to get on his feet and taper his love and affection for his long time friend.
New Jack City(1991)
I mean come on you cannot have a soundtrack list without having the soundtrack that exuded the essence of the New Jack swing era. The king of new Jack swing Mr. Teddy Riley produced the album. The album shows off the attitude of New jack Swing on the title track by Guy, “I Wanna Sex You Up” by Color Me Bad, “Dreamin” by Christopher Williams, and the new jack remix mesh of “For the Love of Money/Living for the City by Troop, Levert, and Queen Latifah. How can you forget the hustlers’ anthem that characterizes Nino Brown to the T with “New Jack Hustler” by Ice T.? The album isn’t lean on New Jack Swing ballads wither with Keith Sweat’s “There You Go…Tellin Me No” and Johnny Gill’s “I’m Still Waiting”. This soundtrack not only shows the hustle mentality but it is the true expression of the New Jack Swing movement on film.
Waiting to Exhale(1995)
This is the soundtrack that knocked out Boomerang as the highest selling soundtrack of all time. Once again this soundtrack is produced and written by the great Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds. The movie is the remake of Terry McMillian’s book of the same title that shows the hardships and ups and downs of black women trying to find love. The concept of Babyface deciding the album should have all women artists sing the songs was groundbreaking in itself. The album had all the top female R&B artists at the time on it. The album showed the grit and emotion of the movie with tracks such as “Not Gon’ Cry” by Mary J. Blige, “Let it Flow” by Toni Braxton, and “Exhale” by Whitney Houston. The album also displays the characters in the films want for love in ballads Chaka Khan’s “Funny Valentine” and Faith Evan’s “Kissing You”. The soundtrack is a companion for the film. This movie would not be as praised if it was not for this excellent soundtrack.
Honorable Mention: Krush Groove(1984), Jason’s Lyric (1994), Strictly Business(1992), Bamboozled(2000), Juice (1992), Murder Was the Case(1994), The Show (1995), Sunset Park(1997), Best Man(1999)
I miss the black soundtrack but I don’t have any hope of it coming back….