In the late ‘90s and at the turn of the century, the movie soundtrack was all the rage. Music inspired by films such as Love Jones (1997), Love and Basketball (2000), Waiting to Exhale (1995), The Best Man (1999), Soul Food (1997), Brown Sugar (2002) were events, just as anticipated as the movie itself, if not more. When the Above the Rim soundtrack was released in 1994, it could be said that it was a precursor for the popular black movie soundtrack trend. While it was by no means the first film score to impact the charts and become a fan favorite, it definitely set the stage for more to come.
Described as a musical event at the time of its release, the Above the Rim soundtrack provided the perfect snapshot of popular urban music at the time, featuring some of music’s hottest artists. Although the movie was set in New York City, the album felt decidedly West Coast with Dr. Dre serving as supervising producer and Suge Knight serving as the album’s executive producer. Released on Death Row Records, the album was heavy on the G-funk styled music that was flooding the airwaves and equally as heavy on appearances from the likes of West Coast-based artists such as Tupac Shakur (who also starred in the film), Tha Dogg Pound, Snoop Dogg, Warren G, Nate Dogg, 2nd II None, The Lady of Rage and Thug Life.
Perhaps the biggest success to come from the album came in the form of Warren G and Nate Dogg’s “Regulate.” Released in April 1994, it was nearly impossible to escape the song. It would go on to reach No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart and No. 8 on the R&B/Hip-Hop chart, in addition to earning both a GRAMMY nomination and an MTV Movie Award nomination. It is also one of hip hop’s most revered songs, even being named one of VH1’s 100 Great Songs of Hip Hop and one of Pitchfork’s Top 200 Tracks of the '90s.
The Above the Rim Soundtrack also provided the world with the solo introduction to The Lady of Rage with her single, “Afro Puffs.” Though she had made guest appearances on both Dr. Dre’s The Chronic and Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle albums, it would mark her first time stepping into the spotlight on her own. Produced by Dre, “Afro Puffs” found its way onto several Billboard charts, including the Hot 100, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, Hot Dance Club Songs, Hot Rap Songs and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay.
R&B also prevailed on the album, featuring contributions from the biggest singing stars of the era. SWV’s “Anything” and H-Town’s DeVante Swing-produced “Part Time Lover” quickly became radio hits, with both songs still in rotation on many Adult R&B radio stations to this day. Sweet Sable, Aaron Hall and Al B. Sure! also injected some soul into the hip-hop heavy album
This star-studded line up simply worked. In addition to garnering critical praise, the album was also a commercial success. It remained at the top of the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums Chart for 10 consecutive weeks, reached the No. 2 spot on the Billboard 200 Chart and shipped over two million copies.
On a somber note, there is another tragic detail that binds several of the artists who appeared on the soundtrack together -- at least five of them have passed away in the two decades since its release. Randy “Stretch” Walker, a member of Thug Life was gunned down in 1995. Less than a year later in 1996, actor/rapper Tupac Shakur was famously gunned down in Las Vegas. In 2003, H-Town lead singer Kevin “Dino” Connor was killed in a car accident alongside his girlfriend. Meanwhile, Russell “Old Dirty Bastard” Jones, who appeared alongside his Wu-Tang Clan cohorts on SWV’s “Anything,” died of a drug overdose in 2004. Nathaniel “Nate Dogg” Hale passed away in 2011 after suffering several strokes. With this in mind, revisiting this album 20 years later feels bittersweet. On one hand, the album is a sad reminder that these artists are no longer with us. However, on the flip side, it is a nostalgic journey to this moment in time when each were fearlessly sharing their talents with the world as part of one of the best movie soundtracks to date.