Updated: Aug 5, 2021
In volume one of our "Beats, Bars & Basketball" series, we detailed how interconnected the worlds of Hip-Hop and Basketball are and highlighted some of our favorite crossovers between the two. Its no surprise that Hollywood sticks to the same script. If there's a basketball movie being made, its a pretty safe bet there'll be a Rap/R&B compilation album to accompany it. Of course, there are exceptions. Ya'll pardon me for not being thorough, but I went ahead and assumed I didn't need to revisit the "Air Bud" or "Hoosiers" soundtrack for this top 5.
For you hard-headed cats who don't read titles closely, this is NOT a ranking of the movies themselves, but rather their soundtracks. We all know "He Got Game" is the best. Don't @ me.
The criteria we'll use here is the cultural moments the soundtrack provided, as well as its ability to compliment the movie, either in the actual cinematography or just extending the vibes of the flick beyond the screen.
"White Men Can't Jump" - 1992 - Capitol Records
Honestly, I'm breaking my own rules right off jump, because this soundtrack's inclusion is mostly for the movie's contribution to Hip-Hop and Basketball culture. The cross colors everywhere, Wesley Snipes, Rosie Perez, and even Woody Harrelson (!) ooze early 90's Hip-Hop drip. This soundtrack is basically a two sided face-off between R&B and a B side (or second half) literally titled "White Men Can't Rap." The concept is ahead of its time and the album has crazy star power with songs by Boyz II Men, Queen Latifah, Cypress Hill, The O'Jays, Gang Starr, and even Aretha Franklin. Its not in our starting 5 basically because there's no standout banger on the thing and its a bit of a tough listen even for seasoned old-heads in 2021.
"The 6th Man" - 1997 - Hollywood Records
I forgot about this movie until I saw the soundtrack cassette in The MSQ Shop offices. This is a feel- good soundtrack for a feel-good basketball comedy. It lacks no star power with appearances from Doug E. Fresh on the Stevie Wonder sampled "Superstition," as well as tracks from The Pharcyde, Guru (of Gang Starr... R.I.P), and Johnny Gill. The highlight though, is "Like This and Like That" by LaKeisha Berry. It sounds like what a lead single from a basketball movie starring Marlon Wayans is supposed to sound like-- light and airy; but dope.
"Coach Carter" - 2005 - Capitol Records
Follow me here... "The 6th Man" is actually the 7th man on this squad, because "Coach Carter" is definitely the hardest soundtrack to leave out of the starting 5. This album includes a song currently going through a Tik-Tok renaissance in Twista and Faith Evan's "Hope." Before it became a joke, it was a legitimate hot single. It was nice in 2005 between G-Unit records, to hear something inspiring on the radio. "Wouldn't You Like to Ride" by Kanye West, Common, and Malik Yusef is personally one of my favorite songs ever-- if you don't already know that one, find it ASAP and soak up those "old Kanye" rays. Speaking of G-Unit, The Game makes an appearance on this album along with Fabolous, Trey Songz, Ciara, and a lot more. The problem with this soundtrack is there is no cohesion. It sounds like a bunch of songs by big artists thrown together rather than purposefully crafted.
THE STARTING 5
5. "Like Mike" - 2002- So So Def Recordings
Everybody loves to hate on Shad Moss these days, but there's no denying at one time he was one of the biggest stars in the entertainment industry. The inclusion of "Like Mike" on this list is largely in recognition of the pinnacle of Lil' Bow Wow's cultural powers. In the vain of Vol. 1 of our "Beats, Bars & Basketball" series and the crossover between rappers and hoopers, this movie stars a huge (little) rapper as a professional hooper. Bow Wizzle definitely wasn't the first rapper to star in his own movie and not even the first to be in a basketball movie (more on Tupac in "Above the Rim" later) but this was a unique moment for him to star in the movie and the soundtrack. The most memorable single from this album is definitely "Basketball," a Kurtis Blow sampled hit featuring Bow Wow, Fabulous, and Jermaine Dupri. The album also included the Neptunes produced (daily #1 on 106 and Park) Bow Wow smash, "Take Ya Home." The NBA cameo-laced, comedic fantasy the movie provided is complimented well by the teeny-bopper vibes of the time, with appearances from B2K, Solange, and Mario amongst others, but Nas even came through and blessed the tape. This shit probably isn't the best play-through in 2021, but it represents a special era for a slept-on LEGEND (I said it) in Hip-Hop.
4. "More Than a Game" - 2009 - Interscope Records
This 2009 documentary about Lebron James and his Saint Vincent Saint Mary teammates' journey from youth basketball to Bron's greatness in the league wasn't a blockbuster, but the lead single "Forever" featuring Drake, Kanye West, Lil' Wayne, and Eminem definitely was. This soundtrack claims the #4 spot on our starting 5, primarily due to the success and lasting power of that single but also I want to acknowledge Lebron's influence on Hip-Hop. From his friendship and partnerships with countless rappers, most notably Jay-Z (who is on this album with a slept on song "History") to his executive production on 2 Chainz's "Rap or Go to The League," he's made Hip-Hop waves from the jump and continues to. Even though he didn't rap on this album (thankfully...Youtube his trash self-censored freestyle on Hova's "F*ckwithmeyouknowigotit") you get the sense listening to this tape that the artists were truly excited to be involved in a project with the King.
3. "He Got Game" - 1998 - Def Jam Recordings
Everything Spike Lee does is Hip-Hop. My personal favorite basketball movie of all time "He Got Game" is no exception. He kept it even realer recruiting Public Enemy to handle the soundtrack. This album gets an A+ for cohesion. Obviously, it has a leg up in that department considering one group is on every track but it also thematically matches the movie great as well. A slightly past-their- prime Public Enemy navigates their way through a modern release just like Denzel Washington's character does in his role as Jake Shuttlesworth. The title track "He Got Game" beautifully interpolates Buffalo Springfield's 1966 rock classic "For What Its Worth," and provides the perfect backdrop for the tone of this movie. The strength in the mental association between "He Got Game" the movie and "He Got Game" the single is only rivaled by "Space Jam" and R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly." This was really the last high-profile project by Public Enemy, but they went out with an artistic bang. Oh Jesus!!
2. "Above the Rim" - 1994 - Death Row/Interscope Records
Basketball cinema's answer to "Juice" is the classic "Above the Rim," and like "Juice" this movie includes a strong supporting performance from Tupac Shakur. The soundtrack of course includes the late, great rap god as well. Once in an official capacity on "Pour Out a Little Liquor" but more infamously on the hidden tracks appearing on singles-- including the cult classic "Pain." Despite this track not being featured on most versions of this album, its influence lived on, being covered word for word by both Ja Rule and Fabulous respectively on their own major solo projects. Covers don't happen in Hip-Hop much so you know the poetry was deep; its one of those songs that really encapsulates what Pac was all about. We're probably burying the lead here though because this album actually debuted the Warren G/Nate Dogg classic, "Regulate." This project is very much a Death Row production and has appearances from the whole set; Snoop and the Dogg Pound, Dr. Dre, and more. For that fact, this album is also very cohesive and was one of the most critically acclaimed soundtracks ever. Because you've heard "Regulate" a million times, and see it performed by Karens at karaoke nights to this day, lets do something different and check out the Pac joint, "Pain" above.
1. Space Jam - 1996 - Atlantic Records
Did you expect anything different? The better question is should "I Believe I Can Fly" be the national anthem? Lets take it from R. Kelly's trifling ass and give it to the people! Anyways this iconic (but flawed) movie produced an iconic and flawless (in my opinion) soundtrack. There are more hits on this tape than any soundtrack, period. not just for a basketball joint. I don't need to tell you about "I Believe I Can Fly" or "Space Jam" by the Quad City DJ's -- they were and are timeless hits. But you may have forgotten Seal's "Fly Like an Eagle," Monica's "For You I Will", and even All-4-One's "I Turn to You" which later turned into a huge cover by Christina Aguilera. The two greatest truly Hip-Hop moments on the soundtrack are the Jay-Z written bars that BUGS BUNNY FUCKIN MURDERS on "Buggin," and one of the greatest posse cuts of all time "Hit 'Em High (The Monsters Anthem)" featuring B-Real of Cypress Hill, Busta Rhymes, Coolio, LL Cool J and Method Man. Everything about this album was just as big and fun as the movie was, but the artistic merit is all the way there. I'm anxious to see if "Space Jam: A New Legacy" can hold a torch to this classic on screen or in your speakers.
Let us know in the comments or hit us on social if we left your favorite basketball movie/soundtrack off the list or you think any of these don't deserve the praise. Stay tuned for more basketball themed content in the future from The MSQ Shop and our Beats, Bars, and Basketball series.
by: Zach Kirby