Love Jones (1997) – Featuring spoken word poetry, plus music by Dionne Faris (“Hopeless”), the Fugees featuring Lauryn Hill (“Sweetest Thing”), and ‘90s soul stars like Maxwell, Groove Theory, Xcsape and even a cut by Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, the soundtrack is as smooth as the film.
The Wood (1999) – The throwback film featured a soundtrack full of ‘80s resonance, including tracks by Biz Markie, D-Nice, Keith Sweat, Teddy Riley and Eric B. and Rakim. But it also featured soul classics, including a remake of “If This World Were Mine” by Luther Vandross and Cheryl Lynn.
Above the Rim (1994) – The movie featured Tupac Shakur as the villain, Bishop, and Omar Epps as Q. The soundtrack was released by Death Row Records, a year after the label’s founder Suge Knight, bailed Tupac out of Attica prison in exchange for a recording commitment. The soundtrack included tracks by SWV, H-Town, Warren G, Nate Dogg and more.
Boomerang (1992) – The soundtrack was a who’s who of 90s superstars, including Babyface, Toni Braxton, Aaron Hall, Keith Washington, Boyz II Men, Johnny Gill and a Tribe Called Quest, plus then-rising stars Shanice and P.M. Dawn. But it’s tough to beat the album (and the movie’s) show-stopper: Grace Jones.
Waiting to Exhale (1995) – The soundtrack to Whitney Houston’s star turn in the movie version of Terry McMillan’s best-selling novel featured classics like “Not Gon’ Cry” by Mary J. Blige, “Let it Flow” by Toni Braxton, tracks by Brandi, Chaka Khan, Aretha Franklin and of course, two songs by Whitney, including “Exhale (Shoop Shoop).”
The Bodyguard (1992) – Three years before Exhale, Whitney made her acting debut in The Bodyguard, opposite Kevin Costner. The soundtrack made Houston the first music act to sell 1 million copies in a single week. She sang most of the tracks, including a remake of “I’m Every Woman,” “I Have Nothing,” and the classic “I Will Always Love You.”
Poetic Justice (1993) – The John Singleton-directed film starred pop and hip-hop stars Janet Jackson as Justice and Tupac Shakur as her love interest, Lucky, but only Shakur performed on the soundtrack, along with Usher, Babyface, Tony! Toni! Toné!, Pete Rock and CL Smooth, Nate Dogg and more.
The Best Man (1999) – The movie featured just about every member of the ‘90s “black pack” — Taye Diggs, Morris Chestnut, Nia Long, Terrence Howard, Sanaa Lathan and more. The high-end soul soundtrack featured songs by the Roots, Jaguar Wright, Kenny Lattimore, Maxwell, Faith Evans, and a duet between Lauryn Hill and the late, great Bob Marley.
Deep Cover (1992) – The soundtrack to the 1999 Bill Duke-directed film, starring Laurence Fishburne and Jeff Goldblum featured a classic collaboration between Dr. Dre (in his solo debut after NWA) and his then-protege, Snoop Dogg. The rest of the album mixes hip-hop, R&B, and reggae (courtesy of Shabba Ranks).
Do the Right Thing (1989) – 1989 was a big year in hip-hop, particularly for Public Enemy, whose track “Fight the Power,” for Spike Lee’s movie about racial confrontation became a global anthem.
Space Jam (1996) – What do you get when you cross NBA great Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny? A hit movie. And the soundtrack to the mid-90s film featured the R. Kelly classic “I Believe I Can Fly,” plus tracks from Monica, D’Angelo, Salt-N-Pepa, Coolio (remember him?) Quad City DJs and even a duet between Barry White and Chris Rock.
Soul Food (1997) – The movie was Vanessa Williams’ 90s star turn. The soundtrack featured that era’s biggest stars: Usher, En Vogue, Dru Hill, Boyz II Men (who sang the movie’s signature, “A Song for Mama”), Xscape and Total. But there was also Earth Wind and Fire’s “September.”
Love & Basketball (2000) – A classic love story deserves a classic soundtrack, and this one had everything from Me’shell Ndegeocello’s haunting “Fool of Me” to Rob Base and DJ Easy Rock’s good-timey “It Takes Two,” plus Al Green’s “Love and Happiness”, Rufus and Chaka Khan’s “Sweet Thing” and Roger’s auto-tune predecessor, “I Wanna Be Your Man.”
Crooklyn (1994) – Spike Lee’s autobiographical portrait of 1970s Brooklyn spawned a two-volume soundtrack that featured classic artists like The Staples Singers, Sly & the Family Stone, the Jackson 5, the Chi-Lites, Curtis Mayfield and many more.
Jungle Fever (1991) – When you can get Stevie Wonder to record an entire soundtrack for you, you’re on your way to an instant classic. Such was the case for Spike Lee, and his 1991 movie “Jungle Fever,” which featured 11 Stevie originals, including “These Three Words” and the title track.
Jackie Brown (1997) – Quentin Tarrantino brought the 70s back with his updated blaxploitation classic starring Pam Grier and Samuel L. Jackson. The soundtrack featured “Strawberry Letter #23” by the Brothers Johnson, plus an eclectic roundup including Johnny Cash, Minnie Riperton, Bill Withers and Randy Crawford.
The Five Heartbeats (1991) – Robert Townsend’s film (co-written by Keenan Ivory Wayans) followed the lives of a fictional doo-wop group modeled on acts like The Dells and the Four Tops. The soundtrack featured songs performed by the fictional group, plus tracks by the Dells, After 7, and a track by Andre Crouch.
Cooley High (1975) – The movie, starring Glynn Turman and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, about a group of friends from the South Side of Chicago who get into trouble is considered the black “American Graffiti.” And the soundtrack is a classic, featuring songs by the Temptations, Mary Wells, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Supremes and other classic Motown acts.
New Jack City (1991) – How do you get Ice-T and Color Me Badd on one album? If you’re Mario Van Peebles, you make a cult classic movie about crime in the big city. The film starred Wesley Snipes, Chris Rock (as Pookie, the crackhead) and Michael Michele, and the soundtrack featured Guy, Keith Sweat, 2 Live Crew, Queen Latifah, Christopher Williams, Ice, and yes…CMB.
The Color Purple (1985) – The movie, based on the book of the same name by Alice Walker, introduced the world to Oprah Winfrey as an actress, and nearly won Whoopi Goldberg an Academy Award. The soundtrack was filled with gospel and blues classics, mostly composed by Quincy Jones.
Krush Groove (1985) – The hip-hop classic film fictionalizes the story of Def Jam and its artful co-founder, Russell Simmons (“Russell Walker,” played by Blair Underwood). And the soundtrack features a pantheon of 80s rap superstars: from LL Cool J to Sheila E to the Fat Boys, plus punk band Blondie’s lead sing/rapper, Debbie Harry.
Beat Street (1984) – The soundtrack to the film that broke hip-hop culture, including graffiti and breakdancing, worldwide, was actually produced by Harry Belafonte — better known for acting, and Calypso. The two-volume album featured tracks from Grandmaster Melle Mel & The Furious 5, Afrika Bambaataa, Kool Moe Dee and more.
Purple Rain (1984) – Many people think Prince wrote and directed his debut film, but he did not (that credit goes to Albert Magnoli who directed and co-wrote the script.) But Prince wrote the classic songs, from “When Doves Cry” to the title track which made the film a cult classic, and scored a 1985 Oscar for best original score. The soundtrack sold over 20 million copies.
The Wiz (1978) – When it comes to Quincy Jones original scores, nobody — and nothing — beats The Wiz. The 1978 classic soundtrack featured “Ease on Down the Road” and other timeless songs, performed by the greats: Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Lena Horne, and stage-to-screen gem Nipsey Russell.
Claudine (1974) – The seventies film brought together James Earl Jones, Diahann Carroll, and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs as stars, plus a soundtrack composed by the great Curtis Mayfield, and performed by Gladys Knight and the Pips. Nuff said.
The Harder They Come (1972) – The Jamaican crime drama starred reggae star Jimmy Cliff, and was released by B-movie director Roger Corman’s New World Films. But the soundtrack soon became a classic, featuring reggae cuts by Cliff, the Maytals, and Johnny Nash.
Lady Sings the Blues (1972) – Diana Ross had her movie star turn in this Billie Holiday biopic, and the soundtrack became her only #1 album on Billboard’s Top 200 albums chart in the U.S. It featured two albums full of Billie classics, sung by Ms. Ross.
Black Caesar (1973) – James Brown wrote and performed the soundtrack to this blaxploitation classic starring the man who helped defined the genre, Fred Williamson. Cuts include “The Boss,” “Down and Out in New York City” and “Like it Is, Like it Was.”
Super Fly (1972) – Curtis Mayfield composed one of the classic soul albums of the 70s for the blaxploitation flick of the same name. It spawned songs like “Little Child Runnin’ Wild”, “Pusherman” and of course, the title track.
Shaft (1971) – Many of the classic blaxploitation films were defined by their soundtrack, and none more than “Shaft,” starring Richard Roundtree and Moses Gunn, but in many ways, also starring Isaac Hayes, who composed the movie’s double album soundtrack.
- of 31
When was the last time you listened to (or downloaded) an entire album from beginning to end? Chances are, it was the last time you heard a good soundtrack.
A great theme song can define a film (think Diana Ross’ theme from the 1975 film Mahogany, “Do You Know, Where You’re Going To?”) but when the entire soundtrack is great, it can help turn even a so-so movie into a classic.
Submitted for your approval, theGrio’s picks for the 30 greatest black movie soundtracks.