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Retrospecticus: Space Jam: The Soundtrack
Do old favourites still thrill you? In our first instalment of this new series, we travel back to 1996 for a Looney intergalactic Jam

Retrospecticus revisits seminal(-ish) music and film masterpieces from pop cultural times gone by. Are you still a fan? 

There are three things to remember about 1996: it’s the year the Spice Girls became a thing, everyone was wearing Nike, and Space Jam was a phenomenon. It was also the year — or the decade, rather — of Michael Jordan. Grossing over $230 million worldwide at the box office, Space Jam plays out a fictitious version of Jordan’s return to basketball after a stint running bases (LOL, remember that?) to save Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes from enslavement. But the standout moments of Jam weren’t found in its storyline or even its star — it was the film’s soundtrack that’s worth remembering. Featuring worldwide hits from R .Kelly and Monica, as well as contributions from Seal, Jay-Z, Coolio, Method Man, Busta, and D’Angelo, the collection of songs represents a critical moment in the ascension of rap and hip-hop as we now hear it. Through and through, the diversity found here, from the artists to the tracks themselves (Chris Rock and Barry White, what?), is startling for what could easily be written off as a silly children’s animated movie. Just listening to it takes you back to a time when basketball players had charisma and spirit and Skrillex wasn’t a thing. Plus, you can feel so good that the Space Jam promo website is still perfectly intact like a relic of the Internet. They just don’t make ’em like this anymore.

Seal – “Fly Like an Eagle”           

YouTube views: 1,478,393

Ah, the song that spurred a thousand more Michael Jordan wannabes who wanted nothing more than to, well, flyyyy. (Okay, the music video’s opening skit and movie clips can share equal blame.) A cover of the 1976 Steve Miller Band hit, it’s hard to believe that, after 1994’s mammoth, one-hit-wonder-y “Kiss From A Rose,” Seal was able to score another Top 10 Billboard hit, nor that this track would be it. (“Fly” is his third and final mainstream chart hit to date.) The single, however, did hit number two on the Canadian charts, which would explain why I still remember every-damn-word. LOL fact: In 2012, the song was voted best-ever song about birds by Birds & Blooms Magazine. Sadly, I’d say the closest 99.9999% per cent of us ever got to actually flying like an eagle was smoking up behind the portables at school.

Verdict: Stream it

 

Coolio – “The Winner”

YouTube views: 260,790

Yes, it is hard to believe that the same man who penned the badass, Grammy-winning anthem “Gangsta’s Paradise” contributed to the same soundtrack aimed at children (hey, 14 year olds circa ’96 are like 8 year olds circa now). But here it is. Remarkably mellow and fluffy, with its groovy bass and TGIF-friendly backbeat, there is no lyrical cynicism, only the too-important dissemination of that trademark ‘90s self-esteem: “Keep on pushing, moving on up/Everybody, we’re moving on up, moving on up/You’re a winner.” Yes, kids, we’re still winners and this song is still as cool as Coolio’s current musical career. (But I guess he did live to see 24 after all. Yay!)

Verdict: Forget it

 

Quad City DJ’s – “Space Jam” 

YouTube views: 266,468 

COME ON AND SLAM, AND WELCOME TO THE JAM. Okay, give me a second to catch my breath because I have been dipping it low all over this office. In the fifth grade, this was the jam before the bubblegum pop craze exploded in North America and gave us all beautiful brain rot. Hands up if you also had a dance to this at the winter assembly? As the third most successful single from this soundtrack (Top 40 on Billboard), I actually contend the title track is one of the last true mainstream hits from the (legit) dance heavy mid-‘90s that seemed to disappear (until, like, the Vengaboys or some shit). And what I really, really love about this track all these years later is that it has a teen hit vibe while disguising a wholesome tween sensibility.

Verdict: Download it

 

R. Kelly – “I Believe I Can Fly”             

YouTube views: 13,180,469

Oh sweet Beysus, if I could have hunted all the kids in my class who sang this song ad nauseum, I would have been without classmates, or the music teacher who facilitated that mess. Despite never hitting number one on the Hot 100, “Believe” spent six weeks atop the R&B charts and remains Kelly’s biggest hit to date and won three Grammys. I guess I get it, but damn, yet another song about flying. (Yup, vacant youth empowerment in the ‘90s was the it.) LOL fact: American Idol’s most colossal reject, William Hung a.k.a. Psy.0, recorded this for his album Inspiration. My lasting thought: If only the girl in Kelly’s leaked sex tape could actually fly before getting caught in those pesky golden showers. Oh, and “Trapped in the Closet” 4EVA!

VerdictStream it if you must

 

B-Real, Busta Rhymes, Coolio, LL Cool J & Method Man – “Hit ‘Em High (The Monstars’ Anthem)”

YouTube views: 8,666,446

Again: an animated child’s movie was able to inspire this much rap music for the masses — and I love every-single-verse. Despite being an official single released from the soundtrack, this track preformed poorly compared to its counterparts. And that’s a real shame. It features all the greats of its era: LL, Coolio, Busta, Method Man…and, um, B-Real. All the rappers are on their game on this one with — forgive me — a flow so sick and a beat like woah, produced by the legendary Trackmasters (B.I.G.’s “Juicy,” a lot of Nas and Will Smith). The only thing it could possibly be missing is a hit from Dre and/or Snoop. This is definitely a precursor to rap and hip-hop’s millennial rise if there ever was one.  

Verdict: Download it

 

D’Angelo – “I Found My Smile Again”

YouTube views: 118,940

Oh, this isn’t “Untitled (How Does It Feel)?” BYE.

Verdict: Forget it 

 

Monica – “For You I Will”

YouTube views: 1,221,989 

Hands up if you bought Monica’s The Boy is Mine record for the following two reasons: that Brandy duet and this song. Out of all the Space Jam-inspired tunes people wouldn’t stop playing, you could never, ever got tired of this ballad — because, duh, it was penned by Queen of Heartache Diane Warren. This is a Monica I like to remember — conservative little purple sweater, Blossom-esuqe bowl hat, easy like Sunday morning — or, well, the only Monica I can seem to remember in a sea of one-hit-wonder R&B “divas” that flooded the rest of my life. (Side note: I mean, remember when it was just Brandy and Monica and that was OK?) The song itself was a considerable hit, landing at number four on the Hot 100, and her vocals are on point here. Yup. Wait, why didn’t this win a Grammy? Blame R.Kelly.

Verdict: Download it

 

Salt-N-Pepa – “Upside Down (‘Round-N-‘Round)”

YouTube views: 379,486       

Nope, it’s not just about the boys, especially since Lola Bunny is all up and through this throwdown. Salt-N-Pepa bring their A-game with a reinterpretation of the Diana Ross’ disco classic “Upside Down.” Enough said? Brilliant.

Verdict: Stream it 


Robin S – “Givin’ U All That I’ve Got”

YouTube views: 58,020

Honestly, I don’t remember this track AT ALL, but I am sure feeling it circa 2013. It’s one of those power R&B/dance tracks in the vein of Black Box or C&C Music Factory that just makes you want to scream right up there with all the best gals. In fact, it would fit in perfectly amongst the nu-house/dance revival that I would legit dance to in some dark bar. Robin S never made it out of Space, but this track definitely lightens the mood and reminds you it’s more about the fun you have playing the game.

Verdict: Download it

 

Barry White & Chris Rock – “Basketball Jones” 

YouTube views: 576,948

“Basketball Jones” is a track originally recorded by Cheech & Chong, appearing on the comedy duo’s 1973 LP Los Cochinos. Some former stoner-turned-studio exec probably said, “That song has ‘basketball’ in the title? And Chris Rock is available? That’s a brilliant idea!” And if you’re a fan of Rock’s grating screeching sing-talk, then perhaps it is brill. Lucky, silky smooth Barry White slithers in to save this comical hit-and-run. (Side bar: The background girls keep it tight, too, eh?) I guess the track is … silly … enough that kids probably liked it: “Mike Tyson beats the ball against the wall/Tweety Bird, ya heard.” And Rock is the quintessential ‘90s comic. I mean, it’s no “No Sex,” but I’ll take it.

Verdict: Stream it


All-4-One – “I Turn to You” 

YouTube views: 347,871

In the short void between NKOTB and BSB, there was All-4-One. Yeah, they had a hit – and this was not it. Penned by Diane Warren, “I Turn to You” was made famous a few years later by Christina Aguilera, who, admittedly, sings the crap out of it and puts this version to shame. But it’s still sugary sweet. (P.S.: Look at them now!)

Verdict: Stream it

 

R. Kelly, Changing Faces & Jay-Z  – “All of My Days”

YouTube views: 10,971

There’s nothing I love more than ’90s-era R&B girl groups: En Vogue, SWV, TLC, etc. Changing Faces, best known for their 1994 hit “Stroke You Up,” were like Blaque or 702 in the Destiny’s Child era. Clearly, the duo wasn’t a thing, but they produced good enough tracks. And with R. Kelly and J on the bill, this was among their best.

Verdict: Download it

 

Spin Doctors featuring Biz Markie – “That’s the Way (I Like It)”

YouTube views: 17,972

Ah, the token white guys. And another cover. At this point in the soundtrack, one starts to wonder if it might be a track too long. 

Verdict: Forget it


Bugs Bunny – “Buggin'”          

YouTube views: 162,981

With rhymes penned by Jay-Z, it’s hilarious to hear Bugs Bunny spitting: “I’m too legit, too legit to quit.” The song is what it is: serious and seriously hilarious. I remember discovering my favourite little bunny could rap was revelation, and debating — in the nonsensical way kids do — whether he would be aligned with the Bloods or Crips. (Shit got heated.) Now I’m just wondering whether producers simply altered Jay-Z’s voice…? “Who says the bunny can’t rhyme, you’re buggin’/If Bugs don’t make you hop, you’re buggin’” This YouTube comment sums it up nicely: “Man Bugs is more G than Lil Wayne could EVER hope to be!!” Nice try, Bugs. Really. (Hah — G. Still laughing at that.)

Verdict: Stream it

—-

Paul Aguirre-Livingston is a Toronto-based writer and guest editor at Toronto Standard. Find him on Twitter or online.

For more, follow us on Twitter @TorontoStandard and subscribe to our newsletter.

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