Dramatic Underscoring: Juice

On February 3, 2016

Dramatic Underscoring is our regular column by Marcella Hemmeter reviewing soundtrack albums from movies current and forgotten. This edition covers 1992's Juice. 

Name your top 5 favorite hip-hop/rap/R&B soundtracks. Is Juice one of your picks? Juice (1992) is a crime drama about four friends growing up on the streets of Harlem and demonstrates the early acting talents of Omar Epps and Tupac Shakur. It also has an incredible soundtrack that provides an authentic snapshot of early 90s hip-hop that continues to rank high on various all-time best soundtracks lists, with artists like Naughty by Nature, Eric. B & Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Salt-n-Pepa, and Cypress Hill. Wait, quick question: how can a soundtrack for a movie that stars 2Pac not have any tracks from 2Pac??

As a child of the 90s, I watched a lot of MTV but other than radio-friendly hits, hip-hop didn’t really connect with me. Not until I saw movies like Juice. Sure Boyz n the Hood is a better movie but this soundtrack is amazing. And I’m a sucker for films that feature record store scenes and DJs spinning (Queen Latifah has a cameo, too!). But back to the music. I knew that hip-hop could be political, funny, and/or describe human struggles as well as any soul-crushing rock or country song but knowing and feeling are two different things. Right place, right time? Maybe. After seeing this movie, 1) I had a newfound respect for hip-hop and rap as musical genres, and 2) I knew my parents wouldn’t let me own the soundtrack given the explicit lyrics.

Now for the good news, people. The Juice soundtrack was reissued on vinyl last year and is one of the best collections of early '90s hip-hop and R&B out there. Album opener, “Uptown Anthem” by Naughty by Nature, is a banger that is heard in full at the close of the film. But the best track has to be the theme song for the movie, “Juice (On the Ledge)” by Eric B. & Rakim. It opens the film with shots of the city in a quick montage that sets the tone for this quick-paced story. You may find yourself wishing the Cypress Hill track they included would have been “How I Could Just Kill A Man” which plays during an important scene in the movie where Q (Epps) is walking through a party looking for Bishop (Shakur) but “Shoot Em Up” is still a solid track on the soundtrack. By the way, if you have no idea how talented Tupac Shakur was as an actor then you need to go watch this movie right now.

Okay, here are the brass tacks. It’s not necessary to see Juice to enjoy this soundtrack. The movie is good but this soundtrack is VERY good. So get on this Juice train and give it a listen. If you don’t find yourself bumping this album then you’re dead inside.

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