Last week, I finished assembling the fifth playlist, a.k.a. "TheWhitestBlockEver05" (all the tracks in "TheWhitestBlockEver05" are streamed only during the "Whitest Block Ever" block and nowhere else on the station schedule, in order to reduce repetition). I enjoyed reading the replies Edgar Wright and "Whitest Block Ever" playlist fixture Robert Rodriguez gave to Empire magazine about their favorite score cues or soundtrack albums in the magazine's soundtrack tribute issue, so in a fashion similar to what Wright and Rodriguez did for Empire, here are descriptions of each of the 13 tracks in "TheWhitestBlockEver05."
1. Elmer Bernstein, "Prologue" (from Hoodlum)
Man, Bernstein could do it all: from slapstick vehicles for SNL alums like Trading Places and Ghostbusters to Harlem period pieces like the Bill Duke films A Rage in Harlem and Hoodlum. The ondes Martenot, an electronic instrument that Bernstein utilized most memorably in his Ghostbusters score and can easily be mistaken for a theremin, pops up in "Prologue" too and was used to great effect to represent an era of Harlem gone by.
2. Keisa Brown, "Five on the Black Hand Side" (from Five on the Black Hand Side)
I've seen only bits and pieces of this 1973 film, which has an enjoyable opening theme penned by legendary Capitol Records soul arranger H.B. Barnum and an equally enjoyable shot-on-a-shoestring trailer. The marketing for Five on the Black Hand Side brashly asserted that the film, an adaptation of a comedic stage play about the clash between Afrocentricism and black conservatives, was an alternative to the violent blaxploitation fare that was popular at the time of the film's release. "You've been Coffy-tized, Blacula-rized and Superfly-ed. You've been Mack-ed, Hammer-ed, Slaughter-ed and Shaft-ed. Now we wanna turn you on to some brand new jive," proclaims Fun Loving (Tchaka Almoravids) in the trailer. "You're gonna be glorified, unified and filled with pride when you see Five on the Black Hand Side."
3. Kid 'N Play, "Kid vs. Play (The Battle)" (from House Party)
I wish the Obama/Romney and Biden/Ryan debates were more like the freestyle battle scenes in 8 Mile and House Party.
Gentle-humored comedies about generational discord within families (or survival dramas about orphans who find unlikely surrogate families in the form of tigers) are where Taiwanese-born Ang Lee, this year's Best Director Oscar winner for Life of Pi, works best, not action material that calls for a nimbler touch from someone like Tsui Hark or Joss Whedon, like Lee's 2003 misfire Hulk. (As Stop Smiling said in its amusing evisceration of the two pre-Mark Ruffalo Hulk movies, "Lee shouldn’t do pop; his attempts to 'enliven' the material and make it more like a comic book with screen panels and visible page breaks was the cinematic equivalent of Karl Rove dancing.") Over a decade before he won his first Oscar for directing Brokeback Mountain, Lee tackled LGBT characters in The Wedding Banquet, a standout piece of Asian American indie cinema about Wai-Tung (Winston Chao), a Taiwanese American landlord who, with the prodding of his boyfriend Simon (Mitchell Lichtenstein), marries Wei-Wei (May Chin), a struggling Chinese artist, to enable her to get a green card and to satisfy his traditionalist parents from Taiwan. I feel like The Wedding Banquet has kind of been overlooked during this Brokeback/Life of Pi period of Lee's career, despite having been the most profitable film of 1993, even more so than Jurassic Park (it also went on to spawn a stage musical version in 2003). On paper, The Wedding Banquet reads like a shitty sitcom. But the film is far from being such a thing, thanks to Lee's thoughtful and low-key direction, which is aided by French-born composer Mader's equally low-key score, a mishmash of Chinese and Latin sounds that (spoilers!) mirrors how the future child of Wai-Tung, Simon and Wei-Wei will grow up to be a mishmash of various cultural influences.
5. Melba Moore, "Black Enough" (from Cotton Comes to Harlem)
I had no idea Galt MacDermot, one of the most frequently sampled composers in hip-hop, scored Cotton Comes to Harlem until recently. I've seen the Ossie Davis-directed adaptation of the Chester Himes novel of the same name two or three times, but that was before I became interested in finding out where beatmakers copped so many of their illest samples from (it's also kind of hard to notice MacDermot's musical trademarks during Cotton Comes to Harlem when all your 19-year-old self can think about is the film's T&A, like Judy Pace's T&A when she ducks out of being kept under watch by a dumb white cop by craftily tricking him into bed without sleeping with him). One of my favorite MacDermot samples takes place during 9th Wonder & Buckshot's "Shinin' Y'all," which loops "Sunlight Shining," a tune that happens to come from Cotton Comes to Harlem. I'd like to see some beathead make use of another Cotton Comes to Harlem joint, "Black Enough," the film's opening theme, which, like "Sunlight Shining," is filled with soothing strings and classic MacDermot beats.
6. Michael Jackson, "On the Line" (from Get on the Bus)
It's been a few years since I watched Spike Lee's Million Man March-themed Get on the Bus, so I forgot that Michael Jackson sung the film's opening title theme, which contains lyrics about overcoming self-hatred that bring to mind the Five on the Black Hand Side theme (and the Jackson theme was produced by Babyface too!). "On the Line" is, along with "Butterflies" and maybe the Teddy Riley-produced "Remember the Time," one of the few tunes from Jackson's post-Bad, extremely treacly "won't someone think of the children?" era that I actually like. The fact that "On the Line" is--like Everybody Loves Raymond used to say at the start of each episode--not really about the kids also helps.