If you truly thought about your favorite songs of all time, a good chunk either were made for a hip-hop soundtrack or were introduced to you by one. Alicia Keys came wailing into our hearts in 2001 with “Fallin’,” but it was 1997’s Men In Black soundtrack where a teenage Keys predates that classic. The only time we ever got rap’s funniest MC’s Eminem and Redman on a song together was “Off The Wall” from the Nutty Professor II soundtrack. Outside of DJ albums, hip-hop soundtracks are like hip-hop All-Star Games, the best the game has to offer teaming up on dream songs.
Partly for those reasons listed above, the best hip-hop soundtracks come from those with the biggest visions. Diddy has said he used the 2003 Bad Boys II soundtrack to launch a new era of the label, going as far as securing original songs from heavyweights like Snoop Dogg, Jay-Z, and Beyoncé. Black Panther director Ryan Coogler let Kendrick Lamar be the driving creative force for the soundtrack of the most important Black film in decades. Not to mention, one of the standout tracks, All The Stars featuring Sza, went on to be nominated for an Academy Award for best original song.
Hip-hop soundtracks have put legends on their first multi-platinum album and launched multi-decade careers, so it’s safe to say they’re kind of a big deal. Global Grind decided to celebrate the hip-hop soundtrack by giving 10 of the best their long overdue flowers.
Check them out.
10. Boyz N The Hood
This 1991 soundtrack was the first for a film by legendary director John Singleton and established the sound for his future soundtracks like Poetic Justice and Baby Boy. It was the first time the world got to hear Mobb Deep’s Prodigy as a teenage MC with a swift flow on Hi-Five’s “Too Young.”
Released months before Death Certificate, Ice Cube’s follow up to his 1991 debut Amerikkka’s Most Wantd, his song “How To Survive In South Central” was the first new song of his for those desperately waiting on new music from arguably the best rapper alive at the time.
9. Murder Was The Case Soundtrack
The Murder Was The Case soundtrack for the 18-minute short film about Snoop making a deal with the Devil, was the first new Snoop Dogg music since Doggystyle — the year prior and it didn’t disappoint. Anchored by a remix of the titular track, the soundtrack makes history outside of the Doggfather. “Natural Born Killaz,” the first collaboration between Ice Cube and Dr. Dre since the former’s acrimonious split from N.W.A. in 1990 which produced a flurry of scathing diss tracks traded between Cube and his former groupmates.
8. Above The Rim Soundtrack
Coming off the multi-platinum success of Dr. Dre’s The Chronic and Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle, Death Row Records first foray into soundtracks further cemented the label as a powerhouse. The soundtrack marked the first time 2Pac released music with the label he would later dominate the world from. He helped it win Soundtrack of the Year at the 1995 Source Awards.
But it’s Warren G and Nate Dogg’s G-funk masterclass on the soundtrack’s lead single “Regulate” which scored the label one of its earliest Grammy nominations.
7. Bad Boys II Soundtrack
Bad Boy Records’s first album to debut at #1 on the Billboard Hot 200 charts in the 21st century was the label’s first-ever attempt at a movie soundtrack. Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Beyoncé, Snoop Dogg, and Pharrell all lend a hand in shapinig this gem.
Rarely does a hip-hop soundtrack produce the biggest song in America, but Puff Daddy, Nelly, and Murphy Lee’s gyration jingle “Shake Ya Tailfeather” topped the charts and is still in rotation at parties nearly 20 years later.
6. Judgement Night Soundtrack
Before Jay-Z and Linkin Park won a Grammy in 2006 for their genre mashup EP Collison Course, the 1993 Judgement Night soundtrack was one of the first rap-rock album collaborations ever. Every song paired a hip-hop act with a rock act with timeless songs such as Onyx demonic rapping over Biohazard’s dark guitar riffs on “Judgement Night” sounding like they could’ve been on any Run The Jewels album decades later.
5. 8 Mile Soundtrack
Anything Eminem did in 2002 broke records, and his first feature film’s soundtrack was another infinity stone in his Thanos-level dominance. An album with Rakim lyrical exercises and 50 Cent dissing Lil Kim and Ja Rule was the fifth highest-selling album of 2002 after only being out for two months of the year.
Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” spent three months as the #1 song in the country, won hip-hop its first Oscar for Best Original Song, and is still an anthem for resilience, recently was used by Joe Biden for a commercial to help him get elected President of the United States.
4. Who’s The Man? Soundtrack
Introducing the world to Biggie Smalls before his Notorious B.I.G. name change with his party anthem “Party & Bullshit” is enough to land any hip-hop soundtrack on this list. Soundtracking the 1993 comedy film starring Yo! MTV Raps hosts Doctor Dré and Ed Lover and featuring cameos from hip-hop luminaries such as Ice-T, Run DMC, and Queen Latifah makes the Who’s The Man Soundtrack one of the earliest examples of hip-hop’s commercial reach that has only stretched further over the years.
3. Black Panther Soundtrack
With Kendrick Lamar at the zenith of his cultural ubiquity following the 2017 release of his Pulitzer Prize-winning DAMN album, the Black Panther soundtrack he executive produced was his unofficial fourth full-length album. You couldn’t escape SZA’s ethereal vocals on “All The Stars” or the grungy bounce of Lamar and Travis Scott’s “Big Shot” all of 2018.
It became the first hip-hop soundtrack to be nominated for Album of the Year, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year at the Grammy Awards, as well Best Original Song at the Academy Awards, instead of just for one.
2. Juice Soundtrack
The soundtrack’s lineup featuring EPMD, Eric B & Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Cypress Hill, Naughty By Nature, Too $hort, and Salt-N-Peppa, was a collection of some of the biggest rappers of the early ‘90s and ones who gave the decade some of its most indelible anthems, such as the gritty Eric B & Rakim single “Juice (Know The Ledge),” a song 50 Cent says made him want to become a rapper.
1. Men In Black Soundtrack
The Men In Black soundtrack is a juggernaut that sounds unreal when you really think about it. It had Nas writing bars for Will Smith on “Just Crusin’,” one of the first and few collaborations between Snoop Dogg and So So Def founder Jermaine Dupri on “We Just Wanna Party With You,” and the sultry “Dah Dee Dah (Sexy Thing), the earliest solo release for teenage Alicia Keys.
Besides being one of the first hip-hop soundtracks to win the American Music Award for Top Soundtrack and selling 5 million copies worldwide, its legacy rests in the careers it put into our lives for the first time.