15 Best Rap and R&B Songs from Spike Lee’s Movies
For over 30 years, Spike Lee has directed some of the most thought-provoking and riveting films in the history of cinema. In addition to his movies, Lee also knows how to deliver a great soundtrack.
Starting in 1989 with the Do the Right Thing soundtrack (and the powerful song “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy), Lee curates music that explore African-American themes or conveys a message that is poignant of the times. Recently, the 61-year-old director revealed that the end credits of his new film BlacKkKlansman will feature Prince’s cover of the Negro spiritual, “Mary Don’t You Weep.”
In honor of Spike Lee releasing his new flick BlacKkKlansman, we take a look back at some of the best songs from his acclaimed movies.
The Girl 6 soundtrack features track written and produced by the late and great music icon Prince. The project included previously released tunes from the Purple One as well as three new songs: "She Spoke 2 Me," "Don't Talk 2 Strangers” and the title track by the New Power Generation. On the song, there are bits of turntable scratching, sound bites from the film and Prince’s voice as well. Marvin Gaye’s daughter, Nona Gaye, is also singing on the smooth tune.
Arguably, Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing soundtrack is one of the best albums of 1989. Not only did the songs fit perfectly with Lee’s thought-provoking movie about racial tensions in a Brooklyn neighborhood on a hot summer day, it was the perfect soundtrack for the summer of 1989. Take 6’s doo-wop song addresses the problematic issue of guns being used to resolve conflicts in the ‘hood. There are a few more songs from the soundtrack that will appear on this list.
Get on the Bus is another great film from Lee. The movie tells the story about a group of African-American men who take a cross-country bus trip to the Million Man March in Washington, D.C. in 1995. Michael Jackson's "On the Line" appears in the end credits of the film but was omitted from the soundtrack.
Spike Lee and Public Enemy have teamed up on a variety of soundtracks, including Do the Right Thing. For Lee's 1998 basketball film He Got Game, the director wanted strictly P.E. songs for the movie's accompanying soundtrack. With the assistance of the influential production team the Bomb Squad, Chuck D and his crew delivered political songs about the commodification of basketball and the false notion that dribbling a ball is a golden ticket for black youths to get out of the ‘hood. The title track samples Buffalo Springfield’s 1966 song, "For What It's Worth"
Lee tackles the taboo subject (at least during the '90s) of interracial dating with his provocative 1991 film Jungle Fever, which starred Wesley Snipes. The soundtrack is entirely composed of songs by soul icon Stevie Wonder. On the title track, the veteran piano man sings about people criticizing him for his interracial romance. “I've got jungle fever, she's got jungle fever / We've got jungle fever, we're in love / She's gone black-boy crazy, I've gone white-girl hazy / Ain't no thinking maybe, we're in love,” Stevie sings on the memorable hook.
Lee's 2000 film Bamboozled is dark satire on the entertainment industry, so who better to deliver a poignant message about Hollywood’s lack of diversity than Chuck D. The blistering song “Burned Hollywood Burned, is a sequel to Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet track "Burn Hollywood Burn” featuring Ice Cube and Big Daddy Kane. On the new song, Chuck, the Roots’ Black Thought and Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de la Rocha spit fiery lyrics against Hollywood for perpetuating black stereotypes in film.
From Lee’s Crooklyn soundtrack, the posse song “Crooklyn” is a fantastic Brooklyn anthem by the Crooklyn Dodgers, which consists of Buckshot, Masta Ace and Special Ed. On the track, the three rhymers salute their beloved borough of Brooklyn (New York) and recalling their childhood memories growing up in BK.
From the Get on the Bus soundtrack, “New World Order,” is one of Curtis Mayfield’s last songs he recorded after being paralyzed in a freak accident. The track fits perfectly with Lee’s film, as Mayfield urges for peace and solidarity among people of different ethnic backgrounds.
Spike Lee’s 1995 film Clockers is both a murder mystery and a social narrative about drug dealers and the police who bust them. The veteran filmmaker delivers a gut punch with the opening credits, which features graphic photos of shooting victims. But playing throughout is Marc Dorsey’s urgent song "People in Search of a Life." Dorsey's Stevie Wonder-esque vocals sets the tone for the movie. It's a perfect blend of music and film. **Warning**: the video below contains graphic images of shooting victims. Viewers discretion is advised.
The New Jack Swing sound was at its peak in 1989 and Lee was smart to include the genre’s creator Teddy Riley and his group Guy for the Do the Right Thing soundtrack. The party jam “My Fantasy” is a perfect fit on the collection and it also gave Guy another No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hip-Hop/R&B Songs chart.
The second group of Crooklyn Dodgers consists of lyricists Chubb Rock, O.C. and Jeru da Damaja. Produced by the great DJ Premier, “Return of the Crooklyn Dodgers” appeared on the Clockers soundtrack. Fun Fact: In 2007, a third group of Crooklyn Dodgers was formed featuring Mos Def, Jean Grae and Memphis Bleek. The song “Brooklyn In My Mind” appears on 9th Wonder’s compilation, The Dream Merchant 2.
Spike Lee directed E.U.’s fun-filled video for “Da Butt,” a dance craze that was featured in his 1988 flick School Daze. Peep the early advent of twerking before it became a trend in today’s rap videos.
The Mo’ Better Blues soundtrack featured music from the Branford Marsalis Quartet, Terence Blanchard and Spike Lee’s father Bill Lee. But the centerpiece is Gang Starr’s “A Jazz Thing.” On the song, the late Guru gives listeners an oral history on the creation of jazz music.
Stevie Wonder knows how to craft a love song that will touch your heart and soul. On the Jungle Fever soundtrack, the Grammy-winning singer delivers the beautiful “These Three Words,” a clarion call for people to express their appreciation for loved ones while they are still here on this earth.
If there’s one song that Spike Lee will be forever indebted for it would be Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power.” Not only does the song fit perfectly in the memorable opening credits of Do the Right Thing (salute to Rosie Perez), it’s anchors the entire film as the music that blasts from Radio Raheem’s gigantic boombox (R.I.P. to Bill Nunn). P.E.’s “Fight the Power” is, arguably, one of the greatest rap songs in hip-hop history and Chuck D’s powerful lyrics are still relevant in today’s political climate. Spike also helmed the video as well.