Hip-hop and big-budget movies are a match made in heaven — when you combine the out-of-this-world personalities of rappers like Eminem or Kendrick Lamar with the potent narratives of a brilliant screenplay it becomes a fully formed cinematic Voltron. And with the release of the highly successful soundtrack for Black Panther, courtesy of Kendrick Lamar and the TDE crew, that conversation has definitely opened again.
Movies can be enhanced with a good soundtrack, a fact which has never been as clear as when you look at the recent example of the aforementioned Panther and the Kendrick Lamar curated musical accompaniment. So to honor the success of Panther, and its predecessors, we’ve created a list of some of the best hip-hop soundtracks of all time — from big-budget to lesser-known fare, these albums have left an impact on the movies that they are inspired by.
2002’s kind-of autobiographical 8 Mile was a box office hit that helped cement Eminem’s status as the de-facto rap superstar of the time. And even with his accolades as an actor and rapper, he chose to spotlight his growing Shady Records roster on the soundtrack. The 8 Mile soundtrack was home to Obie Trice and a then-buzzing 50 Cent, who had standout songs in lieu of his upcoming debut a few months later. The soundtrack also had a stellar list of rap royalty as well — with Rakim making an appearance and even former foes Jay-Z and Nas taking shots at each other on their respective songs.
Before Black Panther, there was Blade. Wesley Snipes’ R-rated superhero franchise paved the way a lot of superhero movie trends and set the standard for people of color in leading roles in the genre. The soundtrack to the first movie thematically makes sense — it blends techno (which was extremely popular in 1998) with hip-hop, which goes hand in hand with Blade’s half vampire/half human schtick. What we get is carefully curated mashups that combine Blade’s rap side (featuring KRS-One, Mystikal, and more) with the pulsating sound of good ole ’90s electronica. It may not be for everyone, but the Blade soundtrack is a great snapshot of how to do a hip-hop soundtrack with a good theme.
Above The Rim
The soundtrack to 1994’s inner-city basketball drama Above The Rim is a rousing statement for Death Row Records’ complete domination of hip-hop at the time (the soundtrack was executive produced by Suge Knight). Though the movie that inspired it was pretty much forgettable — other than Tupac Shakur’s star-making performance as Birdie — the soundtrack was a showcase for Death Row’s highly capable roster. With standout songs from Snoop Dogg, Lady Of Rage, Tupac, and Daz, Above The Rim is the first example of how to make a successful soundtrack by focusing on the talent surrounding your label. Add a few timely songs from popular R&B and New Jack Swing artists like SWV, Al B Sure!, and DeVante Swing, and you have a truly iconic album that works well within the movie its based on.
1996 was the year that Eddie Murphy broke records with his comedic tour de force The Nutty Professor. However, the amount of costume changes Murphy went through in the movie wasn’t the only thing people were talking about. The movie’s soundtrack featured an immense amount of talent from Def Jam — whose late 90’s roster was filled with heavy hitters. Besides Jay-Z gifting the soundtrack a hit with “Ain’t No N—-a,” the album opens with bonafide high school dance anthem “Touch Me, Tease Me” from the wrongly-forgotten crooner Case.
New Jack City
If the Above The Rim soundtrack dabbled in New Jack Swing, then New Jack City’s musical accompaniment throws the listener headfirst into the pool. That isn’t a bad thing — the album based on the Wesley Snipes/Ice-T crime drama is home to some of the most infectious anthems of the early ’90s. With appearances from Color Me Badd (“I Wanna Sex You Up”) and Keith Sweat (“Tellin’ Me No Again”), the soundtrack is more crooning than scowling. Perhaps the most memorable song from the project is Troop and LeVert’s Queen Latifah assisted “For The Love Of Money/Living For The City,” which is featured prominently throughout the movie.
Who knew that Bugs Bunny liked hip-hop? The soundtrack to Michael Jordan’s 1996 magnum opus, Space Jam, stands the test of time as one of the most revered albums ever. Though the movie was saccharine thematically, the soundtrack managed to be hip and inspirational at the same time. There’s a laundry list of elite talent on the project, including LL Cool J, Salt-N-Pepa, Chris Rock (!!!), Monica, and even Bugs Bunny himself — who dropped a hell of a solo song (ghostwritten by Jay-Z). What pushed the soundtrack over the edge, and into multi-platinum status, was the inclusion of R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” — a song that we probably all feel differently about today in light of what we now know about Kelly. That weirdness aside, the Space Jam soundtrack encapsulated the idea that hip-hop and Hollywood could collide to make something truly beautiful.