Soundtracks were once as coveted as albums, comprised of songs you couldn’t get anywhere else. You had to buy the Menace II Society soundtrack if you wanted the remix of UGK’s “Pocket Full of Stones.” I can’t recall the last soundtrack that I desired, but Dope, which hits theaters June 19, looks promising. Much of the Pharrell Williams-curated soundtrack skews ’90s, featuring a number of classics—from Digable Planets’ “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)” to Digital Underground’s “The Humpty Dance”—along with new tracks from the film’s fictional band, Awreeoh. If you dig N.E.R.D., you’ll likely dig the new tracks. But mostly, Dope just makes me nostalgic for a time when movies inspired unique gems such as “Crooklyn Dodgers” (from Crooklyn) and “The Points” (from Panther). With that in mind, let me go on my old-man rant about some of the best hip-hop soundtracks.
Friday (1995): This comedy soundtrack was no joke. It paired R&B hits such as Rose Royce’s “I Wanna Get Next to You” and Rick James’ “Mary Jane” with Dr. Dre’s “Keep Their Heads Ringin’” and E-A-Ski’s “Blast If I Have To.” Note that Tha Alkaholiks’ underrated “Coast II Coast” appeared here but not on Coast II Coast.
Above the Rim (1994): Tupac may have starred and contributed “Pain” and “Pour Out a Little Liquor,” but Warren G and Nate Dogg stole the show with “Regulate.” Aside from immortalizing the G-Funk duo, the soundtrack also included SWV’s “Anything” with Wu-Tang Clan, Lady of Rage’s “Afro Puffs” and Tha Dogg Pound’s forgotten “Big Pimpin’.” So what if they had nothing to do with basketball?
Sunset Park (1996): You wouldn’t think a movie starring Rhea Perlman as a basketball coach would produce a stellar rap soundtrack, but it’s hard to miss when you’ve got Tupac, Ghostface Killah, Junior M.A.F.I.A., Mobb Deep and Aaliyah on the team. The only flop was not turning the locker room chant “It’s time to get live, it’s time to represent. Sunset Park what time is it?!” into an actual song.
High School High (1996): Jon Lovitz is about as hip-hop as Perlman. Yet this teen movie parody also features treasures from legendary East Coast acts. A Tribe Called Quest’s “Peace, Prosperity & Paper” and De La Soul’s “I Can’t Call It” should be up there with “Award Tour” and “Ego Trippin’ (Part 2)” in their respective catalogs. Plus, RZA, Method Man and Cappadonna’s “Wu-Wear: The Garment Renaissance” had me searching far and wide for a Wu-branded bubble jacket, which I rocked with pride freshman year.
In Too Deep (1999): The pool table scene (it involves a pool stick and the words “Love it!”) scarred me. But the soundtrack featured 50 Cent’s controversial debut single, “How to Rob,” and the remix to Mobb Deep’s “Quiet Storm” with Lil’ Kim.
Menace II Society (1993): Though the soundtrack isn’t as brilliant as the film itself, it’s still a great collection of original records from the era. It features acts from all over the map, including Texas’ UGK, New York’s Boogie Down Productions and the Bay Area’s Spice 1. Compton’s MC Eiht scored his biggest hit with the gritty “Streiht Up Menace,” which got new life courtesy of Grand Theft Auto V.
Street Fighter (1994): There were more than a few questionable decisions in the creation of Street Fighter—Van Damme playing an American soldier, the shitshow of a plot and letting football’s Deion Sanders rap with MC Hammer. Those missteps aside, the soundtrack is oddly all hip-hop, with both huge and obscure names. Ice Cube’s title track is cheesy, but Nas’ “One on One” definitely isn’t a throwaway, and Ahmad, Ras Kass and Saafir’s “Come Widdit” and The Pharcyde’s “Pandemonium” have become underground classics.