Space Jam: A New Legacy’s Soundtrack is Afraid to let its Goofy Side Shine Through
At least there weren’t any R. Kelly songs this time around.
Full disclosure: I haven’t seen either of the two Space Jams.
I pretty much missed the boat with the first one, having been born three years after it was released, and thus I ended up being more of a Looney Tunes: Back In Action kid. So when the entirety of the millennial population declared the recently-released Space Jam: A New Legacy a woefully disappointing sequel that spits on the legacy of its culturally-definitive predecessor, I assumed it was just the collective nostalgia talking. After all, how different in quality could two movies about NBA A-listers playing basketball with mid-20th century cartoon characters be?
If we look at their respective soundtracks, then there’s an easy answer to go by: One has Bugs Bunny rapping lyrics written by Jay-Z, and the other doesn’t.
Whilst I can’t speak for the movies themselves, Space Jam: A New Legacy’s soundtrack album pales in comparison to the original. Both capitalise on the popularity of their featured artists and the prominent musical trends of their respective eras, but the original had just the right amount of cheese to make it fun, as well as the kind of zany energy you’d expect from something associated with such an outlandish concept. B-Real, Coolio, Method Man, LL Cool J, and Busta Rhymes teaming up to make a theme song for the movie’s villain team, the Monstars, is an absolute stroke of genius and I won’t hear otherwise.
This new soundtrack, however, is far too self-serious to be anything other than boring. For most of its runtime, it plays more like a low-effort version of the Black Panther soundtrack. There’s even a blatantly obvious attempt at recreating that album’s lead single, ‘All the Stars’, on the track ‘Just for Me’, right down to the SZA feature. The powerful vocals that SZA brought to her Black Panther appearance are hardly enough to save her guest spot here, however. They’re sadly laced with grating effects and blended with SAINt JHN’s much weaker singing on a near-unintelligible hook.
Most of the featured artists here completely phone in their contributions, resulting in an abundance of milquetoast lyrics about winning, being a champion, and playing basketball. ‘Shoot My Shot’ and ‘See Me Fly’ are the worst offenders in this regard, but they’re far from the only songs on the tracklist that feel like they were made specifically to be repurposed as music for various TV commercials, sporting and otherwise. John Legend’s ‘Crowd Go Crazy’ is practically begging to be used in the marketing for some B-grade family sitcom, and the Jonas Brothers’ nauseating track ‘Mercy’ is not far behind in terms of triteness.
What’s worse is that barely anyone on this album wants to admit the Looney Tunes are involved in this movie too. Saweetie is the first to do so on her track ‘Hoops’ with the line, “Some pretty snow bunnies like Lola”. Salt ‘N’ Pepa’s verse, which is accompanied by a neat switch to an old school hip-hop beat, doubles down on that reference, albeit more awkwardly (“Bunny hoppin’ to this bag, like Lola Bunny”). Surely it would have been so easy for other rappers to tie a Looney Tunes character into their bars. “Born winner, it’s in my blood / Taking shots like I’m Elmer Fudd”. There. You can have that one for free, music supervisors for Space Jam 3.
‘Goin’ Looney’ is the album’s goofiest moment, and I mean that to be the highest praise imaginable. With so much of the soundtrack feeling devoid of any personality, Big Freedia’s cartoonish vocals are incredibly refreshing and harken back to Quad City DJ’s iconic theme song for the original movie. Are 90% of the lyrics just arbitrary references to Looney Tunes characters (“Go cartoony, when I hit ’em with the looney / Flow so fast, Roadrunner can’t pursue me”)? Yes. That’s what makes this song so good, although it’s no ‘Cartoons’ by cupcakKe.
Alas, Big Freedia is pretty much the only artist here who performs as well as you’d hope they would. Case in point: Lil Uzi Vert’s ‘Pump up the Jam’ samples Technotronic’s 1989 hit of the same name, and manages to drain the energy out of that song entirely. Uzi seems to be on the cusp of ridiculousness with lyrics like “Finger roll jelly, like jam / How I end up in Space Jam?”, but his delivery is just too monotonous to make it work.
The soundtrack somehow manages to bring out the mediocrity in almost all the artists it features. Leon Bridges, a typically fantastic singer, sounds like he’s in a mid-boozy karaoke session in ‘My Guy’. We don’t even get enjoyably corny Lil Wayne on his verse in ‘Control the World’, it’s more ‘Please give me my paycheck so I can go home’ Lil Wayne. Aminé and Brockhampton also give uncharacteristically weak performances on their respective tracks, though both are also hindered by incredibly shoddy production and mixing.
Given that it’s accompanying a major blockbuster, you’d think there’d be a little more polish on some of these songs than there ends up being. Tracks like ‘Gametime’ and ‘Settle the Score’ aim to be extravagant pre-game anthems, but the vocals are far too overpowering for the choked-out instrumentals to really have any impact. That’s an especially disappointing aspect of the latter of those two songs, given that Cordae and DUCKWRTH are trying their best to give invigorating performances over a beat that squanders both of their talents.
What ends up being the soundtrack’s worst offence is that nothing on it is even hilariously trashy. It’s not the kind of bad that makes you want to show all your friends so they can share in your confusion or amusement, it’s the kind of bad that makes you disappointed that a decent amount of talent is wasted on such half-baked songs. Say what you will about the original Space Jam’s soundtrack, but that album would have not had anything like the cultural impact it had if it was as soulless as its successor. I would be shocked if anyone remembers a second of Space Jam: A New Legacy’s soundtrack in a few years’ time.
The cowards didn’t even put The Notorious P.I.G. on here.