Soundtracks for the people: an open letter to film studios
One of the most anticipated films of recent memory from the Marvel pantheon is quickly approaching. In the eyes of many, Black Panther has already transcended superhero film status into the heights of something greater. I'm in the camp of "let's reserve full judgement until seeing the whole movie first" but that's just my opinion.
With the strategic planning of releasing the movie in the heart of Black History Month, paired with a stellar cast of Black Excellence, Black Panther has already proved to be a moment that'll be remembered for quite some time. Shortly after the new year, to further solidify the hype surrounding this blockbuster, Marvel Studios announced that Top Dawg Entertainment will "curate and produce" the soundtrack to Black Panther.
It is a major look for a music label that's quickly forming into a serious business conglomerate, but the look is trifold.
First: the fans and the consumers. The E-streets have been clamoring for an official Black Hippy project the moment Say Wassup hit YouTube. We're not getting that just yet; but the Core Four, plus SZA, with additional features from The Weeknd, Anderson .Paak and others, a TDE inspired compilation will suffice.
Second: the motion picture studio itself. It'll be an interesting case study to see how things will play out with the Black Panther soundtrack. Because of the star power on the soundtrack and the high anticipation of the film, it should be near if not atop the music charts for the first week. What about after the movie is released? Will there be an increased spike in streaming numbers because "Casual Music Fan X" really liked a song from a scene in the movie and had to check out the soundtrack? We'll have to wait and see.
I don't know the specifics and numbers behind the deal that Marvel Studios made with TDE, but it must have been a mutually beneficial financial deal for both parties involved. Some original soundtracks in the past have flopped without much fanfare. Not investing much stock into 'em won't make or break the success of the actual film, but it can accentuate the quality perception of the film as a whole...if done correctly.
Third and most importantly: the music labels and collectives. Being attached to a major motion picture in this way can heighten the awareness of a crew that's been grinding in the industry for quite some time. Of course, TDE has been well-known by hip-hop fans, but now that the Black Panther soundtrack is public, the full attention of media consumers in the mainstream and casual fans of music will be captured.
If King's Dead and Pray for Me are any indicators for the rest of the album, this could wind up being one of the greatest soundtracks to a movie ever. Exploiting a widespread opportunity by sliding in less notable, far from less talented, artists can be considered a huge win. By giving free reign to curate, TDE has included the up-and-coming West Coast representatives, Mozzy and SOB X RBE, on the final tracklist. Giving maximum exposure for those that are deserving is paying it forward at it's finest.
Lazily slapping together random pop stars and trendy rappers on a track can ultimately create a mess. An entire album of this? A disjointed and unlistenable piece of shit. To avoid such a problem, more film studios should follow the blueprint of Marvel Studios, by allowing its director and visionary Ryan Coogler to handpick a singular, successful, music label to curate an entire project. Too many outside hands can alter an intended purpose. Coogler has been "a massive Kendrick fan" for many years, according to his NPR interview. In the same conversation, the Black Panther director talks about the organic bond that was built between himself and TDE, spawned from a mutual respect of their artforms. It wasn't just a forged relationship created by label executives. It was an authentic collaboration.
"The movie's not set in 1910, or the 1960s when Black Panther first came out — it's set in today," said Sounwave, TDE in-house producer who worked on the soundtrack. "There's 'today' moments happening in the movie, so we want the whole soundtrack to sound like that too. I think it was a perfect marriage for us to blend the two worlds."
Movie studios and even independent filmmakers should entrust music collectives to create and curate soundtracks, front to back. That doesn't mean every single song that's recorded needs to make it into the film. Rather, certain standouts could make an appearance in the movie, but most importantly for everyone involved, additional acclaim can be garnered with a soundtrack done correctly. The idea of cohesiveness from a singular label handling these duties will present the best chance of success. It can also help build anticipation for a movie.
In mid-January, for the 1972 reboot of the legendary film Superfly, it was announced that Sony Pictures have plans to tap the creative mind of Future to not only be an executive curator of the soundtrack but ALSO a producer on the actual film. Handling both of these responsibilities could create a dynamic that could enhance both projects because of the symbiotic nature.
With the impending Black Panther/TDE soundtrack and concept of the Superfly duality for Future, I'm hopeful that this is the start of a trend that'll stick around for years to come. Rightfully putting artists and music collectives of the most popular genre in the world in positions of control and power is a great thing to see. Just think of the endless possibilities of an authentic relationship between hip-hop, RnB, and major motion picture studios. "The ceiling is the roof."