A lament on the lost art of the rap-based movie tie-in


1st December 2011

There are many things I dislike about the state of modern cinema (3D, digital piracy, Shia LaBeouf), but the other week I realised we've lost something I truly loved: the blockbuster rap theme song.

Music and movies have been intertwined since Al Jolson first open his month whilst wearing racist make-up. But in the mid '90s, something amazing happened. Hip-hop had broken through to the mainstream, and Hollywood wanted to cash in. They realised that they didn't have to hire black actors any more, they could just cast these "rapper" fellows instead. They would make rap songs about the films they were starring in, and the videos would be played on MTV constantly, thus getting plenty of advertising for whatever piece of shit was in multiplexes that week.

The mid-90s to the mid-00s were a golden age for rap theme songs. For the era between MC Hammer and Eminem, mainstream rap consisted almost solely of wannabe gangstas rapping about guns and prostitutes. The movie tie-in brought much needed variety in subject matter – suddenly we had guys who went on about keeping it real rapping about space aliens, killer sharks and Looney Tunes playing life-threatening basketball matches. It's a well known fact that most rappers are insane, and it truly brought out some of hip-hop's most amazingly demented moments.

It seemed like around the turn of the century, even mid-level action flicks had their own flashy rap videos. Bone Thugs 'N' Harmony shilled for Batman & Robin. Popular dog fighting enthusiast and amateur FBI impersonator DMX made a characteristically over-emotional video to tie in with his appearance alongside Steven Seagal in Exit Wounds.

Not everyone made the effort to engage with the material – Ludacris simply shouted "Too Fast! Too Furious!" at the beginning of 'Act A Fool'. Method Man rapping about The Riddler from Batman Forever should be amazing, but in truth he just spends half a verse being chased by the Batmobile, and the rest of it is a standard Wu joint.

To find some of the real gems, you have to look for the deep cuts – the ones buried on the 'Songs From And Inspired By The Motion Picture' CD. What follows are the oddest rap movie tie-ins ever recorded.
'Wild Wild West' – Will Smith (1999)
From the motion picture: Wild Wild West

The undisputed master of the genre was obviously Will Smith. His most remembered theme song is of course Men In Black, which is great, obviously. Yet I think the connoisseurs amongst you will agree that his second stab at a movie theme was even better: the wiki-wiki-Wild Wild West, from the lumbering steampunk flop of the same name. Smith, a much better rapper than people give him credit it for, gives a text book performance for a movie rap, actually rapping in character, dropping great lines like "Any damsel that be in distress / be outta that dress when she meets Jim West".

I'd completely forgotten the song features Sisqo, and in the video he appears to be dressed as an extra from William Friedkin's notorious Cruising. The full seven minute version video is an insanely overblown masterpiece, featuring its own specially shot action sequence, with Salma Hayek reprising her role from the film (Kenneth Branagh appears to have been above appearing in a rap video, so there's a dodgy looking stand-in). It also features cameos from Stevie Wonder, Enrique Iglesias (well, according to Wikipedia, I couldn't spot him) and, most amazingly, the guy that played Carlton in The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air.

Smith released a third theme song with the largely forgotten but still pretty great 'Nod Ya Head (Black Suits Comin')' from Men In Black 2. Again, Smith stays in character, though I can't really say how well it matches up to the film as I can remember absolutely nothing about Men In Black 2, seeing as it's one of the most forgettable sequels ever made.
'Deepest Bluest' – LL Cool J (1999)
From the motion picture: Deep Blue Sea

While Will Smith produced the best known tracks of the golden age, in my opinion the best was by LL Cool J. The man ladies refer to as Cool James recorded 'Deepest, Bluest' for the soundtrack to his 1999 super-intelligent-sharks-eat-Samuel L Jackson movie, Deep Blue Sea. It's been featured here before, but damn, if it it's not worth mentioning again. LL doesn't stay in character like Smith does (though he does occasionally seem to be rapping from the shark's POV); instead, he plays with the most incredible nonsensical underwater imagery.

He raps about "Abandoned pirate ships / Eels and sod scum / Fish that glow in the dark", though you feel his knowledge of marine biology is somewhat lacking when he proclaims that "the ocean is haunted" and that his crew are "like some underwater locusts". He also drops the stunningly brilliant non-sequitur: "Struggling to flow with haemorrhages in your throat / Getting the lap dance while I smash through your boat". The demented wordplay extends to the chorus, where LL states that his "hat is like a shark's fin". I presume it must look like this.

Unfortunately, the song is LL Cool J's only real movie theme – his only other film-related songs are the 'Football Rap' from an '80s Goldie Hawn sports comedy, and a surprisingly boring song about his recent TV role on NCIS. (If you'd like listen to more of LL Cool J dragging out a theme far past its logical end point, I'd recommend 'Milky Cereal', in which he spends four minutes making sexual metaphors from breakfast cereals.)
'The Grinch' – Busta Rhymes (2000)
From the motion picture: The Grinch

So, songs like 'The Grinch' by Busta Rhymes, from Dr Seuss adaptation of the same name, basically. Busta Rhymes' interpretation of Seuss' material is already pretty crazy - "He already took the liquor out your Heineken / He already quick to try again" (nice booze reference in a kids' movie there) – but what makes it truly insane is that it features Jim Carrey joining Busta to spit a few rhymes in character (and in his stupid 'in character' voice).

His verses are truly horrible, but it's his opening declaration that it's a "Flipmode Squad Jim Carrey Collabo" (*shudder*) and his closing shout out to the "Westside of Whoville" that for some reason I find truly disturbing.
'Ludacrismas' – Ludacris (2007)
From the motion picture: Fred Claus

Another festive gem is Ludacris' amazingly titled 'Ludacrismas', from Vince Vaughn seasonal LOL-vacuum Fred Claus. I initially thought it was just a joke from 30 Rock, but no, it's a real song. It's also an annual fundraising event from Ludacris' charity. What, you didn't know that Ludacris had his own charity? It's called the Ludacris Foundation and its other initiatives include the LudaCares programme.

I'm not making any of this up. Luda's altruistic urges even extend to highlighting the increase of drink driving during the holiday period, informing us that "eggnog's got daddy swerving on the driveway".
'Buggin'' – Bugs Bunny (1996)
From the motion picture: Space Jam

I think the most insane rap song from a soundtrack I've found is 'Buggin'' from Space Jam. Technically it's not actually in the film, only on the soundtrack CD, but why let pedantry get in the way of featuring Bugs Bunny getting on the mic and calling out Mickey Mouse? If you think the lyrics are surprisingly un-awful, it's because Bugs' rhymes were ghost-written by Jay-Z. Seriously. Jay-Z's words coming from Bugs Bunny's mouth.

I'm still hoping for Nas to write a comeback for Mickey Mouse.
'Singh is Kinng' – Akshay Kumar ft Snoop Dogg (2008)
From the motion picture: Singh is Kinng

The kind of songs above don't get made anymore – Hollywood blockbusters are now too po-faced to have silly rap tie-ins. The trend now seems to be about 'respecting the characters'. You suspect the fanboys at Comic-Con would be up in arms if Joss Whedon unveiled the video for 'Avengers Assemble (The Marvel Groove)' by Will.i.am and Chris Brown.

No, Snoop Dogg had to go to Bollywood to do a rap-themed movie theme tune: the title track for 2008's Singh Is Kinng. Snoop featured alongside Akshay Kumar (basically the Indian Matthew McConaughey), to drop some lazy cultural stereotypes ("Snoop got the naan! Akshay's stuck with the fried chicken! What a pickle!") and let us know that know that "Cheese make dollars /
 east west masala".
Tragically, it seems like a dead art form. Occasionally a song will attach itself to a film, like that Eminem song on the Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol trailer, where Slim Shady encourages you to shake it like celebrity Parkinson's suffer Michael J Fox, but it's not the same. Men In Black 3 is on its way, but there's no word if Will Smith will make a return to the recording booth yet. He's probably got one in his massive trailer.

My main hope is that someone soon will see sense and give Donald Glover a leading role, and then his Childish Gambino alter-ego will produce something great. But I don't see a return to the glory days when movie-themed videos filled MTV Base any time soon.

Still, we'll always have 'Deepest Bluest'.

Follow us on Twitter @The_Shiznit for more fun features, film reviews and occasional commentary on what the best type of crisps are.
We are using Patreon to cover our hosting fees. So please consider chucking a few digital pennies our way by clicking on this link. Thanks!

Share This