February 6, 2010

Reader Review: Bulworth - The Soundtrack (April 21, 1998)

(For today's Reader Review, Jason revisits the soundtrack to the Warren Beatty film Bulworth, a project that I named as a Drink Coaster some time ago. This will make for the second Drink Coaster that has been contested by the same guy: personally, I'm waiting for someone to prove me wrong on Foxy Brown's Ill Na Na. Until then, enjoy today's post, and be sure to leave some comments for Jason below.)

There are a lot of hip-hop soundtracks. No, seriously, a lot. They’ve even made soundtracks for movies that don’t exist. (Did they ever make that Bobby Digital movie?) Some are disappointments, some are guilty pleasures, some are surprisingly good, and some become indisputable classics of the genre.

While Bulworth isn’t the best of the hip-hop soundtracks out there, it may be the best compilation of the art form’s talent onto a single album. (The Above the Rim and Juice soundtracks are also legitimate contenders for this crown.)

Bulworth isn’t a perfect album. Hell, it’s not even a great album, but it’s certainly better than a drink coaster, which was Max’s earlier designation. It’s sorta like...well, remember two paragraphs ago when I wrote that hip-hop soundtracks can be disappointing, guilty pleasures, surprisingly good or classic material? That’s Bulworth. There’s a little bit of all of those designations on this album.

What songs are which? I’m glad you asked.

Dr. Dre and LL Cool J? What a way to kickoff the album. It would be almost impossible for this track to meet expectations, so, naturally, it doesn’t. I can’t call this song outright bad, though, as it features two consummate professionals digging into their respective bags of tricks. LL provides two competent, if unmemorable, verses, one of which even features him singing, while Dre provides a workmanlike, but not bracing, beat. Perhaps that’s the problem. With a lineup this talented, you can only exceed expectations or fail. And this one fails. (What, no mention that this was originally a Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg reunion song, before Death Row Records called foul and demanded Snoop be deleted? For a better version of this track, or at the very least for something that will satisfy the curious, go Google the original version.)

Sampling another Brothers Gibb song, eh, Wyclef? It wasn’t enough to beat-jack “Stayin' Alive”: you had to rework the one they wrote for Dolly freakin’ Parton? And then give it to Pras? Pras, of Tony Yayo/Jim Jones/Tony Yayo/Sheek Louch/Tony Yayo/Weakest-Out-Of-The-Crew fame? And yet, somehow it works. ODB’s barely coherent rapping stops this from devolving into ridiculous pop-rap. (ODB was usually good for that. Unfortunately, he tried to stretch that gift too far by appearing on a remix for a JC Chasez song later in his career.)

Wyclef provides a decent musical backdrop and gets African legend Youssou N’Dour to sing the hook. (Oh, you don’t know about Youssou? He’s been holding it down since Paul Simon’s Graceland.) Canibus supplies two fire verses, including interesting bars such as, “Sometimes I wonder how come/ We can’t live without guns/ What would have been the outcome/ if the South won/ Think about that son/ What in the hell caused the assassination of Malcolm?” But the song doesn’t work because Canibus and Wyclef have zero chemistry. This should have warned us that Can-I-Bus was not going to be what we expected.

First, the lineup: Prodigy, KRS-One, Method Man and Kam provide verses, while DJ Muggs (of Cypress Hill) provides the beat. That’s a pretty serious starting five, but “Zoom” has already taught us the dangers of banking on a song's lineup. However, this song is incredible: all four MCs spit flames. KRS-One rightfully smashes magazines that cover hip-hop but fail to understand the culture. However, it is west coast wunderkind Kam who spits the best verse: “What kind of party is this? It’s that political kind/ Where America’s best, most hypocritical minds/ Try they hands at keeping you deaf, dumb and blind/ And for the right dollar sign, do white collar crime.”

I love Organized Noise Productions so much that I have purchased some awful shit in the name of ONP. (I even have that first Youngbloodz LP somewhere.) Even with their cosign, I was hesitant about Witchdoctor, an arrhythmic, spiritually-minded MC, but “Holiday/12 Scanner” works, thanks to a memorable percussion line that makes the most of Witchdoctor’s distinctive style. This track is among the best on the entire soundtrack.

Rza is, at best, an uneven solo artist. He needs the rest of the clan to stop him from indulging in his more irritating habits (such as writing stupid hooks, losing coherence within his verses, saying “Bong, Bong!” all the time). But “The Chase” is a success for three reasons: (1) It has a great beat, (2) Rza sticks to the topic, and (3) it’s short, ending before Rza can spell the name Bobby Digital sixty-seven more times.

I believe this was the multi-platinum-selling, sitcom-starring Eve’s introduction to the mainstream. Before ryding ruff, she was down with Dre’s Aftermath camp, and she rides this Mel-Man beat like French toast coasting over a river of butter. She switches tempos, flips Jamaican patois and even sings on here. It’s not her best work, but you can hear her hunger: it's easy to understand why so many record executives rushed to sign her once the Aftermath deal fell through.

Ice Cube and Mack 10 turn in a lazy performance that is only saved by Cube’s hysterical expulsions of “yeah-yea.” Their fellow Westside Connection partner WC is missed, as he could have provided some much-needed levity.

The Bulworth soundtrack was released during the era of cliques, one which we haven't fully emerged from. Every successful hip hop outfit surrounded themselves with a posse. Some became legendary (such as the Dungeon Family, Outkast and Goodie MoB's attempt to keep their friends employed), and some had talent but never reached their full potential (Wyclef had a Navy Seals outfit that disappeared almost as soon as it was introduced), but most of these extended family members diluted their respective brands. “Freak Out” featured a few forgettable rappers from Teddy Riley’s crew. It ultimately ends up being forgivable pop rap, but there’s a reason no one clamored for more Nutta Butta or Anonymous tracks. (It doesn’t help that Riley samples “Le Freak,” the second most overused Chic song ever.)

Max hates the Black Eyed Peas, to the extent where I suspect any positive review of this song would feature italicized commentary. (Naah, I'll be nice this time around.) I’ll make no pretense: I was a big fan of the pre-Fergie Peas. They had a distinct sound, indebted but not bitten outright from the Native Tongues. Also, will.i.am has always had a better sense of melody than ninety-five percent of all hip-hop producers. This song is just a trifle - a catchy beat, three serviceable verses and a hook that will get stuck in your head - but it’s fun without being condescending. And didn’t hip-hop start as party music?

Is it coincidence that the two Wu-Tang Clan solo cuts on this soundtrack, “The Chase” and “Run”, mine similar territory? Cappadonna gets a solid RZA beat and gives one of the more impassioned performances of his career. The product is good, not great, but I’d rather hear an average MC try hard than a great one coast. (“Run” would later also appear on Cappadonna's solo debut album The Pillage, albeit in a slightly truncated form, so this is the go-to if you love Rza's beat and want to hear more of it.)

Some of you may remember The Psycho Realm as B-Real’s side project while the other members of Cypress Hill were doing their own thing, but I prefer to think of them as the west coast Gravediggaz. Both groups were interesting entries in the oft-misunderstood sub-genre of horrorcore, sharing similar approaches and subject matter. The main difference between the two was that the Gravediggaz were more willing to be goofy, while Psycho Realm tried their best to sound threatening. On this particular track, the threats become downright cartoonish, but the song is still pretty good. B-Real and Sick Jacken spit fantastic-sounding nonsense over what sounds like (but isn’t) a Muggs production.

Public Enemy was experiencing a revitalization in 1998 thanks to the soundtrack from Spike Lee’s He Got Game. While this won’t replace "Welcome to the Terrordome" in anyone’s iPod, it’s good hip-hop and indicative of their late 1990’s output. My favorite Chuck D quote: “Behold the pale horse/Supreme Court/Sweating n----s like sports.”

The Bulworth soundtrack includes artists such as LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, KRS-One, Teddy Riley, various members of Wu-Tang Clan, Prodigy of Mobb Deep, two guys from the Fugees, and two members of Cypress Hill. It also introduced two artists (the Black Eyed Peas and Eve) that would later go on to sell millions of records. And then it ends with this: a generic hustler-rap song from D-Fyne, a female rapper who I had never heard of before and have never heard from again. It’s not D-Fyne’s trite subject matter that irritates me: Too $hort, Ice-T, and others have been rapping about pimping since pimping been pimping, and D-Fyne has the opportunity to provide a uniquely female perspective, because “Bitches Are Hustlers Too”, after all. But D-Fyne is so overblown and humorless, she's difficult to even listen to. This is the only straight dud on the album, and it’s a shame that it’s sequenced last.

FINAL THOUGHTS: With the exception of the last song, everything on Bulworth has some merit. If you like pop rap, you’ll love “Ghetto Supastar (That Is What You Are)”, “Freak Out” and “Joints & Jams”. If you want something more thoughtful, there’s “Kill Em Live”, “How Come” and the title track. If you like the West Coast, you have Ice Cube, Mack 10 and Dr. Dre. If you want East Coast, there’s LL and the Wu. If you want some Dirty South, you have the Witchdoctor. But having something for everyone means very few people will love the entirety album. However, as a sampler of late 1990s hip-hop, Bulworth works extraordinarily well.

BUY OR BURN?: This is a difficult question. It depends upon how you feel about late 1990s hip-hop. If you were finished with rap by 1993 or didn’t start listening to it until Young Jeezy, there’s very little to recommend here. (Also, what the hell are you doing on this blog?) But if you want a glimpse at the twilight years of hip-hop’s finest era, this is a worthwhile listen. I’d recommend a buy, but you may be better off listening first and purchasing a few selected tracks from iTunes.

BEST TRACKS: “Bulworth (They Talk About It While We Live It)”; “Holiday”; “Kill Em Live”


(I don't agree with the write-up: I think my original opinion is pretty spot on. I'd personally rather listen to the score, which was apparently composed by Ennio Morricone. I know, I had no idea, either. Anyway, leave your comments below if you agree or contest this post, and whenever you get a chance, you can click here to see my original views on the soundtrack.)


  1. Great review, haven't heard anythings from this but some songs seem to be good. And I HATE the Black Eyed Peas a lot too, I would blow up whatever studio they use to get rid of them. The posse cut with Prodigy, Meth, KRS & Kam seems to be great.

    And Max, I sent you an e-mail yesterday, you gon respond or what? I think I've decided what review I'll send.

  2. Oh my God Max, stop this italicized commentary bullshit. Obviously you don't agree with him and you made that plain. But seriously critizising the reviewer and putting in other points is bullshit. If I had wanted your opinion I would have looked at your review and not his.

    This is not worth a buy... but it's not as bad as Max continually exclaims it is.

  3. is it just me or is that album cover fucking creepy as shit

  4. what the fuck is you talking about. he didnt critizise him, and this is his page anyway so shut the fuck up and stop being a disrespectful bitch for no reason please.

  5. To the previous poster: I'm Jason, the reviewer. I appreciate your intention in defending my point of view; but, frankly, I have no problem with Max's italicized commentary.

    First and foremost, this is the second time Max has allowed me to contradict him on his blog. He doesn't need to let me do it.

    Second, I think Max's commentary on this review was pretty restrained. Max only appears five times in this review. The first appearance is an introduction to the reader review (which he does for everyone.) Two comments are interesting tidbits regarding specific songs ("Zoom" and "Run.")

    The fourth interruption (if you wish to call it that) comes during the BEP song, and he only does that after I specifically mention his penchant for italicized commentary. Even then, he only says that he will not contradict me.

    In fact, the only time he contradicts me is during the brief, final paragraph in which he says that his previously held opinion is unchanged.

    He doesn't call me out. He doesn't insult me or my opinions. He allows me my say, then adds that he feels differently.

    To paraphrase Common, if he didn't like it, he didn't like. That doesn't mean that he's hating.

  6. Peh!

    I only have the title track from this joint. I like "Holiday/12 Scanner" but I consider that to be a cut from Witchdoctor's album, which I own. "Run" has a good beat but I have remixed a version of Inspectah Deck's song "REC Room" to that beat which I feel is much better.

    Since the movie Bulworth is painful to watch for anyone who knows what good rap is supposed to sound like, there is no reason to ever come near this soundtrack except for its title track.

  7. why would your expectations be high for ll cool j? i just dont understand how that dude has fans, he's awful awful awful awful awful awful awful

  8. "The product is good, not great, but I’d rather hear an average MC try hard than a great one coast."

    Question: Are you refering to Cappadonna as a great MC?

  9. How about reviewing the "New Jersey Drive" soundtrack?