When Kendrick Lamar and TDE were announced as executive producers for Black Panther The Album, the news was met by next to no qualms. The early consensus was that director Ryan Coogler, Disney, and Marvel appointed the appropriate hip-hop king to score the rise of T’Challa. Underneath the ovation for the forthcoming music, any whispers of disdain went unheard. Fans had faith, built up after years of listening to Compton Kenny deliver soundtracks in the form of albums for movies unmade.
Released one week before the film, early assessments of Black Panther The Album have been enthusiastic and favorable―Kendrick didn’t let Wakanda down. Critical and commercial success surrounds the film, and now the soundtrack is also being uplifted in this adulatory moment of artistic excellence.
Hip-hop bridging the mediums of music and cinema isn’t some avant-garde feat, but, in 2018, it’s holographic Charizard rare to see a rapper in the curator’s chair for big blockbuster films―a sign of Kendrick’s juggernaut celebrity and Hollywood’s potential embrace of rap's genius.
Eminem’s work on 2002's 8 Mile and 2015's Southpaw, Diddy’s 2003 Bad Boys II soundtrack, JAY-Z's role of executive producer for 2013's The Great Gatsby soundtrack—these are the biggest instances of a star rapper curating an entire soundtrack for a film. Luckily, success breeds opportunity, and Black Panther The Album has the promise of unlocking doors for rappers to do as Kendrick and TDE have just done.
Hip-hop is home to various audio visionaries capable of bringing their meticulous skill set to the silver screen. If struck by the good fortune of being aligned with directors and films kindred with their artistry, hip-hop could become synonymous with great curators for movie soundtracks. Hip-hop artists could follow in the footsteps of soundtrack legends like Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, Isaac Hayes, Willie Hutch, and Prince. The vision isn’t farfetched.
Here are seven hip-hop artists that Hollywood absolutely must pay attention to when it's time to add the music.
Kanye West: Late Invitation
Compatible Directors: Spike Lee (“Do the Right Thing”), Martin Scorsese (“Goodfellas”), Ava DuVernay (“A Wrinkle in Time”)
Why is it that Kanye West has yet to conduct a movie soundtrack? For an artist of his genius, collaborative success rate, and rock star stature, Hollywood should be doing all they can to secure his position behind the scenes of an upcoming blockbuster. Just last year, The Guardian’s Stuart Heritage penned a detailed article on the influx of movies and television trailers using Ye's music. Yet, the last time he scored or soundtracked a movie was his own full-length film (Runaway) for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in 2010.
The world is closing in on a decade since Kanye last brought the magic of music and movies together. Unless Kanye has resisted, turned down, or been too busy to accept their offers, it's disappointing to know that his strongest artistic qualities aren’t being maximized through a medium he would surely succeed in. Give him any director, any movie genre, and he'll deliver. There’s no need to explain why Kanye is best fit for such a position―that would be a waste of words stating the obvious―but I would love to know why it hasn’t happened yet. I need answers, Sway.
Tyler, The Creator: Color Theory Golf Boyz
Compatible Directors: Wes Anderson (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”), Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”), and Greg Mottola/Seth Rogen (“Superbad”)
Tyler, The Creator’s excellent interview with Jerrod Carmichael peels away the process behind the collaborative assembly of artists for his latest album, Flower Boy. With each person involved―and even the artists who rejected his production―Tyler intentionally sought them out. Every guest, from Rex Orange County to Jaden Smith, had a role that Tyler envisioned before the manifestation of their audio offerings. This natural vision is perfect for compilation―creating with the concentrated forethought of Kanye's MBDTF, rather than the fame-filled clusters DJ Khaled continues to call albums.
Tyler lives up to his name as a world builder―creating characters, personas, and storylines for each conceptual album in his discography. In many ways, he’s a director posing as a rapper with the heart of a producer, the perfect internal trifecta to sonically craft the sounds of a feature film. He’ll eventually write, direct, and score his own movie—that’s predestined—but first, I would love to see him focus simply on a soundtrack.
Kevin Abstract: Fear & Loathing in Suburbia
Compatible Directors: Gia Coppola (“Palo Alto”), Richard Linklater (“School of Rock), Brian Robbins (“Varsity Blues”)
BROCKHAMPTON’s Kevin Abstract has the eyes of a visual artist. All but two of the group's award-deserving music videos have featured Kevin in the director’s chair. Musicians blessed with dictatorial vision are capable of seeing songs as scenes. The short films “Billy Star” and “Runner," the music videos for “Empty” and “Echo”—all display an understanding of audio’s role in visual storytelling. By itself, music can articulate a feeling or fill the background because sound, even without words, is able to strike the soul when silence isn’t sufficient.
Teenage alienation, high school melodrama, and the stages of adolescent love are all subjects Kevin explores with the keen precision of a Trevor Noah monologue. I don’t expect Kevin to Peter Pan his music career, but hopefully, before mature concepts change his direction, we see the 21-year-old outsource his magic to a coming-of-age movie soundtrack.
Kid Cudi: The Sounds of Deep Space & Melancholy Soul-Searching
Compatible Directors: Richard Kelly (“Donnie Darko”), Gaspar Noé (“Enter the Void”), Ridley Scott (“Alien: Covenant”)
When the hallways of Cudi’s music are painted midnight black or overcast grey the melancholy sinks into the listener’s skin. I liken the experience to a doctor’s syringe piercing through flesh. Cudi's advantage over rappers who excel in lyrical proficiency has always been his ability to make engulfing, esoteric music. The Cleveland-born Moon Man pairs melodic contemplation with enchanting production to induce a mood like sinking into a groundless Sunken Place. Both his sound and style are a respectable match for an epic space odyssey, psychedelic science fiction, or films rooted in thrilling suspense.
Man on the Moon: The End of Day, Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager, and Satellite Flight: The Journey to Mother Moon are three albums that exemplify attention to detail, cinematic thoughtfulness, and world construction. 808s & Heartbreak stands as a testament to what is possible when Cudi finds a kindred spirit with a solid direction. He has all the tools for Hollywood, this time not as an actor, but a curator.
Wale: Love, Loss, & Shining Through the Pressure
Compatible Directors: Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love & Basketball”), Ryan Coogler (“Black Panther”), Theodore Witcher (“Love Jones”)
Wale’s music video for “The Breakup Song” is a perfect companion to one of the most revered records in his immense archive of music. The Walu-directed visual borrows its theme and aesthetic from Marc Webb’s excellent romantic comedy, 500 Days of Summer. There’s a serenity to their overlapping, like a remix impressive enough to stand alongside the original. Capturing authentic portraits of black women, black love, and black life has been a career-long accomplishment for Wale. Bedroom bangers, wedding chapel anthems, and quiet storm classics―it would be easy for the former Atlantic Records signee to craft a romantic comedy script inspired by all the songs he has illustrating relations between man and woman. Look no further than the 2016 mixtape, Summer on Sunset.
With his imaginative penmanship and appreciation for movies like 500 Days of Summer and Love Jones, it would be a seamless transition for Wale to bring hip-hop flavor to big screen love stories.
The Weeknd: Strange, Freaky Vampire Fantasy
Compatible Directors: Wong Kar-wai (“In the Mood for Love”), David Lynch (“Mulholland Drive”), David Robert Mitchell (“It Follows”)
Abel Tesfaye's first love wasn’t music, or drugs, or fame, but films shrouded in suspense and terror. The Weeknd was a Canadian youth infatuated with fantasy and fear. He wrote screenplays and watched David Cronenberg-directed films. Last year, I wrote about the connection between his music and movies―how the cinema influence is as important to his artistic roots as Michael Jackson. Underneath the pop star exterior is a horror film savant with William S. Burroughs' appetite for the psychologically disturbing and twisted. I would happily accept a remastered version of David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch scored to the sounds of Kiss Land.
The success of “Earned It” and the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack wasn’t a fluke; if the placement of one song can have a career-changing effect, imagine if Hollywood gave Abel an entire soundtrack to sink his teeth into?
It’s not as apparent since The Weeknd’s music underwent evident commercial alteration to transform the faceless songbird into a world-dominating pop star, but there are plenty of bizarre songs and unorthodox visuals scattered across his musical sea to make a convincing case. If the Starboy drops the mask and returns to madness the possibilities could inspire Jigsaw to start a new game.
Knxwledge: Boyz in the Hud
Compatible Directors: Rick Famuyiwa (“Dope”), Ernest Dickerson (“Juice”), Shinichirō Watanabe (“Cowboy Bebop: Knockin' on Heaven's Door”)
Guilty Pleasure Bonus: Hype Williams (“Belly”)
Producers are the cog-turners who keep hip-hop rotating. Rappers, more often than not, need beats made. It’s impossible to remove the producer without the entire music universe spinning off its axis. There are, however, beatsmiths who dare to take an even more uncertain road, finding success outside the shadows of a vocalist. Knxwledge is one of the best examples of a beatmaker rewriting the rules. His prolific output of beat tapes rivals Wayne’s mixtape madness period; Knx isn’t allowing his exuberant fan base room to miss him.
The dusty chops, sampled soundbites, and soulful loops have taken him far, but I believe he could go even further. His process for beat construction takes an inventive mind who is able to see these puzzle pieces and produce the best picture. The same practice can be applied to film scores and soundtrack curation. Scoring a film isn't the same thing as constructing an instrumental album, but both require a similar creative approach.
The right opportunity has the potential to do for Knx what Samurai Champloo did for the late, great Nujabes. With all the music he has amassed, let us pray a director hears his sound, sees the promise, and provides a project for his music to transcend into the heavens.
By Yoh, aka Stanley Yohbrick, aka @Yoh31