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Prince's Masterpiece 'Purple Rain' | For The Record
Revisit the magic of the legendary artist's classic album
With Prince's Purple Rain came some of his most memorable hits, his first GRAMMY wins and (of course) the classic movie.
The iconic GRAMMY-winning artist released Purple Rain, his sixth studio album, and the first one to feature his band The Revolution, on June 25, 1984. While the Prince created an astonishing amount of music in his lifetime, Purple Rain is often regarded as one of biggest classics.
Prince's fifth studio album, 1999, released in 1982, was his first Top 10 charting album, peaking at No. 9 on the Billboard 200, shooting the star into the public eye and earning him his first GRAMMY nods. Yet Purple Rain claimed his superstar status, gaining him his first No. 1 album and No. 1 songs, as well as his first three GRAMMY wins. The film, Purple Rain, released in 1984 along with the album, was Prince's acting debut and showcased him as a multi-talented star in the semi-autobiographical role.
Prince took home his first three wins at the 27th GRAMMY Awards, receiving Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal and Best Album Of Original Score Written For A Motion Picture Or A Television Special for Purple Rain. His third win that year came for his songwriting credits for Best R&B Song, for Chaka Khan's cover of his "I Feel You." Purple Rain also received an Oscar for Music (Best Original Song Score) in 1984 and is the third best-selling movie soundtrack of all time.
Out of its nine songs, the album had five singles, all of which charted: "When Doves Cry," "Let's Go Crazy," "Purple Rain," "I Would Die 4 U" and "Take Me With U." "When Doves Cry" was the first single released from the album, gaining Prince his first No. 1 song status, followed by the second single and No. 1 hit, "Let's Go Crazy." The latter song, the first track on the album, sets the tone with his memorable opening words.
"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life. An electric word, 'life.' It means forever…and that's a mighty long time. But I’m here to tell you there’s something else: the afterworld. A world of never-ending happiness, you can always see the sun, day or night," he famously says.
While "I Would Die 4 U," "Take Me With U" and "Purple Rain" didn't quite reach No. 1 status, they all spent time on the charts, with each making waves and offering the world a dynamic taste of that special Prince sound in new packages. All of the singles from the album would follow Prince throughout his life, and are often the go-to songs fans think of as their favorites.
With "Purple Rain" we saw the more melancholy side of Prince, as he sings, "I never meant to cause you any sorrow/I never meant to cause you any pain/I only wanted to one time to see you laughing/I only wanted to see you/Laughing in the purple rain."
Even after his heartbreaking passing, Prince will live on forever in our hearts, through his music, and even on the charts. Purple Rain was inducted into GRAMMY Hall of Fame in 2011, celebrating it as a "recording of lasting qualitative or historical significance." The album also made a comeback on the charts, both after the artist's death and when the album was rereleased in 2017, when it reentered the Billboard 200 at No. 4. It is safe to say there will never be another star quite like Prince.
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Remembering Sinéad O’Connor: 5 Essential Tracks By The Iconoclastic Singer/Songwriter
Sinéad O’Connor passed away on July 26 at age 56. The Irish musician had a voice like no other, which she used to speak against injustice.
Few had a voice that compared to the eight-time GRAMMY nominee Sinead O’Connor. An artist and an activist, O’Connor wrote with conviction and pathos, packing a punch with both poetry and politics. Her voice was her main instrument and lifelong weapon — one she wielded well in a whisper or a wail.
Born Sinéad Marie Bernadette O’Connor in Glenageary, County Dublin, Ireland on Dec. 8 1966, the singer passed away on July 26, 2023. She was only 56.
"The Recording Academy mourns with the music community today as we learn of the passing of Sinéad O’Connor," said Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr. "Revered by audiences around the globe, her music has left an indelible mark on our culture that will continue to inspire. Our thoughts are with her loved ones at this difficult time."
Tributes on social media arrived throughout the day. Everyone from heads of state to fellow GRAMMY winners and nominees paid their respects. Bryan Adams wrote: "RIP Sinead O’Connor. I loved working with you making photos, doing gigs in Ireland together, and chats, all my love to your family." Tori Amos called O’Connor "a force of nature and a brilliant songwriter and performer whose talent we will not see the like of again. Such passion, such intense presence & a beautiful soul, who battled her own personal demons courageously." Billy Bragg added that she was "braver than brave," and Yusuf/Cat Stevens called her a "tender soul."
O'Connor's 1987 debut record, The Lion & The Cobra, received critical acclaim and achieved gold certification in the U.S., the U.K. and the Netherlands. Over the course of a three and a half-decade career, the songwriter released 10 studio albums (her last, I’m not Bossy, I’m the Boss, came in 2014) that demonstrated her broad influences and desire to constantly explore new genres, from jazz to pop. One of these forgotten side roads traveled from the mid-2000s was her first reggae album (Throw Down Your Arms), produced by Sly & Robbie.
The oft-misunderstood artist was a non-conformist and was ok with that. Fame was not always her friend and caused much anxiety; later, she lived behind a veil after converting to Islam in 2018. O’Connor had a troubled upbringing marked by trauma and tragedy, much of which she detailed for the first time in her candid 2021 memoir Rememberings. Just last year, the songwriter lost her son to suicide. The grief of this no doubt constantly consumed her.
To some, O’Connor is remembered as much for her action as her albums — specifically tearing up a photo of Pope John Paul II (that once hung on her mother’s wall) following her October 1992 "Saturday Night Live" performance to raise awareness about sexual abuse within the Irish Catholic church. This act got her black balled for life by NBC, but she never regretted this fit of rebellion nor any other public stance she took on causes and issues she championed.
Her songs were a gift that will keep on giving for generations to come. To get a sample of the beauty and the passion of this artist gone far too soon, here are five essential Sinéad O’Connor tracks.
The second single off O’Connor’s debut The Lion And The Cobra, "Mandinka" (named for a West African ethnic group) resonated most. In Rememberings, O’Connor wrote that watching "Roots’" — a TV miniseries aired in the late 1970s based on Alex Haley’s book of the same name — inspired this song.
"Mandinka" became a college radio hit and was nominated for a GRAMMY Award for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female. The then 20-year-old performed "Mandinka" at the 31st GRAMMY Awards, sporting Public Enemy’s symbol on her shaven head in solidarity with the hip-hop artists who boycotted the ceremony that year in protest of the inaugural Best Rap Performance award not being included in the telecast.
"Drink Before the War" (1987)
One of O’Connor’s earliest demos (she wrote it as a teenager), the song showcases the incredible range — and rage — that the singer was capable of.
"Drink Before the War" was written about the headmaster at O'Connor's Catholic reform school who tried his best to whip the creativity out of her. As this song shows, it just furhter fueled her muse and her ire.
"Nothing Compares 2 You" (1990)
O’Connor took this song Prince-penned and made this pop lush, string-laced ballad her own. Her voice builds gradually like a steam engine before reaching a climax in the chorus, when the singer shows the full range of her instrument.
"Nothing Compares 2 You" became an MTV staple, which helped the song climb to the top spot on the U.S. Billboard charts and hit No. 1 in the UK. This single received three GRAMMY nominations as well as her first — and only — golden gramophone for Best Alternative Music Performance. Famously, O'Connor did not attend the ceremony to accept the award, and instead penned an open letter detailing her reasoning.
"Black Boys on Mopeds" (1990)
From its opening lines, O’Connor wastes no time telling listeners what the song is about.
Referencing the Chinese government’s handling of the student protests that occurred in Tiananmen Square the previous year, the singer lashes out at Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government for its brutality, singing in reference to police racism on the homefront: "it’s strange she should be offended when the same orders are given by her."
Backed by the simple strums of an acoustic guitar, O’Connor's biting chorus further reveals this inherent hypocrisy: "England’s not the mythical land of Madame George & roses, it’s the home of police who kill Black boys on mopeds."
"No Man’s Woman" (2000)
From her 2000 release Faith & Courage, this anthem with a bouncy beat was inspired by the birth of O’Connor’s daughter. After more than a dozen years working in a male-dominated record industry — and after being blackballed and ostracized by many throughout the late 1990s following her "SNL" stunt — O’Connor returned with this empowering song that shows both her feminist and spiritual side.
Photo: Jemal Countess/WireImage for Songwriter's Hall of Fame
For The Record: How Taylor Swift's 'Speak Now' Changed Her Career — And Proved She'll Always Get The Last Word
The third Taylor Swift album to receive the 'Taylor's Version' treatment, 'Speak Now' isn't just a time capsule for the superstar — it was the turning point for her both personally and professionally.
As Taylor Swift began work on her third album, she knew all eyes were on her. The singer had solidified her status as a bonafide country-pop superstar thanks to her sophomore LP, 2008's Fearless, which earned Swift her first four GRAMMYs, including Album Of The Year. Meanwhile, her personal life had become non-stop fodder for the tabloids; critics painted her as a boy-crazy maneater ready to chew up exes for the sake of hits.
While her first two records had largely centered on romantic daydreams and small-town adolescence, Swift's new level of fame meant her next set of music would involve more high-profile subjects. Like, say, the rapper who'd tried to humiliate her in front of the entire world at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. Or the Hollywood starlet she was convinced had stolen her pop star boyfriend. Or the critic who had taken a particularly vicious swipe at her on his well-known industry blog. All of those moments pinwheeled around a common theme: speaking up, speaking out, speaking her truth. And the result became Speak Now.
"These songs are made up of words I didn't say when the moment was right in front of me," Swift wrote in the LP's liner notes. "These songs are open letters. Each is written with a specific person in mind, telling them what I meant to tell them in person."
Swift's Speak Now era officially began in August 2010, when she released "Mine" as the album's lead single. The rollout was expedited by two weeks after the song leaked on the internet, but even with an earlier-than-planned release, the star immediately proved she was pushing her songcraft past the high school hallways and teenage fairytales of her first two albums — a level of maturity that rang through Speak Now.
"Mine" told an altogether different kind of love story, one that confronted the daunting realities of adulthood head-on. Instead of the hopeless romantic fans had come to know on past hits like "Love Story" and "You Belong With Me," Swift positioned herself as the jaded protagonist at the tale's center, one whose walls are only broken down by this new, grown-up kind of love.
Becoming her fourth top five hit on the Billboard Hot 100, "Mine" also contained a particularly flawless turn of phrase in its chorus — "you made a rebel of a careless man's careful daughter" — that remains, to this day, one of the best examples of Swift's razor-sharp talent for crafting the perfect lyric.
The rest of Speak Now — which Swift wrote entirely alone as a mic drop against critics — proved to have the same kind of brilliance. Swift had unleashed a new layer of her songwriting ability; not only did she dive deeper into the unveiled honesty of her diaristic style, but she also hinted at the whimsical storytelling that was to come on future albums, particularly 2020's folklore and evermore. But above all, Speak Now showed that Swift would never leave anything unspoken again.
Swift's evolution as a songwriter mirrored her growing success: Upon its October 2010 release, Speak Now sold an eye-popping 1,047,000 copies in its first week. The seven-digit sales figure nearly doubled Fearless' opening week tally of 592,300, and became the first album to achieve the million-copy first-week feat in more than two years. (The achievement also foreshadowed the records Swift would break with her subsequent releases, most recently her majorly record-breaking 10th album, Midnights.)
Nearly every track on Speak Now had fans and the press hunting for clues about who was on the receiving end of Swift's open letters. There's "Back to December," a break-up ballad written for Taylor Lautner, and "Better Than Revenge," a condescending clapback at Camilla Belle for "sabotaging" her romance with Joe Jonas. She even offered Kanye West a surprising amount of grace after their viral VMAs moment on the downtempo ballad "Innocent."
Arguably the most talked-about Speak Now subject was (and still is) John Mayer, who had two songs aimed squarely at him: pop-punk-fueled single "The Story of Us" and "Dear John," a devastating dressing down of their 12-year age gap. The latter even mimicked Mayer's trademark blues guitar as Swift wailed, "Dear John, I see it all now, it was wrong/ Don't you think 19's too young/ To be played by your dark, twisted games when I loved you so?/ I should've known."
Perhaps the most victorious moment from Taylor's Speak Now era, though, came from "Mean." The banjo-tinged tune served as a deliciously twangy clapback to critic Bob Lefsetz, who had publicly derided Swift's 2010 GRAMMYs performance with Stevie Nicks, just hours before she was awarded Album Of The Year for the first time.
Not only did "Mean" end up winning Best Country Song and Best Country Solo Performance at the 2012 GRAMMYs, but Swift also got the last word by performing the single during the ceremony. In the final chorus, Swift landed her knock-out punch — the music dropped out completely as she triumphantly declared, "But someday I'll be singin' this at the GRAMMYs/ And all you're ever gonna be is mean."
Nearly 13 years after Speak Now was first unveiled, Swift is now on the precipice of giving her beloved third album its highly anticipated Taylor's Version re-release — appropriately the third project after Fearless and Red to be re-recorded in her history-making quest to own her life's work.
The new edition of Speak Now will contain all 14 tracks on the original LP as well as sixth single "Ours" and fellow deluxe cut "Superman." (Though released in March to celebrate the start of The Eras Tour, "If This Was a Movie" was mysteriously left off the (Taylor's Version) tracklist.) It will also feature six vault tracks from the era, including collaborations with Paramore's Hayley Williams ("Castles Crumbling") and Fall Out Boy ("Electric Touch"), two acts Swift said "influenced me most powerfully as a lyricist" back when she was recording the album in 2010.
As the lone LP in her now 10-album discography to be written solely by Swift's pen, Speak Now undoubtedly holds a special and solitary place in the superstar's heart. Looking back on the album after announcing the Taylor's Version release at her first Nashville Eras Tour stop, she made clear it has only become more meaningful over the last 13 years.
"I first made Speak Now, completely self-written, between the ages of 18 and 20," she wrote in a social media post announcing the album. "The songs that came from this time in my life were marked by their brutal honesty, unfiltered diaristic confessions and wild wistfulness. I love this album because it tells a tale of growing up, flailing, flying and crashing…and living to speak about it."
Photo: Mason Rose
5 Takeaways From Janelle Monáe’s New Album, 'The Age of Pleasure'
On her first album in five years, Janelle Monáe trades a sci-fi world for a lush sense of escape. Out June 9, 'The Age of Pleasure' offers a utopia of sensual and sonic exploration.
Since her 2010 debut album, The ArchAndroid, Janelle Monáe’s work has been grounded in intricacy.
Whether Monáe is building sci-fi worlds, continuing the Afrofuturism narrative of her Cindi Mayweather character or analyzing the concept of American identity on 2019’s Dirty Computer — which scored a nomination for Album Of The Year at the 2019 GRAMMYs — she tasks listeners with digesting various storylines and concepts.
Now, Monáe is shaking off all expectations with her fourth studio album, The Age of Pleasure. Released on June 9, the 14-track album takes a more streamlined approach, creating an escape in just over 30 minutes. The artist appears lighter, even more self-assured and quite frankly (as seen with her near-nude promo campaign) ready to get wild.
The Age of Pleasure is Monáe's first album in five years and trades in her previous warnings of AI-driven dystopian futures for a lush paradise, replete with a reggae swing. With warm melodies and lyrics meant for the bedroom (or wherever one enjoys pleasure), the album creates a utopia where all are welcome.
"I think being an artist gets lonely," Monáe told Rolling Stone in May. "Most people don’t understand what’s going on in my brain. Community has been so helpful to me; it’s beautiful that I have a title called The Age of Pleasure because it actually re-centers me. It’s not about an album anymore. I’ve changed my whole f—ing lifestyle."
Throughout its journey of self-exploration, here are five takeaways from Janelle Monáe’s new album, The Age of Pleasure.
Janelle Embraces Sexuality Across The Spectrum
In 2018, Monáe shared that she was pansexual and came out as nonbinary last year (using the pronouns "free-ass motherf—er, they/them, her/she"). Her journey of discovering more about her queer identity (which was alluded to in previous albums, most notably Dirty Computer’s woman empowerment anthem "Pynk") envelopes The Age of Pleasure.
"Lipstick Lover" is a hazy, reggae-tinged ode to the queer woman gaze ("I just wanna feel a little tongue, we don't have a long time," Monáe urges), while "The Rush" mimics an orgasm complete with a breathy spoken word by actress Nia Long and a naughty verse from Ghanaian American singer Amaarae. And then there’s "Water Slide," which floods the speakers with barely-concealed innuendos.
The idea of "guilty pleasure" is completely stripped of guilt. Here, there isn’t shame or taboo surrounding sexual acts or what one identifies as.
She Showcases The Beauty Of The Diaspora
While creating this album, Monáe got inspired through parties hosted on her Wondaland West property in Los Angeles. People from all backgrounds were welcomed, and the album celebrates the joining of the communities. Monáe called upon artists across the diaspora — Ghana, Nigeria, Jamaica and the Dirty South — to be part of her utopia.
Fela Kuti’s son Seun and his band Egypt 80 open the album on "Float," queer icon Grace Jones seduces the ear with the French-speaking "Ooh La La" interlude, Jamaican dancehall legend Sister Nancy provides reggae authenticity "The French 75." The end result shows there is power in creative numbers, as well as sonic commonality across the African diaspora.
Self-Confidence Is At An All-Time High
The artist is completely free lately, from displaying her breasts on red carpets to dancing on bar tops at afterparties. She adores every curve of her body, and that confidence radiates on The Age of Pleasure. It’s best displayed on "Phenomenal," where Monáe and rapper Doechii trade cocky lines atop a deliciously wacky beat that fuses South African amapiano with New York City ballroom culture. "I'm lookin' at a thousand versions of myself and we're all fine as f—," Monáe muses more than once.
She doesn’t want you to forget just how good she looks and wants everyone to feel that same way about themselves. The "I'm young and I'm Black and I'm wild" line on "Haute" is better digested as an affirmation in front of the mirror.
Pleasure Is Meant For Fun In The Sun
Pleasure is best enjoyed in the sweltering heat, so it only makes sense the artist released this album at the brink of summertime. Her "Lipstick Lover" music video is a hedonistic dream, with queer women and femmes enjoying each other’s company (and body parts) at a sweaty, West Coast pool party.
Album highlight "Only Have Eyes 42" winks at polyamory and its dreamy flip on the Flamingos’ 1959 doo-wop classic is best served with a Red Stripe beer and sand beneath one’s feet. Whether you’re enjoying the lapping waves on a Caribbean island or soaking up the rays in your backyard, The Age of Pleasure is the fuel for your own fiesta.
She Hasn’t Lost The Funk
As the late Prince’s mentee, Janelle Monáe is a master at funk. While she boasts "No I’m not the same" on the album opener, parts of Monáe’s previous sound excitedly peek through.
Her discography is stuffed with dancefloor jams, and The Age of Pleasure keeps the party going with a seamless fusion of rap, R&B and funk. Still, its exploration of new sounds like reggae, dancehall, amapiano and Afrobeats is a thrill.
From the triumphant horns on "Float" to the electric groove of "Champagne S—", the album is begging for a live rendition. It just so happens that Monáe is embarking on a North American tour. It kicks off on Aug. 30 in Seattle and will keep the good vibes going until Oct. 18 in Inglewood, California.
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From 'Shaft' To 'Waiting To Exhale': 5 Essential Black Film Soundtracks & Their Impact
Black film soundtracks have introduced countless bops and future household names into the mainstream. These soundtracks not only elevate narratives, but reinforce the emotional impact of movies that center the Black experience.
Black filmmakers have long understood the power of infusing music into their narratives. Whether it’s the tapping of the hi-hat at the beginning of "Theme From Shaft" or the warbly opening synth before Prince’s spoken-word intro on "Let’s Go Crazy," these signature sounds evoke a cinematic image that deepens the sonic and visual elements of a film.
As with most great innovations, the concept of working with a composer to create original sounds for film emerged from desperation. Trailblazing Black film auteur Melvin Van Peebles was eager to attract a larger audience for his 1971 Blaxploitation crime drama, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, and hired Earth Wind & Fire to score his X-rated opus about a Black hustler on the run from the law.
But instead of developing a string of new tracks reminiscent of their past work, the label-defying band created new sounds that served the narrative of Sweet Sweetback. Understanding that visibility is paramount for cinema, Van Peebles chose to release the soundtrack before the film to get people excited about the material — and his plan worked.
The film's success — with Black and non-Black audiences — led to a revolutionary shift in the relationship between music and cinema. Other productions adopted the tactic, including the 1972 crime drama Super Fly, and promotional soundtracks eventually became the status quo in Hollywood.
Prominent Black filmmakers continued the legacy of using music to drive and promote their narratives. In the '70s, some filmmakers gave the reins to a single artist, like Curtis Mayfield’s Super Fly and Stevie Wonder’s Jungle Fever. The late '80s and early '90s saw increasing popularity of compilations featuring notable and emerging acts, such as School Daze, Soul Food and Poetic Justice.
The mid-to-late '90s saw a rise of musicians-turned-actors like Will Smith and Whitney Houston, who received dual billing in movies and soundtracks such as Men in Black, Wild, Wild West, The Bodyguard, Waiting to Exhale and The Preacher’s Wife. (However, blurring the lines between music and acting was nothing new for Smith; the "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" theme song has stamped a place in television history.)
And the tradition has continued into the new millennium. With its roster of G-Unit artists, 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin soundtrack is an East Coast descendant of 1994's Above the Rim, which features a lineup from the West Coast's Death Row Records. On the music-actor hybrid front, Beyoncé has carved out a lane similar to Whitney Houston, doing double duty for Austin Powers in Goldmember, The Fighting Temptations, Cadillac Records, Dreamgirls and 2019's The Lion King.
Compilations remain prevalent and popular. The 2015 sports drama Creed is supercharged by hip-hop and R&B tracks from Meek Mill, Jhené Aiko, Donald Glover, Future and Vince Staples, while neo-soul grooves from Lucky Daye, H.E.R. and Robert Glasper reinforce the story of Black love on The Photograph's soundtrack. The soundtrack for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever spans genres, with songs by E-40, Burna Boy, and Rihanna that showcase the vast world of Wakanda.
Scores of memorable Black film soundtracks have been released since Van Peebles inextricably linked film and soundtrack in the early ‘70s. The following selections are just a sample of the essential titles that have left an indelible mark on both Black music and cinema:
"My only responsibility was to make sure [director Gordon Parks] didn’t hand me my head on a platter," Isaac Hayes once said about this iconic 1971 theme song. "It was my first movie gig and I wanted to make sure I did it right."
And the Oscar and GRAMMY Award-winning singer did just that. From the energetic clinking of the hi-hats to the exquisitely slow, nearly three-minute build toward the sound of Hayes’ silky-smooth baritone, the theme to Shaft delivers on all levels — both as a theme for the hippest, no-nonsense private detective in the game, as well as a stand-alone jam that went hard as hell at the disco.
The Shaft soundtrack — a double album by Hayes recorded specifically for the film — also features a mix of orchestrated instrumental tracks that have inspired generations of Black artists. The award-winning composition has been sampled hundreds of times since its release; Erykah Badu ("Bag Lady"), Dr. Dre ("Xxplosive") and Adina Howard ("If We Make Love Tonight") have all put their spin on "Bumpy’s Lament."
Music From the Motion Picture Purple Rain
Nearly 40 years after its release, the 1984 film that launched Prince into mega-stardom continues to attract new audiences — thanks in great part to its transcendent soundtrack. Created in collaboration with his backing band the Revolution, Prince’s game-changing studio album spent 24 weeks at the top of the Billboard charts. It birthed a string of Top 10 hits, including "Let’s Go Crazy," "I Would Die 4 U," "When Doves Cry," and the title track, "Purple Rain."
Blending elements of funk, rock, synth pop, and R&B, the iconic album attracted a wide cross-section of fans and has become a hallmark of ‘80s music. And none of it would be possible without Prince’s desire to break from convention — he wanted the world’s attention. So he went to work forming a backing band of young musicians from different identities who could help him capture the rock 'n’ roll energy of ‘80s mainstream acts like Bob Seger. After carefully developing stage personas, rehearsing nonstop, and cultivating the right sound, Prince compiled their tracks — alongside a few songs from Apollonia 6 and the Time — and the rest is history.
The high-energy, genre-blending album was met with acclaim and earned the singer three GRAMMYs and an Academy Award for Best Original Score Song. But perhaps most importantly, Prince’s willingness to experiment gave the green light to a host of artists from different genres who followed in his path, including Beck, Janet Jackson, Beyoncé, U2, Cyndi Lauper, Dave Grohl and more.
Music From Do the Right Thing
Throughout his successful decades-long career, renowned film director Spike Lee has seamlessly weaved music into his narratives to elevate and highlight emotional themes. Whether he’s deploying a rare acapella recording of Marvin Gaye’s "What’s Going On?" during a pivotal scene in Da 5 Bloods or using Sam Cooke’s 1963 song "A Change is Coming" in a montage before the civil rights leader’s assassination in Malcolm X, Lee understands the emotional power of music and how to leverage it in his work.
And while it’s difficult to pick a true stand-out in a filmography bursting with memorable musical moments, the soundtrack for Lee's 1989 masterpiece Do the Right Thing is arguably among the most noteworthy because of Public Enemy’s "Fight the Power" — a head-bopping call to action that introduced the group into the mainstream.
Back in the late ‘80s, when Lee was searching for an anthem for his upcoming indie film about racial tensions in a Brooklyn neighborhood, he reached out to Public Enemy to ask them to do a hip-hop-infused spin on the Black National Anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing." But they were not interested.
"I opened the window and asked him to stick [his] head outside. ‘Man, what sounds do you hear? You’re not going to hear ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ in every car that drives by,’" Public Enemy co-founder Hank Shocklee told Rolling Stone. "We needed to make something that’s going to resonate on the street level. After going back and forth, he said, ‘All right, I’ll let you guys go in there and see what you guys come back with.’"
So the influential hip-hop group hit the studio, first nailing down the name of the record — inspired by the Isley Brothers’ song of the same name — then working on the instrumentation and lyrics. After sending Lee a rough version of the track, he suggested that they add saxophone and jazz great Branford Marsalis was brought in. Public Enemy added three of his sax solos to the song, and Lee was so taken with the track that he used it in the movie 20 separate times.
While the soundtrack also features high-energy party songs from ‘90s R&B staples like Guy and Teddy Riley, the Experience Underground (best known for "Da Butt") and a soul-searching ballad from Al Jarreau, Public Enemy’s groundbreaking protest track remains the perfect embodiment of the movie’s central message and energy. "Fight the Power" fused two traditional Black music forms, jazz and hip-hop, to create an empowering, thought-provoking song that highlights the socio-political issues that the Black community continues to face nearly 40 years later.
Above the Rim (The Soundtrack)
Basketball and hip-hop go together like ice cream and cake. And this soundtrack for the 1994 sports drama about a New York high schooler caught between two worlds showcases the power of this perfect pairing. Off the strength and long-lasting impact of Warren G and Nate Dogg’s "Regulate" alone, this all-star compilation executive produced by Dr. Dre and Suge Knight has become a foundational Black movie soundtrack.
And while the tale of Warren and Nate’s incredibly tense night out may be the album’s most successful track, it’s part of an elite roster of ‘90s hip-hop and R&B acts, including SWV, The Lady of Rage, Al B. Sure, Tha Dogg Pound (featuring rising star Snoop Dogg), H-Town and the film’s star Tupac Shakur.
Released by Death Row Records and Interscope, the star-packed compilation hinted at the emerging rivalry between East and West Coast rappers. Yet audiences from both coasts fell in love with the record, which sold more than two million copies and ascended to the top of the Billboard R&B charts. The soundtrack’s success helped cement Death Row — and the gangsta rap genre — as a force to be reckoned with in the mainstream.
Waiting to Exhale: Original Soundtrack Album
Based on the best-selling Terry McMillan novel of the same name, Waiting to Exhale is a romantic drama that follows a close-knit group of Black women as they navigate challenging relationships, careers and family issues. Starring Whitney Houston, Loretta Divine, Angela Bassett and Lela Rochon, the film is among the most revered in the Black movie canon due to its authentic portrayals of Black sisterhood, relatable relationship issues and empowering themes. So when it was time to develop the film’s sound, it was important that the music uplift the story — but it did so much more than that thanks to the golden ears of Houston and GRAMMY-winning songwriter and producer Babyface.
In a recent appearance on the "The Kelly Clarkson Show," Babyface revealed that Waiting to Exhale director Forest Whitaker had originally asked Quincy Jones to write and produce the soundtrack. However, Jones declined and told the actor-turned-director to reach out to Babyface, who he thought was a better fit for the project.
In collaboration with Whitaker, Babyface and Clive Davis, Houston — who had final approval on the roster of featured artists — helped select an inspired mix of emerging stars, established acts and legendary songstresses: SWV, CeCe Winans, Toni Braxton, Faith Evans, For Real, Sonja Marie, Brandy, Shanna, Chanté Moore, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Patti LaBelle, Mary J. Blige, and of course, Houston, who was featured on three tracks: "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)" "Count on Me" and "Why Does It Hurt So Bad?"
Much like the film, the timeless compilation — which topped the charts and scored multiple top-10 hits along with a GRAMMY and an American Music Award — is a highly celebrated work of art created by Black women that continues to resonate with music fans everywhere.