More often than not, the soundtrack for a movie sets the mood of the scenes, and can create memories that correlate with specific characters in the film. Sometimes the artists are able to preview the movie they are composing a song for, however some are left to their own creative devices to anticipate the effect their song will have on a listener who has seen the movie.
Such is not the case for the Oz Soundtrack. The artists on this compilation had a canvas painted for them in advance – nearly four full seasons of graphic images of the Oswald State Penitentiary on HBO’s late night drama series Oz. Fans of the show are often hardcore devotees of the intricate sub-plots and ravenous violence. They would expect nothing more than a musical masterpiece to coincide with their favorite television terrordome. The Oz Soundtrack, for the most part, convincingly serves the character development the show has already concocted.
The first single on the album features Kurupt and Nate Dogg’s “Behind The Walls”, the most notable of the West coast appearances. The attention-grabbing bass line pummels ruthlessly as Kurupt’s lucid lyrics bounce over the track. Kurupt name-drops throughout the song in accordance with the show’s characters, and the video follows suit with clips exemplifying the ambience of the prison. Other West coast contributions include Snoop Dogg with a glossy P-Funk strut through “The Land of Oz”, and a standout cut from Cypress Hill. B-Real’s delivery on the contagious “Can I Live” is simply unfuckwitable.
Some of the deeper thoughts and psychology surrounding prison life are evoked – from the ‘inside’ on Krayzie Bone’s reflective “Shackled Up” – and from the ‘outside’ delivered in the heartfelt “Can’t Wait” by Devin The Dude. Anyone who has had a loved one in prison will be able to appreciate Devin’s message. Wu-Tang members Method Man, RZA and Raekwon come across in the not-so-tender “What You In Fo’” in which inmates’ braggadocios bravado is illustrated appropriately. A surprise Southern banger from Tez and Tajiee poses the question “What Ya Gonna Do”, while a taunting Three Six Mafia beckons “War With Us” as only the Southern soldiers can.
Tracks from Styles and Jadakiss, Master P, and Trick Daddy are a bit less charismatic than the rest of the album, however their sermons about the agony surrounding prison life still fit in well, and their impeccable production is in tune with the flow of the project. Less desirable sounds from the East Side Cult, Drag On and the trio of Magic, Blaxuede and Fiend make for some disappointing moments. Listening to East Side Cult and the Magic, Blaxuede and Fiend cuts will leave you scratching your head when you search the song credits. What you hear isn’t always what you get. Drag On’s technique is ghastly overwhelmed by the Swizz-army beats. Redundancy is not always a good thing.
The absolute standouts on the Oz Soundtrack are “What Is The Law”, Pharoah Monch’s gritty symphony of social conscience, and the politically driven collaborative “Oz Theme 2000” featuring Kool G Rap, Talib Kweli and Lord Jamar. Pharoah’s track made the B-side of the Kurupt single, and has DJ’s nationwide grappling to cop the 12”. Kool G Rap adds a precise edge to Talib’s cavalier chorus, after which Talib divulges hard-nosed facts about the improprieties of the justice system. Lord Jamar, who also portrays the vehement character Supreme Allah on the series, serves to shamelessly plug the cast of characters on Oz, but a true fan of the show will appreciate the references.
Harold Perrineau, who plays the wheelchair-bound Augustus Hill on Oz, cameos with brief narratives in his trademark style. The album would have been even more satisfying had the character Poet, deviously depicted by actor and New York poetic phenom MuMs, been featured as well. Recently, actors Lord Jamar, MuMs and Dean Winters (Oz character O’Reily) and Oz producer Tom Fontana got together to support Avatar Records’ President Larry Robinson as he donated $10,000 to the Innocence Project, a group that provides legal services for unjustly imprisoned inmates seeking new trials.
Overall, Hip Hop fans will find that, at least in this case, the collective artists do justice to the Oz Soundtrack. The fact that the Avatar label is promoting awareness of the prison system makes the purchase that much more worthwhile.
~Sheepish Lordess of Chaos~