Opinion: Where did all the black film soundtracks go?

by: Shumara Thomas


Growing up as a child and hip hop fan in the 90s, I’ve been received a surprising gift that folk this generation won’t enjoy: dope soundtracks. Today’s music fans can’t relate to  compilation albums and soundtracks purchased with the same gusto as an artist’s solo release. When a black movie came out, you just KNEW that the soundtrack would be ridiculous, and the lead singles didn’t disappoint. They made you even more eager to see the movie again.  I can easily remember hearing Toni Braxton for the first time on the Boomerang soundtrack with her song with Babyface “Give You My Heart” and “Love Should’ve Brought You.” Being amazed at her confidence, rocking such a short, edgy haircut and later adopting a hairstyle similar to hers and Halle Berry years later.

When Soundtracks Ruled The World

In 1994 when Ed Lover and Dr. Dre of Yo! MTV Raps starred in the movie Who’s The Man, everyone was already discussing the soundtrack. These two had a definitive finger on the pulse of hip hop at the time, it had to be a crazy album right? The movie itself was overly cheesy and full of bad acting but who cared? The brothers knew what they were doing and their soundtrack lives on in infamy as the album that introduced the world to the Notorious B.I.G with “Party and Bullshit.” The film by visionary John SingletonPoetic Justice” starring Janet Jackson and Tupac created my favorite soundtrack of all time. It was the first cassette tape I broke from playing it so much. This joint had a fire track from Tupac, Janet Jackson,  Stevie Wonder, Stanley Clarke, TLC, Naughty by Nature! A black movie full of Maya Angelou poetry? Stop it. I’m damn near reliving high school just thinking about that album. Nowadays you gotta hope to get 5 or 6 decent songs from a individual project,  screw the soundtrack. Usually you get a hot song or two and politely sit out the rest of the album.

The Future of Soundtracks in Black Film

I miss being introduced to new artists. Having the songs pull me back into the theater by capturing the essence of the film. I mourn the LaFace compilation and holiday record. It’s still the only bonafide Christmas album I will allow to be played in my home. As movies have accelerated in technology and craft, they have left behind some of the soul that was so prevalent in the 90’s. Even the release of Marvel’s Black Panther, couldn’t incite that same sort of expectation in me. “All The Stars” by Kendrick Lamar and SZA captures the Black Panther film beautifully and I adore the song but it never made me consider actually purchasing the full soundtrack. I’ve left those days behind with pagers,cordless cell phones and Guess jeans. Maybe one day one of our newly emerging directors will reclaim the soundtrack and return to the people the gift cinematic soul.