Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Southpaw Soundtrack: Not Letting Anyone Down

According to Wikipedia, 2015's movie Southpaw is a film that depicts a boxer who rebounds after losing his wife to an accident and his daughter to protective services. I haven't seen the movie - I probably should and will.

However, I have listened to the soundtrack. I listened to it as soon as it was released - I follow the rappers I grew up with religiously and when I saw Eminem had released something new, I knew I had to at least check it out. The soundtrack is executive produced by Marshall Mathers and features four songs with him, one being a Bad Meets Evil song (Bad Meets Evil being the group he is in with fellow Detroit rapper Royce da 5'9).

In one of his post-drug overdose songs, "Not Afraid," Eminem said "I have something to prove to fans because I feel like I left them down." He has been on a one man effort to keep hip-hop going in the mainstream realm at least - signing country rap phenom Yelawolf and collaborating with Kendrick Lamar as his career has grown.

By all accounts, rap as a genre may be over. The shootings, violence, drugs and other elements that dogged the genre certainly didn't help - although rock music survived plenty of fallen idols. The genre as a whole lost its identity as a thing - it's up to others to discuss why that is. Kendrick Lamar's albums remind me of 1970s Funkadelic and George Clinton even showed up on his 2015 album To Pimp A Butterfly. Yelawolf is a bit more Johnny Cash than anything from the 1990s, the Golden Age of rap. Both use rapping as instrumentation but the formula that seemed to make the basis of hip-hop when it was vibrant seems a distant memory.

This doesn't make Southpaw not worthwhile, however. I think the soundtrack may be one of the best things that Eminem has put together. "What About The Rest Of Us" features high hats and drum beats that made me think of the R&B group En Vogue, with a message of financial instability that fit our contemporary times (Rico Love's singing is at least as good as the numerous R&B singers that the 1990s produced, be it Ginuwine or Mark Morrison). That personally was my favorite on this album and it got me excited about hip-hop again - the production by Rico Love and producer Kasanova really channeled mid-1990s hip-hop while sounding like something else entirely.

"R.N.S." is one of the better songs of Shady rap group Slaughterhouse and each member of that group is allowed to shine on the Southpaw soundtrack - Crooked I, now KXNG Crooked, does a song with Tech N9ne called "Beast." Meanwhile, that collaboration between Eminem and Gwen Stefani which seems like it always should have happened, "Kings Never Die," is fabulous. Southpaw is a superior soundtrack to 8 Mile - with, 13 years later, little need to mask oneself with the various false images rap presented in the early 2000s.

The efforts of Eminem on one hand and artists like Brother Ali to keep hip-hop going is admirable. If rap ends up being a mix of nostalgia and blending in with other genres, so be it. It's a good evolution.

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