Happy 25th Anniversary to Juice (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack), originally released December 31, 1991.
Upon realizing the Juice soundtrack turns 25 today, I instinctively felt old. After listening to it front to back, for the first time in awhile, I immediately felt 16 again. Suffice to say, a quarter century later, Juice has still got the juice, now and forever. From the initial ivory-tickling that introduces Naughty By Nature’s “Uptown Anthem,” to the fade out on N’Dea Davenport’s voice concluding The Brand New Heavies’ “People Get Ready,” you can smoke a spliff on a cliff, but there’s still no mountain hiiiiiigh enough or wide enough to touch it.
They don’t make soundtracks like this anymore. This is not old head nostalgia speaking, it’s simply a statement of fact. When was the last star-studded soundtrack you can name, filled with many of the largest hip-hop and R&B luminaries of its era, inextricably linked to the film? Director Ernest Dickerson made the movie Juice on a shoe-string $3 million-dollar budget. It’s not a stretch to say that the budget of the film’s soundtrack, executive-produced by Hank Shocklee during The Bomb Squad’s heyday, may have matched it.
That approach in itself, is uniquely specific to the 1990s. Think House Party, New Jack City, New Jersey Drive, Deep Cover or Menace II Society, with a few others just outside of the decade on either side, like Colors or 8 Mile. There’s a very strong argument to be made for Juice being the best of the bunch. It’s also an aesthetic that, chiefly for financial reasons, was rendered nearly obsolete in the post-downloading era.
Released on New Year’s Eve of 1991, the Juice soundtrack provided the requisite heat to keep us warm in the winter like a bubble-goose jacket, and was certified Gold by March of the following year. It boasted four charting singles: the aforementioned “Uptown Anthem,” Eric B. & Rakim’s “Juice (Know the Ledge),” Teddy Riley and Tammy Lucas’ collaboration “Is It Good to You,” and Guy co-founder Aaron Hall’s “Don’t Be Afraid.”
Yet like many of the greatest hip-hop musical and cultural touchstones of the era, Juice’s impact cannot be accurately measured by Billboard chart-position standards alone. It’s the film that made Tupac Shakur, in his chillingly exhilarating portrayal of Bishop, a cross-media star. The soundtrack’s title track, with its ominous and propulsive bassline, is one of Eric B & Rakim’s greatest, which by default makes it a canonical hip-hop song.
The double-barreled blast of “Uptown Anthem” and “Know the Ledge” that opens Juice sets a pace of power that’s impossible to maintain for an entire album. However, highlights abound throughout. Big Daddy Kane, like Rakim, arguably the baddest rapper on Earth at the time, provides a shot of adrenaline, in the form of a raw, double-time flow over The Soul Searchers-sampling “Nuff Respect.” The song would become a go-to opener in Kane’s legendary live performances, an arena in which he excelled and Rakim could never match.
EPMD bring the headbanger funk on “It’s Going Down,” just a year before breaking the hearts of rap fans by breaking up for the first time. Cypress Hill, on the heels of the rousing success of their breakthrough self-titled debut album including the single “How I Could Just Kill A Man,” provide a shotgun-hit of smoked-out spaghetti-western with “Shoot ‘Em Up.” Salt-N-Pepa’s sisterly warning on “He’s Gaming On Ya” provides a sound rebuttal to the unbridled misogyny of Sons Of Bazerk’s “What Could Be Better Bitch.”
Despite its dizzying heights, the soundtrack isn’t flawless. Too-$hort-sound-alike Pooh-Man’s “Sex, Money & Murder” is rendered superfluous once Too $hort himself shows up, two tracks later, with his crucial OG cautionary tale “So You Wanna Be a Gangster.” Meanwhile Rahiem’s “Does Your Man Know About Me” feels as out of place as Jaheim in that purple suit at Whitney’s funeral. Yet over the course of 14 tracks, these two hiccups feel like a fairly small price to pay. Even more so than we first knew 25 years ago, Juice remains a classic to this day.