Words By Preezy Da KidFamed director and die-hard Brooklynite Spike Lee is one of the most influential creative minds of the Hip-Hop generation. Producing a number of landmark films that spoke to and challenged a nation of millions, he has always displayed his affinity for the culture and its music.
Spike possesses a keen ear for selecting the perfect audio backdrop for many memorable scenes throughout his films. With a soundtrack catalog that trumps many artists’ catalogs, we felt it was right to present the 12 of the best songs featured in Spike Lee joints. The most memorable instances of Shelton’s A&R skills are on display here. Let the stroll down cinematic memory lane begin.
1. EU – “Da Butt” In School Daze
School Daze, Lee’s film inspired by HBCU culture and his time at Morehouse, released in 1988. Though he tackled more socially conscious issues for a bulk of the movie, he surely displayed the unique party-centric vibe of these institutions as well. Spike tapped famed Go-Go band E.U. to contribute this number to the soundtrack. The cut became a timeless jam for the rumpshakers and booty connoisseurs alike.
2. Public Enemy – “Fight The Power” In Do The Right Thing
One of Hip-Hop’s defining moments saw Spike Lee in collaboration with Public Enemy for his magnum opus Do The Right Thing. Although considered a critical darling off the strength of his classic debut “She’s Gotta Have It”, the artist formerly known as Mars morphed into Mookie for an unforgettable hot summer day in Brooklyn. “Fight The Power,” produced by Hank Shocklee and the Bomb Squad, served as the film’s theme song.
The track’s ominous presence (thanks to HOF B-Boy Radio Raheem,) built great tension toward this masterpiece’s climatic uprising. An audio call to arms for the urban community, “Fight The Power” has gone on to be known as one of the most important Hip-Hop tracks of all time.
3. Steel Pulse – “Can’t Stand The Heat” In Do The Right Thing
Unless you happen to reside in Iceland, we’re sure you’re quite familiar with the unbearable temperatures during the dog days of summer. With Do The Right Thing taking place on the hottest day of the year, this offering from Steele Pulse was tailor-made for the movie. Conveying the emotions of all of Bed Stuy on that day with a simple refrain, this reggae tinged cut from the boys from the U.K. is still rings in our ears during the muggiest days of summer.
4. Stevie Wonder – “These Three Words” In Jungle Fever
The legendary Stevie Wonder was tapped to provide the entire soundtrack behind Jungle Fever while Spike worked on the film. Although a majority of the music used was previously released, Stevie went into the studio to record three brand new tracks.
“These Three Words,” the brightest addition, shined with heartfelt vocals from Wonder on cherishing the lives and times of loved ones. The selection played during some of the most vulnerable moments of the movie and could induce a tear from Douche’s tough girl exterior.
5. “Harlem Blues” in Mo’ Better Blues
Influenced by his upbringing as the child of a Jazz musician and the resurgence in the genre’s popularity, Spike decided to write the script for what would become Mo’ Better Blues. While Branford Marsalis stood as the mastermind behind the films score, Cynda Williams and her vintage Jazz number “Harlem Blues” stole the show.
In the climatic scene of the movie, Williams’ character Clark Betancourt belts out the soulful number, while backed by Wesley Snipes on the sax. A true throwback responsible for one of the more memorable musical scenes of his career, “Harlem Blues” is undeniable: especially to a Brooklynite like Spike.
6. Gang Starr – “Jazz Thing” In Mo Better Blues
Although the soundtrack for Mo’ Better Blues consisted of mostly Jazz compositions, rap lords Premo and Guru gained invitations to the party as well. Contributing the boom-bap heavy “Jazz Thing” to the affair, the King Of Monotone proceeded to break down the beginnings and rebirth of the genre.
With the utilization of a sample from legendary Jazz musicican Charlie Parker’s (“Cool Blues”), along with the input of Branford Marsalis and Guru’s jazzmatazz-esque rhyming, the worlds of the original jazz men and the new age ones collided, making for one of the standout numbers in Spike’s musical catalog.
7. Crooklyn Dodgers ’95- “Return Of The Crooklyn Dodgers” In Clockers
During the final stages of production on his 1994 offering, Crooklyn, urban films top dog decided to bring together an all star cast of Brooklyn emcee’s to come up with a track embodying the overall ambiance of the movie. Thus, blessing the world with the undeniable classic “Crooklyn Dodgers”, featuring Masta Ace, Special Ed, and Buckshot, produced by Ali Shaheed Muhammed and Q-Tip. The video, featuring Michael Jordan and Mike Tyson repping BK, didn’t hurt matters neither.
Those ingredients would result in a head-nodding, feel good jam destined as one of Brooklyn’s biggest anthems.
8. Marc Dorsey – “People In Search Of A Life” In Clockers
Vocalist Marc Dorsey contributed this soul stirring number to Spike’s 1995 film Clockers. Centered around the violent drug trade that was engulfing New York at the time, Clockers featured Mekhi Phifer in his acting debut as Strike, a Brooklyn hustler caught up in a homicide investigation.
Even though it became one of the more underrated offerings from the 40 Acres And A Mule catalog, the opening of the movie is as memorable as any Spike has produced. The emotional wailing of Dorsey, to go along with the bone chilling images of victims of gun violence remains vivid in the minds of many viewers.
9. Public Enemy – “He Got Game” In He Got Game
“If Man Is The Father, Then Son Is The Center Of Earth, In The Middle Of The Universe..”
With that bar, Chuck, Flav, and crew were back in “The Game”. After a four year sabbatical, Public Enemy dusted off the mic and boards to contribute the entire soundtrack to Spike’s basketball inspired ’98 flick, He Got Game. A departure from their infamous bombastic sound, the title track was anything but, featuring crisp, laid back production and a sample of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”.
The only single released from the album and what would stand as P.E.’s last shining moment in the mainstream arena, “He Got Game” remains a defining cut in the storied career of the kings of political rap and a shining moment in the 40 Acres And A Mule musical catalog.
10. Mau Maus – “Blak Iz Blak” In Bamboozled
For ’00s Bamboozled, his take on the proverbial black face of the urban entertainment industry, Lee went with a different approach in regards to the soundtrack. He enlisted a collection of loose tracks from various artists. Mau Maus, the fictional rap group consisting of Mos Def, Charli Baltimore, Canibus, Gano Grills, MC Serch, Big Black, Mums, and DJ Scratch on the 1’s & 2’s nabbed the spotlight.
With various appearances throughout the movie and an accompanying video featuring black face and heavy racial commentary, this hodge podge collective definitely struck a chord with viewers and their appearance in the film remains memorable to this day.
11. Arrested Development – “Revolution” in Malcolm X
The late ’80s and early ’90s saw Hip-Hop with an increased emphasis on Afrocentric thinking and knowledge of self. So, when Spike Lee filmed a biopic on larger than life civil rights leader Malcolm X, many within the community considered it a pretty big deal. The project exceeded even Spike’s expectations, matured into a big hit and remained as one of the most important films in the history of cinema. While many of the scenes were powered by vintage, previously released soul classics, Spike invited Hip-Hop to the party with Arrested Development’s lively “Revolution.”
The song serves as a cry for people to “get on up” and stand for something. It unfortunately gets lost in the shuffle at times but it’s a rare gem nonetheless.
12. Stevie Wonder – “Misrepresented People” In Bamboozled
Spike Lee phoned Stevie Wonder for a musical reunion which coincided with the release of Bamboozled. “Misrepresented People” embodied the spirit of the film and prepared audiences for the fuckery en route.
The song’s catchy, aggressive nature held an underlying message of maintaining vigilance in light of the strides made in racial equality. Its backdrop to Bamboozled‘s opening scene became one of the most sought-after introductions in Lee’s run. Within 4:40, Stevie Wonder documented the hundreds of years of exploitation and mistreatment of African Americans and made you nod your head. It’s nothing short of genius.