The much-discussed Space Jam 2 now has a director (Justin Lin) to go along with its star (LeBron James), and fans of the original (well, me, anyway) have just one question:
How will the sequel’s soundtrack ever live up to the original?
You know, the Space Jam soundtrack. The one that gave the world “I Believe I Can Fly” and eventually went platinum six times over? That soundtrack.
Released on Nov. 12, 1996, below please find a celebration of the singular piece of art that is the Space Jam soundtrack.
"Fly Like an Eagle"
In 1996, Seal had just won three Grammys for “Kiss From a Rose,” which had been re-released as part of the Batman Forever soundtrack in 1995. Getting him on the Space Jam soundtrack must have seemed like a slam-dunk (pun fully intended), but it was his manager, Dominique Trenier’s idea to cover the Steve Miller song “Fly Like an Eagle.” D’Angelo, also managed by Trenier at the time, plays keys on the track, and Seal said he once got a call from Steve Miller thanking him and calling Seal’s version the best cover of the song he’d heard.
Similarly, Coolio was riding a wave of success from having the Grammy-winning “Gangsta’s Paradise” included on the Dangerous Minds soundtrack in 1995, so having him record another “message” song for the Space Jam soundtrack probably seemed like a great idea at the time. Even though a video for the song, which features a sample of Curtis Mayfield’s “Movin’ On Up,” was produced, it sadly wasn’t released as a single.
"I Believe I Can Fly"
“I Believe I Can Fly” is practically deserving of its own oral history. Apparently Kelly and Michael Jordan, attended the same athletic club in Chicago, and Jordan personally asked the singer to record a song for his upcoming movie. Kelly agreed without knowing anything else about the project, but he attended a screening and came up with the idea for the song. In his memoir Soulacoaster, he recounts waking up in the middle of the night at a hotel and going down to the lobby to work on “I Believe I Can Fly.” After about two hours of fiddling with the chords and melody, in walked Notorious B.I.G.: Kelly played him the song’s hook, which reportedly moved the rapper to tears. Kelly would later win three Grammys for the song, which he produced himself.
"Hit ‘Em High"
Putting aside the cognitive dissonance of having rappers like Method Man (whose signature Wu Tang song opens with the series of inventive tortures he’s going to inflict on you) and B-Real (from Cypress Hill, best known for their hit “How Could I Just Kill a Man” and prodigious references to marijuana) on a soundtrack for a family film, “Hit ‘Em High” is fascinating because it was produced by Trackmasters, a hip-hop production team who collectively have seven gold and 20 platinum records to their names. The group has not only produced such “serious” hip-hop as B.I.G’s “Juicy” and Foxy Brown’s “Ill Na Na” but also Will Smith’s “Miami” and “Men in Black.” And the song features LL Cool J rapping the line, “If the refs get political, dribble like Bob Dole.” So there’s that.
"For You I Will"
Monica’s “For You I Will” was written by songwriting genius Diane Warren, who, among other honors, is the first songwriter in the history of Billboard to have seven hits, all by different artists, on the singles chart simultaneously. Warren also contributed
"I Turn to You"
“I Turn to You,” sung here by All-4-One. However, the song would receive a second life two years later when Christina Aguilera would re-record it for her self-titled debut album. Released as the third single from the album, Aguilera’s version of “I Turn to You” would eventually peak at number three on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and become an international hit.
“Basketball Jones” has a weird history: The original was recorded by comedy duo Cheech & Chong in 1973 as a parody of the hit “Love Jones” by Brighter Side of Darkness. It reached one chart spot higher (no. 15 on the Hot 100) than the original, becoming the only parody song to reach higher than its source material. Cheech & Chong’s version was recorded with an absolutely insane backing band: George Harrison, Klaus Voorman (a Beatles friend who played bass on both Harrison and Lennon’s solo records), legendary rock and roll session drummer Jim Keltner, similarly legendary session pianist Nicky Hopkins (who played on records by the Kinks and Rolling Stones, at one point turning down an offer to join the latter group full-time), Billy Preston (who, you know, spent some time with the Beatles), and oh yeah, Carole King. Basically, it was a coincidence that this absurdly talented group coalesced to record a stoner comedy record – Cheech & Chong were recording in the A&M Studios, where all the aforementioned players were working on various projects, and people just sort of trickled in to contribute.
This song is notable because it was written by Jay Z, who had, in 1996, just released Reasonable Doubt, an absolute monster of a debut album that is mostly about dealing drugs and growing up in the projects in Brooklyn. And, there is an unverified rumor circulating that out there somewhere, there exists a demo of Jay Z rapping this song as Bugs Bunny. Let that sink in for a minute. (Incidentally, Bugs Bunny is voiced on the soundtrack and in the film by Billy West, the voice of Fry from Futurama, the red M&M and about a dozen other animated characters from the past thirty-some-odd years.)
"Space Jam Theme Song"
Quad City DJ’s are C.C. Lemonhead (Nathaniel Orange) and Jay Ski (Johnny McGowan). They are responsible for not just the Space Jam theme, but also 1996’s inescapable “C’mon N’ Ride It (The Train),” which likely landed them the Space Jam gig. They also produced the 69 Boyz’s double-platinum single “Tootsee Roll” and are known for dragging the regional club-based “Miami bass” sound into the spotlight in the 1990s.