When news broke that DJ Khaled would be executive producing the Bad Boys For Life soundtrack, it wasn’t exactly met with open arms on social media.
The original 1995 film’s soundtrack mirrored the golden age of hip-hop and R&B (with classic songs from Biggie, Tupac, Babyface, Xscape, and Warren G) so it tends to be looked back on affectionately. And although the sequel was dumbed down nonsense, even by director Michael Bay’s famously low standards, the accompanying soundtrack was once again a big hit with fans, with Diddy executive producing a fun record filled with big names (JAY-Z, Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake and, erm, Da Band) and brilliant moments (Freeway and Peedi Crakk’s hood classic “Flipside” is surely the pick of the bunch). Therefore, seeing the divisive DJ Khaled helm a soundtrack with has-been guests like Pitbull, Lil Jon and the Black Eyed Peas didn’t exactly fill fans of the franchise with joy.
Yet, against all odds, DJ Khaled has actually done a pretty good job. The film opens with a high-speed car chase as Meek Mill (“Uptown II” feat. Farruko) playfully raps about having pockets fatter than sumo wrestlers over a bouncy trap instrumental rooted in a merengue sample. It’s the perfect song for a fast-paced city where hip-hop and Spanish culture naturally intersect, setting the right tone for the film and proving DJ Khaled knows how to capture the atmosphere of Miami on a sticky day.
The music that follows also captures the synthetic colors of Miami. Pitbull and Lil Jon’s tinny EDM-rap-hybrid “Damn I Love Miami” and the Black Eyed Peas and J Balvin’s “Rhythm of the Night”-sampling up tempo club track “RITMO” are both fodder for a party filled with dumb rich people with no taste and access to too much cocaine, and with the film firmly embedded in this exact setting, the rush of blood to the head that these two tracks provide works surprisingly well. Yes, they sound pretty awful when listened to on a pair of headphones, but within the context of the film itself, they’re well at home.
This is music that rich men in cheap suits blast out of their fast cars. It’s unashamedly trashy, but this makes it the perfect companion to Will Smith’s gaudy man-baby Detective Mike Lowrey. By the time Rick Ross (“Future Bright” feat. Bryson Tiller) pops up to spit about red sports cars that Suge Knight might have enjoyed driving back in 1995, it’s clear Khaled knows how to curate music for ageing men who want to live out their fantasies of pretending to be Scarface — yeah, basically 99% of the film’s audience.
There weren’t exactly high expectations for the third Bad Boys film, but it’s a surprisingly fun, tender affair (FYI: It currently has a strong 76% on Rotten Tomatoes). Stars Smith and Martin Lawrence (Detective Marcus Burnett) still have a winning chemistry after all these years, and seeing them both embrace the idea of growing old gives the film more heart than both of its predecessors combined. The big screen return of under-appreciated actor Joe Pantoliano (Ralph Cifaretto from The Sopranos) is also a highlight, with his pissed off police boss embodying the clichés of the cop buddie flick with a real glint in his eye. DJ Khaled even pops up for a cameo as a drug dealer that Smith enjoys torturing to get information out of — anyone who has ever been driven to insanity from hearing the insipid catchphrase “Weeee the best!!!” will surely purr with delight as the Fresh Prince breaks the portly DJ’s fingers.
Overall, it’s a solid film, and after the dreadful run that Will Smith has been on, it’s good to see him smiling again and in something that isn’t completely awful (Netflix’s Bright still gives me nightmares). One scene in which he dispatches of an enemy after using a line from Malcolm X is particularly good, with Smith actually looking like he’s having fun and not just sleep walking his way through a production that will help him buy Willow a new house.
If you were to level any criticism at the Bad Boys For Life soundtrack, it would be the obvious nepotism in Jaden Smith’s forgetful sole appearance. The fact there’s hardly any songs from female artists is also an issue, with City Girls (“Money Fight”) providing a much-needed sassy alternative to all this music’s turbo-charged testosterone. But while there are obvious weak points, Khaled mostly nails the film’s tone, and his friendship with every mainstream rapper (well, except Tyler, the Creator) alive was clearly a boost to the soundtrack.
Having one of Miami’s most tacky and abrasive residents helm a soundtrack for a tacky, abrasive action movie set in Miami unsurprisingly works kind of well, with DJ Khaled nailing his city’s larger than life tone as well as the melting pot of pop genres you might hear if you went out clubbing in the Florida city. This probably won’t be the start of DJ Khaled becoming the next Hans Zimmer or John Williams, but it’s proof that just occasionally he can be more of a help than a hindrance. His trashy take on trap music is the right fit for a movie well aware that it’s best enjoyed with a sense of irony.
Thomas Hobbs is a freelance journalist / Tupac-obsessive based in London. He also writes for the Guardian, Pitchfork, NME, New Statesman, Dazed, Noisey, Time Out, and Crack Magazine.
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