With the release this year of the movie Southpaw, its accompanying soundtrack has the makings of a throwback of nineties excellence with Eminem playing the role of Executive Producer for this project, with selections from Slaughterhouse, Bad Meets Evil, 50 Cent, Action Bronson, Joey Bada$$, and Slim himself contributing three or four tracks.
This made me reminisce about how monstrous Hip Hop soundtracks used to be. Trust and believe, there were exceptional soundtracks in our day, and we’ll go over a few of them, in no particular order.
The Show (1995)
This particular soundtrack has to be considered the best soundtrack Def Jam has ever released. From top to bottom this was a smash, and with production from the likes of Erick Sermon, P. Diddy & The Hitmen, Q-Tip, and Warren G, the soundtrack spawned such hits as the magical combo of Red & Meth “How High”, Warren G’s group, The Dove Shack’s “Summertime In The LBC”, and Bone Thugs N Harmony‘s “Everyday Thang”.
This set a new standard of Hip Hop soundtracks and how well each artist and their contributions can come together seamlessly to make an incredible project.
Soul In The Hole (1997)
This was arguably the last great project from Loud Records, which was seen as the best underground label besides Rawkus Records there was in all of Hip Hop. The movie was documenting Kenny Jones and the relationship with his prodigious street ball players. The soundtrack was just straight RAW. This was as gutter of a soundtrack one would hear during this time period.
Contributions from Mobb Deep, Big Pun, dead prez, Xzibit, and Wu-Tang brought the streets in such hard fashion, with the the title track from the Wu All-Stars of Shyheim, Killa Sin, and Timbo King putting the stamp on one of the most ridiculous albums Loud Records ever dropped.
Dangerous Grounds (1997)
This one was actually a sleeper, as Jive Records put out a rather formidable soundtrack which centered around the first single by Cube (who also starred in the movie), “The World Is Mine”. From there, production was very strong, especially from Pete Rock on the Bahamadia/MC Lyte/Yo Yo/Nonchalant banger “Keep On Pushin”.
Also, tracks from Spice 1, Keith Murray, KRS-One and even Jay-Z were highlights on a formidable soundtrack that Jive excellently pulled off. We never saw a lot of soundtracks from them, but this one was quite hard.
New Jersey Drive (1995)
Man!! This was a hard-hitter from Tommy Boy Records, which was the home of acts like De La Soul and Penalty Records (CNN, Crooked Lettaz, Half A Mil) dropped a monster of a soundtrack for a movie that almost matched the strength of the soundtrack.
This soundtrack mixed everything from R&B, southern Hip Hop, west coast and of course a strong east coast influence. This soundtrack was known for dropping two breakout singles: Outkasts‘ “Benz Or Beamer” (which introduced the much adored Bankhead Bounce dance) and the debut of Total, with their breakout hit with Biggie, “Can’t You See”.
Other notables include cuts from Lords Of The Underground, Keith Murray, Young Lay, Heavy D, and of course Maze & Frankie Beverly for their legendary hit “Before I Let Go”. The interesting thing was this was a split series. The other volume of the soundtrack dropped about three weeks later, but wasn’t as hard-hitting as this one, although one could argue Jeru The Damaja‘s Premo-powered cut “Invasion” could hold the entire album up by itself. In any case, NJD was one of Tommy Boy’s craziest releases ever.
When you have a soundtrack for an instant classic like Friday, it HAS to match it, and it came pretty damn close. Easily one of the most laid-back soundtracks of that era, this utilized heavy doses of West Coast Hip Hop, with some old soul and funk and provided a meaningful soundscape for such a movie.
Most known for Dr. Dre‘s “Keep Their Heads Ringing” and Cube‘s “Friday”, this was the soundtrack specially made for those Cadillacs to cruise through your local strip during the summertime, but also for that subdued house party filled with drinks and that good stuff. No violent images, just chill in and maintaining. Can’t get much better than that.
I'm Bout It (1997)
In the mid-late nineties, there wasn’t a stronger Southern label than No Limit (Cash Money was bubbling but didn’t breakthrough until around ’99 and 2000). Master P had taken several cats from his New Orleans hometown and helped them become rappers. Although most were never really critically acclaimed, they would also hit gold units with virtually no radio singles.
Percy took the next step into mainstream acceptance with a straight to VHS movie appropriately called I’m Bout It, which was an autobiographical look at P’s rise to make it out of the ghetto and the never ending hurdles getting to that goal. The accompanying soundtrack was the perfect wife to the movie, as it featured mostly No Limit artists with outside appearances by the likes of Eightball & MJG, the almost-totally-forgotten-about E-A-Ski, and Brotha Lynch Hung. These artists and more hammered lyrics over menacing Beats By The Pound production that reflected the entire aura of this cult classic.
Boyz In The Hood (1991)
One of the greatest hood movies of all-time, and wonderfully put together by John Singleton, inspired an equally potent soundtrack. This iconic movie’s soundtrack had bits of R&B but, overall performances by Kam, Cube, Compton’s Most Wanted, and Yo Yo among others made this a huge standout in 1991. Honestly, who wasn’t KILLING “Growing Up In The Hood” during this time?
Menace II Society (1993)
Another gripping hood movie, this time constructed by The Hughes Brothers, and the soundtrack was knocking. This West Coast centered album contained some vicious, yet vivid, cuts from the likes of Spice 1, UGK, DJ Quik, Ant Banks, and the most known cut, the incredible MC Eiht contribution “Streiht Up Menace”. The only R&B contribution came from Hi-Five, with “Unconditional Love”, but this was soundtrack was as intense as any soundtrack out during this period.
Tupac‘s first starring role in a movie was definitely worth the hype, as another hood crime drama (Boyz N The Hood and Menace II Society came out that same year) gave us a thrilling and hard edged soundtrack.
While there were no Pac cuts on here, that didn’t matter because just the tracks from the likes of Eric B & Rakim, Naughty By Nature, Big Daddy Kane, and EPMD took care of the satisfaction value.
Often seen as the East Coast equivalent of Boyz N The Hood and Menace II Society in terms of hard knocking soundtracks, this will forever be a favorite for those who preferred slightly scaled down, yet still very street-themed, Hip Hop as opposed to the brutality the likes Menace II Society would present.
Tales From The Hood (1995)
Okay, so the movie wasn’t any kind of scary for it to be considered a “Horror” movie, but its soundtrack was nothing to play with. The Spike Lee executive produced movie is a lot more favorited than say Snoop‘s Hood Of Horrors, but the soundtrack was a dark, at times violent, collection of macabre joints that featured performances from Wu-Tang, the almost forgotten about Domino, South Central Cartel, Gravediggaz and a solo effort from the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard that were excellent sound scales for this movie.
Murder Was The Case (1995)
Around ’93 and ’94, NOBODY was touching Death Row Records. Yes the east had Nas, Biggie, Wu-Tang, Tribe, and Boot Camp Click, plus the south was emerging with Outkast and Organized Noize, but the west was clearly running things. They completely brought the west coast to prominence in a way like never before.
Captained by Dr. Dre and his then prodege Snoop Dogg, everything the “Row” dropped was considered a new level in hotness for Hip Hop. In ’94, Snoop dropped a short film named after a cut from his landmark Doggystyle album called “Murder Was The Case”. This was also during a true-to-life situation, in which Snoop was fighting a first-degree murder case.
The soundtrack to this short film has to be considered as much of a classic as The Chronic and Doggystyle. From the first time you hit play, Dre had you hooked, and these also showed off the production abilities of the likes of Daz Dillinger (known as Dat Nigga Daz at the time), Sam Sneed, and Soopafly. This was not known for a reworking of “Murder Was The Case”, but also for the reunion of Dre and Cube for the ominous “Natural Born Killaz”, complete with his highly controversial video depicting their own version of the OJ Simpson murder case. Nevertheless, performances from Tha Dogg Pound, Sam Sneed, and DJ Quik among others were stellar and counts as one of the most gangsta-filled masterpieces during this or any time.
High School High (1996)
The hilarious comedy with Jon Lovitz and Mekhi Phifer also spawned a very formidable soundtrack that can still hold weight today. This Atlantic-distributed album had some pretty good R&B contributions from the then unknown Braxton sisters, D’ Angelo, Faith Evans, and Jodeci, but the Hip Hop on here was truly fantastic.
The initial single was Wu-Tang‘s ode to their clothing line “Wu Wear (The Garment Renaissance)”, however it just gets more dope from there. Among excellent standouts from the likes of Real Live, Scarface, The Roots, Artifacts, and Tribe, the highlight has to go to the magical connection of Large Professor and Pete Rock, who presented one of the most hypnotic beats heard throughout the nineties in “The Rap World”.
Overall, this was a fun and definitely rotatable soundtrack and has to be considered among the best.
Who's The Man? (1993)
The oft-times hilarious movie with Doctor Dre and Ed Lover had an accompanying soundtrack that had as much flavor as the movie. With performances from House Of Pain, Timbo King, Erick Sermon, and Biggie (who could escape the riotous “Party & Bullshit”?), this soundtrack was simply a party waiting to happen. Not far from equalling some of the best party soundtracks such as House Party and Disorderlies, Who’s The Man is a knocking, yet fun, ride in spite of the short length.
Ghost Dog (1999)
This was the first soundtrack scored and executive produced by RZA, and of course the Wu-Tang sound and influence was all over this album. This was a family album, with outside guests like Jeru The Damaja and Kool G. Rap shining as brightly as the Wu and their extended family members such as Royal Fam, LA The Darkman, and Tekeitha.
Complete with quotes from Forest Whitaker in full character from the movie, this was a unique, yet excellent, tour de force of an album. With RZA doing every beat on here, one would think was another Wu-Tang Killa Bees compilation, however this was better and the movie itself, as good as it was, could’ve possibly taken a back seat to how tremendous this soundtrack was. This is the Wu sound we miss today.
Above The Rim (1994)
Among the many landmark, game changing albums that got released in ’94 came this particular soundtrack. Executive Produced by Suge Knight and released under Deathrow Records, this was almost as big of a monster as their previously stated Murder Was The Case soundtrack.
While there was almost as many R&B cuts as Hip Hop cuts on here, the Hip Hop that was on here went completely IN. This marked the debut of the Lady Of Rage with her signature cut, “Afro Puffs” plus the debut of Warren G and the late Nate Dogg with “Regulate”.
Once you include other stellar performances from 2Pac, Tha Dogg Pound, and 2nd II None, this was an exceptional soundtrack. Furthermore, word is that there were supposedly more Pac tracks that were originally a part of the album but due to time constraints, they couldn’t fit on there. One could only imagine if the left off tracks were to be included.
Wild Wild West Gang Related (1997)
Yet another Deathrow-released soundtrack makes its way onto this list, and this is actually the only double album on the list. Released months after the tragic death of Biggie and a year after the death of Pac, this was met with a mixture of hesitance and intrigue. However, the results were quite dope.
Previously released cuts like “Staring Out My Rearview” and “Life’s So Hard” from Pac were at their gripping best. Make no mistakes about it. This album, practically from top to bottom, was a knocker. With Daz Dillinger providing most of the production, this served as one of the best albums during the decline of the Deathrow era, and it went out with a bang.
Rhyme & Reason (1997)
This particular soundtrack from Priority Records wasn’t as highly talked about as many other soundtracks during ’97, but it should’ve been. Much like The Show, this documentary centered on the origins and the various lifestyles within Hip Hop culture.
This doc, however, was more raw and grassroots than The Show, and the resulting soundtrack was more underground as well. Do not think that this made the quality of the soundtrack any less. In fact, many have argued that, as time as passed, this is among the best soundtracks that’s purely Hip Hop ever presented.
The soundtrack was highlighted by the magical collabo between Tha Dogg Pound and Mack 10, “Nothin But A Cavi Hit”, but other bangers included “Uni-4-orm” by Ras Kass, Canibus, and Heltah Skeltah, “Tragedy” by RZA, and “Bring It Back” by KRS-One.
This was a Hip Hop soundtrack that still stands the test of time. While ’97 was a tragic year in the game with the death of B.I.G., music like this made it a memorable one as well, only in a positive sense.
Get Rich Or Die Tryin' (2005)
During the early part of the new millennium, what wasn’t being said about Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson? He had MURDERED the game with his Interscope-debut, Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, but it wasn’t enough. He released a movie by the same name, as well as the soundtrack that accompany it. The album was primarily contained in-house, as only G-Unit artists provided the bangers on the soundtrack.
The album soared to triple platinum status, and with cuts like 50’s “Window Shopper”, “Best Friend” w/ Olivia, and “When Death Becomes You” by M.O.P., it wasn’t hard to see why. Say what you will about G-Unit, but they were at the top of the Hip Hop world during their era and albums like this solidified their place.
8 Mile (2002)
How do you match one of Hip Hop’s perennial movies? With an equally sharp soundtrack. Did Eminem accomplish this? Hell yeah he did. This five-time platinum selling monster contained some of the dopest cuts heard during the early millennium. Yeah, yeah, we know how insane “Lose Yourself” and “Wanksta” were, but how about the rest of the album? Well, all you have to do is listen to cuts like “8 Miles & Runnin”, “Rap Game” and “U Wanna Be Me”, and any doubts that were had were erased completely.
There was even a release of More Music From 8 Mile, which contained the songs of the cuts played in the battle scenes in the movie like “Shook Ones”, “C.R.E.A.M.”, and “Survival Of The Fittest”. This was just a pure, unadulterated Hip Hop movie, and its soundtrack rattled every bit as hard.
A very sorely slept-on soundtrack, Slam is a movie about a slam poet’s rough struggle to escape his environment and the soundtrack to it is pretty damn good in itself. Although performances by Black Rob, KRS-One, and Goodie Mob, among others were excellent, the title of best cut must go to dead prez and their amazing cut “Selling D.O.P.E.”.
Released in a monstrous year of releases of ’98, this was highly overshadowed, but deserves to be considered among one of the best soundtracks to exist, even if you’ve never heard it before.
Sunset Park (1996)
This film of a P.E. teacher-turned basketball coach of troubled boys basketball team was a pretty decent film, but it was its soundtrack that was just the business. The R&B tracks on here from Aaliyah, Adina Howard and Groove Theory were great, but the Hip Hop on here was especially stand out, as Mobb Deep‘s “Back At You” was a right hook to the face in terms of how bangin’ the cut was, plus Ghostface‘s “Motherless Child” was the start of an incredible run for the emcee also known as Tony Starks. Performances by 2Pac, MC Lyte, and Big Mike also catapulted the soundtrack into one of ’96’s most rotated albums.
Black Mask (1999)
DUDE!!!! This was so gutter raw, it made no sense! Tommy Boy Records had already did damage with New Jersey Drive, but this was not just one of the best Hip Hop soundtracks ever, but one of the best Hip Hop albums to drop in ’99 period. There was no flaw in this album, ZERO! Cuts like Screwball’s “F.A.Y.B.A.N.”, Crooked Lettaz “Firewater”, and D.V. Alias Khrist’s “The Attack Is On” matched the aggression and intensity the Jet-Li movie provided. If smash-mouth, non-watered down, whoop your ass Hip Hop is what you’re into, this is your soundtrack of choice, bar none.
Other notable soundtracks include:
- New Jack City
- Nutty Professor
- Black & White
- House Party
- The Man With Iron Fists
- Afro Samurai
- Next Friday
This was quite a list, and if there were others you felt I should’ve included, please feel free to let me know. However, for all intents and purposes, this was a formidable list, and if you haven’t peeped these soundtracks, don’t be afraid to Youtube these soundtracks or visit iTunes or Amazon to check them out. While I don’t knock any R&B-geared soundtracks like Soul Food, Love & Basketball, and Love Jones, this, folks, is Hip Hop, and that’s the premise of this entry. Until next time, peeps, keep rocking that Hip Hop! it’s here to stay!