Once ubiquitous in previous decades, the movie soundtrack is now but an afterthought in these current times. The days when big budget films were accompanied with a musical compilation featuring songs in tune with the movie's plot and theme are all but gone and the projects fail to hold the same significance as they once did.
But if you turn the clock back, movie soundtracks were all the rage among music listeners and a major force in the market place. The soundtrack was especially popular among hip-hop and R&B fans. Soundscapes for films like 'Do the Right Thing' and 'Above the Rim' were regarded as some of the finest album releases of that era and featured a slew of the respective genre's favorite established artists and relative unknowns with a buzz-worthy track.
When it was announced that John Singleton -- the man behind groundbreaking films such as 'Boyz n the Hood' and 'Poetic Justice' -- was coming out with a new flick that would find him reuniting with Ice Cube, as well as bring the animated Busta Rhymes into the fold, the possibilities for a blockbuster soundtrack were endless.
The 'Higher Learning' soundtrack, released on Jan. 3, 1995, featured contributions from artists such as Ice Cube, OutKast, Meshell Ndegeocello, Rage Against the Machine and Tori Amos, among other talents. The soundtrack was a considerable success, reaching the Top 10 of the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Album charts and spawned a hit single with Raphael Saadiq's solo smash, 'Ask of You,' as well as a number of other timeless tracks.
On the 20th anniversary of this classic release, The Boombox selects and ranks the best five tracks from the soundtrack. Enjoy.
'Soul Searchin' (I Wanna Know If It's Mine)' Meshell Ndegeocello
Acclaimed artist Meshell Ndegeocello, then riding high off the release of her Grammy-nominated debut album, 'Lullabies,' contributed this song to the 'Higher Learning' soundtrack. The track, which she wrote and produced, is a mix of sultry vocals and spoken word poetry, with Nedegeocello pulling off both duties masterfully. Making use of a lush soundscape featuring everything from thumping kicks, steady snares and congas, the songstress gets intimate on this one, beckoning her lover to come into her dark room and have his way with her, resulting in a frisky, albeit enticing selection.
'Situation Grimm'Mista Grimm
The West Coast makes its presence felt via California spitter Mista Grimm's standout, 'Situation Grimm.' Relatively a fresh face on the scene at the time, with his lone release being a song that was featured on the 'Poetic Justice' soundtrack, Grimm was handpicked by John Singleton for the director's next film-related project, the 'Higher Learning' soundtrack. 'Situation Grimm,' released as the LP's second single, has all the makings of a classic West Coast track, from its laid-back, melodic sounds to the thugged out R&B chick on the chorus.
Mista Grimm would never be confused as a lyrical wizard, but he rides the track with a finesse and confidence that when matched with his witty wordplay, is more than enough to get the effort over a hump. Unfortunately, this would be Grimm's first and last shining moment, as his following single, 'Steady Dippen,' would fail to make a splash, consequently causing his debut album, 'Things Are Looking Grimm,' to be shelved. As a result, the rapper quickly faded into obscurity.
The name Eve's Plum may not ring a bell for the average music fan, but what this group lacks in acclaim, they definitely made up for in talent. Like a number of artists featured on the soundtrack, the New York City-based alternative rock band were fledgling entertainers when they were tapped to appear on the album -- they only released one album and an EP up until that point. Taking advantage of the opportunity, the group recorded 'Eye,' an impressive, guitar-heavy jam that serves as one of the project's biggest highlights.
Colleen Fitzpatrick, Eve Plum's lead vocalist, was the true star of the show, displaying a hint of star potential -- especially during the band's appearance in the film during the carnival scene -- with her exuberant vocals and subtle nuance. Despite eventually being dropped from their label the following year and disbanding soon after, this track remains a testament to the group's unrealized potential.
'Ask of You'Raphael Saadiq
Tony! Toni! Tone! frontman Raphael Saadiq tried his hand at a solo career during the mid '90s, first finding success with this soundtrack contribution, 'Ask of You.' The third promotional single from the album, the effort was the project's biggest hit, peaking at No. 2 and No. 19 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and Hot 100 chart, respectively. Self-written and produced, 'Ask of You' is a prototypical contemporary R&B record, with passionate lyrics, an infectious bridge and a syrupy chorus.
After the disbandment of Tony! Toni! Tone! following the lukewarm reception to their 1996 album, 'House of Music,' Saadiq would pursue other musical endeavors, forming Lucy Pearl and songwriting and producing for some of the biggest talents in music in addition to focusing on his solo career. And while he is still making noise today, we can trace back the moment he fully came into his own as a soloist to his performance on this classic cut.
The 'Higher Learning' soundtrack's apex comes courtesy of the Tori Amos contribution, 'Butterfly.' The Grammy-nominated, free-spirited vocalist turns in an effort that is measured, yet with an endearing touch. The classically-trained musician enthralls listeners with just the use of a piano, subtle saxophone horns and vocal precision. Amos thoughtfully asks, "And is it right, butterfly?
They like you better framed and dried?" on the hook. And while the underlying theme of the song may go over some listeners' heads -- she touches on the feeling of being locked down rather than set free -- 'Butterfly' is nothing short of stellar and a great choice when needing a reprieve from the typical hip-hop/R&B-centric playlist. Oh yeah, and the last 20 seconds or so of the record is pure gold. Your local florist cares.