Speculation is running rampant at the moment that the Cannes Palme d’Or winning motion picture Space Jam could be in line for a LeBron James powered sequel. It’s a prospect that has fans of the original asking: “I’ve both slammed and have been welcomed to the jam, but could I do it again? Also, is this just a gross ploy cooked up by Deviant Art users?” We’ll leave it to you to answer those questions.
In a crass bid to exploit that sweet sweet Space Jam 2 buzz, we’re taking a hit of Michael Jordan’s Secret Stuff and traveling back to 1997 to revisit one of the most beloved soundtracks of the past quarter-century. Equal parts brilliant, ridiculous and Quad City DJs-y, it’s a fascinating album that still provides the boost necessary to dunk all over Shawn Bradley’s goofy face. He’s retired now, so it’s extra humiliating.
TO THE JAM!
Seal – “Fly Like An Eagle”
Nothing says semi-animated basketball fun quite like Lite FM darling Seal getting his mitts on some of the daddiest of dad-rock put out by the Steve Miller Band. Seal was recognized as a trusted soundtrack hand in this era. Who else would you trust with “Kiss From A Rose?” Collective Soul? Get the fuck outta here. (Now Val Kilmer singing “Kiss From A Rose”…) Seal’s Grammy nominated (no really!) cover of “Fly Like An Eagle” still feels warm and gooey like stacked pancakes even with its “no repeat workday” vibes. It’s not really appropriate for thrilling dunk action for any reason beyond the “flying” business discussed in the song, but that didn’t stop legions of 12-year-olds blasting this while attempting tomahawks on a seven-foot adjustable rim.
“FLY RIGHT INTO THE FUTURE!” *does a 360 dunk on a neon digital hoop from 2030*
Coolio – “The Winner”
Did you know that “The Winner” has its own music video? Your humble author sure as shit didn’t and is blown away by this revelation. The version of the track provided in the video is slightly different than the soundtrack offering but don’t let it dissuade you from checking out the promo.
This is the tale of two teenage rapscallions that skip school after a surprise announcement that Coolio would be dropping by to drop off some much needed computers and (time permitting) tending to wounds of any lepers in the vicinity. A bus driver that looks suspiciously like Coolio shakes his head in disapproval as these youths steal an unattended laptop and use it watch clips from Space Jam on the bus. Multiple versions of Coolio (Usher Coolio! Homeless Coolio! Guy rapping at a school Coolio!) nudge these kids to get back on the right track. Or at least throw out the laptop for some reason. Did we mention that Coolio’s made of magic in this thing? Yup! He can split into multiple beings and use his powers to morph a shopping cart into a car. It’s all plays out like a weird PSA cooked up by Coolio while enduring a gas leak. INCREDIBLE STUFF.
By the way, Coolio’s message lives on to this day: “If Albert was an Einstein/and Phillis was a Diller/and Michael Jackson was a Thriller/then you could be a winner.” Anyone who hasn’t tattooed that wisdom to their chest is making a huge mistake.
Quad City DJs – “Space Jam”
“Shake it, quake it, space KABOOM!” Is this the crown jewel of the Space Jam soundtrack? It might be. It’s impossible not to get unreasonably hyped listening to this Quad City DJs jock jam. It’s all pelvis and bums and JAMZ in one dizzying Florida party tune that comes complete with the feeling that you’re Chev Chelios getting shit done in Crank: High Voltage. Deny “Space Jam” and you might as well being denying what it’s like to truly feel alive.
R. Kelly – “I Believe I Can Fly”
The unapologetically sappy “I Believe I Can Fly” is an amazing tune. An absolute classic. It’s also something with the unpleasant taint of being reminded that R. Kelly is (allegedly) an unrepentant sexual predator that prays on vulnerable teen girls. Kelly’s work is one of those things that veers into the Roman Polanski/Woody Allen realm where some people feel they can separate the art from the person and others find the dynamic something they just can’t untangle. That’s sort of the dilemma we face when talking about R. Kelly, even when it’s about a song from a kids movie about cartoon basketball gags.
Um… So how about Wayne Knight providing comic relief? That was pretty exciting. He was Newman on Seinfeld, you know.
B-Real, Busta Rhymes, Coolio, LL Cool J and Method Man – “Hit ‘Em High (The Monstars Anthem)”
Who would you peg as the Muggsy Bogues equivalent of the group? Is it B-Real? It’s B-Real, right? Anyway, “Hit ‘Em High” is a treasure that features Busta Rhymes flagrantly informing both Michael Jordan and the Tune Squad that the Monstars will goaltend without mercy. The refs have gotta call that shit, dude. (Maybe it’s an NBA Jam type scenario where goaltending is turned off if you’re on fire.) Everyone involved chooses to go a lyrical route that suggests they are 1) basketball baddies the Monstars and 2) very good at basketball. Method Man figures he’ll be fouled a lot (“free throws coming down like rain”), while LL Cool J notes that “if the refs get political, dribble like Bob Dole.” Their strategy may also involve the most stylish goggles that 1997 had to offer. Horace Grant would approve.
D’Angelo – “I Found My Smile Again”
At the time, we didn’t know how spoiled we were to have D’Angelo just knocking out tunes willy-nilly. (Read: Without decade-plus gaps.) It’s like looking back and finding out that you used to live behind a multiple orgasm and pizza party warehouse where everything was 98% off. HOW COULD WE HAVE BEEN SO BLIND??? Anyway, “I Found My Smile Again” is glowing R&B wonderment you just want to backstroke in. Superb.
Monica – “For You I Will”
“For You I Will” isn’t a mega-ballad, it’s a gargantuan feelings machine for dweebs of a certain age. You might be inclined to thank professional emotional manipulators Diane Warren and David Foster for that dynamic, but we’re giving Monica the nod on this. It’s her soul crackling through this junior high dance anthem. Sure, it’s cheesy like a melted wad of Kraft Singles, but it has that all important Monica gravitas to make you hemorrhage The Feels. Mind you, everyone involved could have stepped it back a bit with the whole “for you I will die” business. Unless Lola Bunny jumped in front of nine bullets in the director’s cut, maybe step things back a tad.
Salt-N-Pepa – “Upside Down (‘Round-N-‘Round)”
Here I go, here I go, here I go again. Girls, what’s my weakness? Modestly scripted Michael Jackson big screen vehicles! Salt-N-Pepa were sort of fading from view at this point, which was kind of a bummer. It was like a mysterious timer ticked to zero around the time that Brand New came out in 1997. How did they not have any additional Continues saved up? They had loads of goodwill saved up and “Upside Down (‘Round-N-‘Round)” was a total charmer. Granted, the “you left a stain on my brain” line sounds like bad zombie erotic fiction, BUT STILL! At least they’re getting that Geico money now.
Robin S. – “Givin U All That I’ve Got”
This slice of soul-cleansing dance glory from Robin S. and Todd Terry only appears for roughly five seconds in Space Jam, but we’d be cool if 20 minutes of the film was just a Daffy Duck fashion montage with “Givin U All That I’ve Got” blasting on a loop. What does that S. stand for anyway? Is it “Robin S(he’s Very Good At Towering Club Anthems Like ‘Show Me Love’ And Other Marvels So You Knew She’d Be A Fantastic Addition To A Popular Film’s Soundtrack Even If You Only Hear Her Song For The Length Of A Labrador’s Purina Fart. She’s Quite Good Is The Main Point).?” It’s probably that. We can imagine it’d be a pain to type that out each time so keeping it to just Robin S. was the sensible call.
Chris Rock and Barry White – “Basketball Jones”
In case you were wondering, 1997 was an excellent year for people hoping to see Chris Rock and Barry White pair up for a Cheech & Chong cover destined for a Looney Tunes movie. (You might be surprised to learn that such a combination never occurred again.) It’s surreal to go back and revisit and not just because it seems like no one shouts out Mitch Richmond anymore. Barry White’s unmistakable voice roams across this thing as Chris Rock namechecks roughly half the NBA including the announcers. Still a treat and we hope that Chris’ brother Tony has sorted out his bedwetting problems.
All-4-One – “I Turn To You”
Good ol’ All-4-One. They truly were the Giant Tiger Boyz II Men of their era. This version of “I Turn To You” is about as thin as a stray piece of loose leaf, but the song would later fall into Christina Aguilera’s capable guardianship. That said, both versions still sound like something earmarked for the “In Memoriam” reel at a regional insurance conference.
R. Kelly featuring Changing Faces and Jay Z – “All Of My Days”
Two things you may have forgotten: 1) Jay Z appears on this track 2) Hov spent the ’90s seeking a woman worth putting the toilet seat back down for. How could Beyoncé say no to that? A sizeable portion of this cut is just Jay explaining how he’s preparing to marry the shit out of you. Essentially it’s the reverse of the guest spot he has on the (still to come) Mariah single “Heartbreaker.”
Spin Doctors and Biz Markie – “That’s The Way I Like It”
SON! SON! TELL EVERYONE IN THE OLD COUNTRY IT’S GOING TO BE OKAY! SPIN DOCTORS AND BIZ MARKIE HAVE ALIGNED FORCES TO COVER A KC & THE SUNSHINE BAND SONG! It’s like if a bunch of Frosh compilations melted together in the sun and Warner Bros. was like “fuck it, let’s mush this heap onto our soundtrack.” The only people capable of sorting out what the hell happened are probably busy at NASA making sure we don’t get decked by asteroids.
Bugs Bunny – Buggin’
For the OTHER Jay Z offering on this soundtrack, Hov penned the lyrics that Bugs Bunny (or Billy West if you want to get technical) raps on this track and he did an admirable job. Sadly, the Mickey Mouse jabs didn’t spin off into Disney hiring Nas to knock at a G-rated “Ether” precursor. There’s no reason why Jay Z can’t craft a tour with the Looney Tunes to score some extra dough. He could do those shows in the afternoon (Blue Ivy could show up!) and then his regular set in the evening. He’s a rich dude so he could use anvils and grand pianos at both concerts if he felt like it. Heck, ACME could sponsor the thing. It would do at least as well as TIDAL.