Album: Brown Sugar Soundtrack
Rating: 7 / 10
Reviewer: A to the L
Soundtracks have certainly come a long way since the times when every track you heard in the film was featured on the album. Nowadays, ESPECIALLY with Hiphop related soundtracks, they seem to have become a vehicle for artists to get paid while getting rid of some tracks that would never make their own albums. Nowadays most joints on soundtracks aren’t even IN the films, getting on there by way of being “inspired” by the flick. Inspired by the green would be closer to the truth, as we’ve seen by certain contributions by a few soundtrack whores (Outkast and Mobb Deep are you listening?)
Anyway, “Brown Sugar” aims to right these types of wrongs – the film’s plot centres on a romance between actors Taye Diggs (“The Best Man”) and Sanaa Lathan (“Love and Basketball”) who play young urban professionals with a love for Hiphop music. In the picture, Diggs plays an A&R man at a Hiphop record label engaged in a relationship with Lathan, who is a magazine editor and critic. The pair reminisce together about their introduction to hip-hop music, and reflect on their respective career choices. Sounds like a cool flick? Well the soundtrack not only promises to contain songs which are prominently featured in the movie, but the lineup also promises much with appearances from the Roots, Mos Def, Erykah Badu, and Angie Stone. I think you can sense already what type of vibe this album will have – there’s not really much room for QB thug posing amid this lineup afterall. So… we have an album that on paper promises much… let’s see if it delivers…
Things kick off with a Mos Def collaboration with Faith Evans. This is the first of three plays on the album title, with this one being ‘Brown Sugar (Extra Fine).’ Its actually fairly generic, with Mos Def dropping bland forgettable verses broken up by typical breathless hooks from Faith. There’s nothing to really make this standout, and we’re into skip mode already.
But the next song? Sweet Jesus, people are gonna be sick of me raving about this! Erkyah Badu’s ‘Love Of My Life’ is just beautiful music from start to finish – Badu’s unique delivery is entirely at home over a laidback beat graced by chimes and flutes. Her husband-to-be Common steps in to deliver a short verse, but really its all about Ms Badu here. This is beautiful, soulful, rootsy music and a perfect choice as the first single off the soundtrack. Following up something so perfect is always gonna be difficult, and although Angie Stone’s gospel-tinged ‘Bring Your Heart’ makes a brave attempt, ultimately its in vain, as I found myself sneaking back to the previous track for another listen.
Things return to a ruffer Hiphop setting with Mos Def teaming up with Black Star colleague Talib Kweli for the raw version of ‘Brown Sugar.’ Here the stuttery beat seems to energise Mos Def, as he steps up his delivery, bouncing verses off his partner in rhyme Kweli, who actually represents pretty well himself for a change. (It’ll me interesting to see if he’s truly left his mumble-mouthed style behind him.)
The intensity drop back down a hundred notches as Philly resident Jill Scott slows things waaaaaaaaaaaay down with the dreamy ‘Easy Conversation,’ before Blackalicious and Lateef drop ‘Its Going Down’ and crank things back up again. Gift Of Gab’s style is ideally suited to the beat, a plucky electric guitar-tinged banger with an equally addictive chorus.
Mos Def then returns for his third appearance of four, on the James Brown-influenced ‘Breakdown’ – this one is also about a funky guitar lick and some mournful horns which sound like a straight lift from the Godfather of Soul’s back catalogue, so authentic are the musicians here. This is also Mos Def’s strongest lyrical appearance here, and a return to the form of the Mos Def of old – on this example it looks like he’s got that whole rock band thing he was kicking a while back right out of his system.
From here, things fall off a little with a couple of below par tracks – Rahsaan Patterson’s ‘You Make Life So Good’, and Cassandra Wilson’s ‘Time After Time’ both fall short of what’s expected, with the latter being particularly mindnumbing. Thankfully the day is saved with the inclusion of an old classic – the Coldcut remix of Eric B & Rakim’s ‘Paid In Full.’ Surely you know this by now, so there’s little point in breaking this down – its a classic, and in this case a welcome relief from the mediocrity of the previous two cuts.
Two of the tracks I was most looking forward to hearing come up next. Unfortunately ‘Noone Knows Her Name’ is a bit of a damp squib considering Hi-Tek’s impressive past record. Here the producer introduces a cat called Piakhan who actually comes off pretty well, despite the best attempts of the beat to pull him down… its a slow plodder, and one which I couldn’t get into at all. Luckily my other hot pick, The Roots, don’t let me down. ‘Act Too (Love Of My Life Remix)’ is typical fare from the Illadelph crew – hard minimal beats, with Black Thought doing what Black Thought does best – boasting and bragging with a ridiculous flow without REALLY ever saying anything that deep. I still love the man though – his flow always captures my attention. And the track IS dope.
Things close out with a Mary J Blige throwaway ‘Never Been’, Mos Def’s final appearance on the “fine” version of the title track, where again he comes off lovely over the twinkly beat, and the surprisingly good ‘You Changed’ by newcomer Jully Black. Much good I see in this one… (*Yoda impersonation ends*)
This is pretty easy to sum up for once – if you’re digging the vibe and steelo of music that the Roots and the whole Soulquarian movement are promoting, then you’ll enjoy this. Its soulful, rootsy shit and to be honest is a great advertisement for the more positive side of Hiphop that the media often ignores. Oh and that Badu track being SO off the chain would have made this a necessity if it hadn’t been released as a single. (Remember when you used to buy an album for just one track without batting an eyelid?) Nevertheless – a soundtrack that actually sounds good? Yup… for a change… “Brown Sugar” manages to pull it off.