Monday, August 25, 2014

Get On the Short Bus

The 90s was the decade of "the soundtrack movie," where some film deals were structured as much or more on the accompanying soundtrack album, and the profits that could make, than the film itself.  Having trouble getting your movie financed? Buy a couple original songs from some popular rappers and parlay that into a studio pick-up. It started with some hip-hop-related films having hugely popular soundtracks into films that didn't even necessarily have to exist because they were just an excuse to make high selling compilation albums. From Above the Rim to Tales From the Hood, the album's have longer lasting legacies than the movies themselves. Even Warren Beatty put one together (remember Bulworth? Or are you just picturing the music video for "Ghetto Superstar?"). The movies got cheaper and cheaper (consider Master P movies, and their knock-offs) because it became more and more apparent the movies were just excuses for record labels and Hollywood to cross-pollinate funds and eventually the well ran dry.

Now, it would be unfair to say every soundtrack movie is a poor film; but there was an ever increasing stigma attached to them, and it's hard to call that undeserved. And that stigma is probably why Spike Lee never really made a film with a fully hip-hop soundtrack. He was classier and careful to project the image of a higher profile film-maker. But because he was always in tune with hip-hop and working with some of its best artists, it put us heads into a regularly recurring rough spot: do I want to buy this full album of stuff I don't care about just for one or two good songs? If you're not a jazz fan, the buying the full soundtrack to Mo' Better Blues just for that (excellent) Gangstarr song was a tough pill to swallow. At least "Crooklyn Dodgers" and its sequel from Clockers were released as singles. Bamboozled had about four songs and one of them was a Charli Baltimore track; so you really felt like you had to grossly overpay anytime you wanted just one or two songs.

Get On the Bus is another perfect example. Anytime a Spike Lee joint comes out, you have to run and check the soundtrack to see what we've gotten; and in this case there were three rap songs amidst a see of R&B, from Curtis Mayfield to Earth, Wind and Fire. But what tempting rap songs... A Tribe Called Quest, Doug E. Fresh and Guru. And remember, this was 1996, back before seeing Guru's name meant "produced by Solar." Every time I went to a music store I'd pick it, reread the track-listing and consider it; but I never pulled the trigger. And I'm glad I didn't. Because when I got older and hipper to getting my hands on DJ vinyl, I found otu about this ideal promo EP.

Get On the Bus Sampler is an official promo release from Interscope which features all three of the hip-hop tracks. Plus the D'Angelo song, because I guess they wanted to fill out the side with something and they figured he was "pretty hip-hop." But let's get into the rap songs because all three are nice and exclusive ...though Tribe's would turn up on a compilation album or two down the road.

The Tribe song is "The Remedy." Again, even if you never heard the soundtrack you're probably familiar with this song; but this is where it originated from. The label (to the EP or the full soundtrack) doesn't mention it, but it also features Common. This was from Tribe's fourth album era, when the group was starting to split, so there's no Phife on here, and the track is co-produced by Jay Dee. Fortunately, Jay's talents were enough to rescue what might have otherwise been a sinking ship; and the fact that this is on the soundtrack of a film about the Million Man March seems to have inspired some extra thoughtful and substantive lyrics from Tip and Common. So troubles or no, this winds up being a very compelling, funky little Tribe song that could fit easily onto any 'greatest hits' compilation.

Doug E. Fresh's song is either called "Tonite's the Nite" or "Tonite's the Night," depending on whether you believe the label to the EP or the full soundtrack. Personally, I prefer the EP's dual-'Nite" titling, just for the consistency. 1996 would put this well after Doug's New Get Fresh Crew phase, but this song still features Miss Jones on the hook. It's definitely on the pop side, and the hook is a bit much, but it's nicely produced by Clark Kent who's made a really suitable track for Doug to rock over. with some fresh and catchy samples and an upbeat but funky vibe. It definitely sounds more modern, but none the less captures the spirit of The World's Greatest Entertainer album, especially when the Chill Will and Barry B start scratching over the funky bassline.

Finally we have Guru's "Destiny Is Calling." And no, DJ Premier isn't on the boards. It's actually produced by... Permanent Revolution. Whoever the fuck that is. They've made a sitar-heavy track which is interesting but doesn't really click. It's okay, and Guru tackles some serious topics. But then again, his lyrics and delivery are pretty simple and choppy, with forced rhymes like "dollars" and "swallow." It's not bad, but definitely disappointing for all of us who've heard album after album of Gangstarr before this. You know this could've been a lot better and a really powerful call to change our society, ut instead it's just "meh."

But even with that little disappointment, this is a very sweet little EP. I mean, it's a must-have for the Tribe song alone, everything else is just gravy. And while I could see other heads not getting on board with it, I was pleasantly surprised by the Doug E. Fresh song. I'm really happy to have this in my crates, and extra pleased that I never wasted more money on the full soundtrack. And you know, eighteen years later, I honestly can't remember if I ever saw Get On the Bus or not. I can picture flashes of it, but those might just be from the trailer...? I'm not sure. But I'll remember "The Remedy" for the rest of my life.

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