Often underappreciated in music the soundtrack can play a versatile and profitable role for a film. Soundtracks can give movie producers the ability to promote a film by engaging the audience via a different avenue. A marketing tool, a revenue stream, an expansion of the movie, or a way to chronicle the music in the movie for fans to enjoy outside of it, soundtracks can be an important extension of an audience member’s experience of a film. The use of soundtracks has become more routine in the 21st century and similarly to the late ’90s and early 2000s, it has been Hip-Hop at the center of the evolved partnership between music and film.
Hip-Hop has benefited from this partnership in the past with labels partnering with film studios to multi-purpose an artist’s single for the artist’s album as well as the film. If you recall the use of Jay-Z’s “Can I Get A….” in 1998 for Rush Hour starring Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan, which received a whole music video referencing the film, or DMX’s smash hit “X Gon Give It To Ya” which was used in 2003 for the promotion of Cradle 2 the Grave starring DMX himself and Jet Li. In the early 2000s, Hip-Hop would get even more responsibility, with Eminem making a whole soundtrack for his film 8 Mile, and Diddy curating the soundtrack for Bad Boys 2, which featured hits like “Shake Ya Tailfeather.”
Movie studios would intentionally bring in artists to make songs that are equally important to the marketing of the movie as the trailer. Think Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” for 1992 film The Bodyguard starring Whitney herself and Kevin Costner or Twista’s “Hope” featuring Faith Evans for the 2005 film Coach Carter starring Samuel L. Jackson. More recently, Jordan Peele gave new life to Luniz’s “I Got 5 on It” for his 2019 movie US, The Weeknd’s “Earned It” was perfect for 50 Shades of Grey and Wiz Khalifa & Charlie Puth’s “See You Again” made for the Furious 7 soundtrack, perfectly encapsulated the mourning surrounding the franchise after star Paul Walker’s death. Music can set moods, shift environments, or be the complimentary cherry on top to a moment, scene or sequence and plays as crucial a role as the actors or the plot in creating an iconic moment. Films don’t have to include music, but since the introduction of sound into the world of cinema, most films would feel naked without it.
The relationship between Hip-Hop and Film would plateau in the 2000s, due to production companies relying more on rock-oriented soundtracks and traditional orchestral scores. But in 2010, Illumination Entertainment tapped Pharrell Williams to executive produce a project for the animated film Despicable Me 2, an album which would produce “Happy,” one of Pharrell’s most iconic songs to date. Since then we’ve seen more active partnerships, like Marvel tapping Kendrick Lamar and TDE to produce an album for Black Panther or Tyler, the Creator being tapped to make music for The Grinch.
With an opportunity to curate a soundtrack comes an opportunity to have more freedom making music. No need for artists to cater to fans’ wants regarding an artist’s specific sound or content. Artists can dive into a universe and use it as inspiration for making a body of work that might not necessarily produce within the frame of their solo discography.
The Black Panther soundtrack is a great example of this, with Kendrick’s star power, talent, versatility, and conceptual prowess, making a project to accompany a film like Black Panther was right up his alley, and the music did not disappoint. Not only did Kendrick and Top Dawg produce an album that perfectly complements the film, and can exist on its own, they made the conscious decision to use the platform of that album to push unknown artists like SOB X RBE, Mozzy, Zacardi, and more to the forefront. Exceeding just success on the charts and radio waves, the Black Panther soundtrack would go on to win an Oscar and Grammy for “Best Original Score” and earn Future, Jay Rock, and James Blake their first Grammy Awards for the 3X platinum “King’s Dead” hit.
Judas and The Black Messiah is the next soundtrack to have anything close to this level of impact, toting great songs that compliment the film well. Its cohesion and execution are another great example of what can happen when the musical project accompanying a film gets similar attention and funding. Executively produced by OldMilk’s reigning Producer of the Year Hit-Boy, the soundtrack shows a balance of classic and modern Hip-Hop sonics, while not straying away from the main themes and sentiments of the film. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Hit-Boy stated, “It’s our energy… to me, when you listen to the soundtrack, you want to watch the movie. When you watch the movie, you want to listen to the soundtrack. They go hand in hand, and because of the sonics, they match the feeling and the vibe as it was in the ’60s. It’s real retro, but it also feels new. It feels like a fresh take on our history.”
Looking forward, the roll doesn’t stop here, with the creators of the iconic Saw horror movie franchise tapping 21 Savage to help produce the soundtrack for the upcoming installment in franchise Spiral set to release in May. 21 Savage is a perfect choice considering the ominous aesthetic and sound present in much of 21’s discography, most notably in his “Savage Mode” series and 2017 joint effort with Offset and Metro Boomin titled “Without Warning.” If 21 Savage goes about this soundtrack like any of his projects, fans are certainly in for a treat.
The increased potential for soundtracks as a revenue stream all but confirm continued investment in their production. But it will be the decisions of tapping Hit-Boy, TDE, and 21 Savage that will show Hip-Hop’s true versatility and strength. The future landscape for soundtracks certainly seems to lie with Hip-Hop. The continuation of this relationship will give Hip-Hop more opportunities to show the different colors and applications of the community’s art while also showing how iconic the genre can be. But it is up to film studios and production companies to connect with artists, actively seeking partnerships to make amazing music, pushing Cinema and Hip-Hop to new heights.